British Airways' new paid-for economy meals reviewed

3 Dec 2015 by Jenny Southan
Are you fed up with not getting your first choice of meal in economy or disappointed by the meagre chicken dish that is supposed to tide you over an eight-hour flight? Your voices have been heard – 18 months ago, British Airways' head of catering Colin Talbot embarked on a journey to improve quality and choice for customers both at the back of the aircraft. In partnership with DO & CO Restaurants and Catering, British Airways introduced a paid-for, pre-order concept for "enhanced" economy class meals across the outbound London Heathrow network in May (see news, April 22). Over the past six months or so, 1-5 per cent of World Traveller (economy) passengers have been taking advantage of this option. BA says this is because it didn't want to advertise the offering until it was confident the logistics had been worked out and there weren't going to be any mistakes with people's orders. It remains to be seen if it grows in popularity. What are BA's 'enhanced' economy class meals? The meals come with three courses presented on business class china dishes on a tray with a proper wine glass, bread, crackers, butter and cheese on the side. The drinks are the normal economy choice (you don't get business class wines, for example). Sinead Ferguson, BA's menu design manager, said: "When you're asking customers to pay, you want to give them a much more enhanced meal, and I believe we have achieved that. "One of the meals I was keen not to do was a curry as we can serve a curry throughout the cabin – people can eat that for free. I was also keen not to give vegetarians a plate of pasta." What flights can I get them on? The pre-paid meals are available to order online on outbound flights from London Heathrow to most long-haul destinations from 30 days to 24 hours before departure. Click here for a full list. BA plans to extend the offering to outbound flights from Gatwick in 2016, as well as to various inbound flights as well. "We'd like to get it on inbound routes but it creates a few more challenges as around the world we have various caterers and the most important thing is people get the same standard as going out," said Talbot. "With DO & CO we are confident about consistently delivering the spec." Talbot added that for those not wanting to fork out extra on food, BA tickets will always include a free standard economy class meal. What about premium cabins? In December 2013, in an effort to reduce passenger disappointment at not getting their first choice of meal (in premium economy, business and first), BA introduced the option of pre-ordering food from the existing onboard menu at no extra charge on routes out of Heathrow. Talbot said: "Pre-order for premium customers will start in April next year from Gatwick, and from London City to JFK, so there is guaranteed choice." The food tasting… We had a chance to sample BA's pre-paid economy class meals – here are our thoughts on the six trays. TASTE OF THE FAR EAST Taste of the Far East Introduced in October, Taste of the Far East is BA's most recent addition to its pre-paid economy class meal menu and costs £16. Beginning with one of BA's most popular starters: vegetarian sushi. The tray pops with colour – I enjoyed both the beetroot goat cheese maki and the fire roasted red pepper maki. A grilled green asparagus nigiri is offered as well, alongside slices of pickled ginger and wasabi with a cute plastic fish-shaped bottle of soy sauce. A fairly generous portion of chicken pay ca paw with egg rice and wok-fried vegetables serves as the main. It is worth noting that the chicken is coated in a corn flour-type breading and, while it was tender and the sauce was nice with little spice, the coating was not quite as crisp as I had hoped. Ferguson wanted to create a meal that was rich in "umami" – the fifth taste (after salt, sweet, bitter and sour) that I best described as "savoury". She said: "Tomatoes, mackerel, mushrooms, Parmesan and soy, for example, are all umami-rich ingredients. In the design of airline meals it makes a difference as our taste bids are impaired at altitude." Instead of a traditional side of bread, the meal offers crunchy prawn crackers (kept in an air-tight bag) with sweet chilli sauce. The dessert is a smooth green tea tiramisu. 7.5/10 HEALTHY CHOICE Healthy Choice Catering to those who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle while travelling, this tray has a calorific value of 838kcal (not including bread, cheese and crackers) and costs £15. Thai-style avocado rolls with a sesame dipping sauce serve as the tray’s starter, with the main being sustainably sourced poached cod with steamed seasonal vegetables presented en papillote, a method of cooking where food is put into a folded paper pouch and then baked. A Kaiser roll, butter, cheddar cheese and crackers come on the side. Dessert is a Greek yoghurt and honey mousse bar with grapefruit carpaccio. Although I am not a huge fan of fish, I found the en papillote method to be quite nice especially when paired with the shredded steamed vegetables. It didn’t have much flavour, though, and the fish still had the skin on. The rice paper around the rolls was too thick but the dessert was divine – not too simplistic or light. For a “healthy” meal, the overall tray was quite high in calories. 7/10 VEGETARIAN KITCHEN Vegetarian Kitchen Vegetarians are often greeted with the same meal over and over again – pasta. Pasta can be great, but BA wanted to offer something better. Priced at £15, this vegetarian meal even had my taste buds buzzing, and I'm a meat eater. The tray was full of colour, and with my first bite of the glazed goat cheese with marinated beetroot salad, I knew I was in for a treat. To be honest, I didn't even know I liked beets – in fact, I have to say this was my favourite starter from all of the trays. The main course was polenta crespelle – substantial Italian-style pancakes stuffed with mascarpone cheese and wilted spinach with a wild mushroom and truffle cream sauce. The presentation was appealing, as was the flavour, although the sauce was a bit rich and I am unsure if I would be able to eat the entire portion. However, for a vegetarian dish I believe it would be quite filling and is a huge step up from a quick and easy pasta. A Kaiser roll and crackers with cheese and butter are again offered on the side, while the dessert is a lemon meringue pie, featuring a homemade lemon curd. Paired with a perfect meringue, the flavour of real lemon made it almost impossible not to gobble down the entire thing. This was definitely my favourite dessert. 9/10 TASTE OF BRITAIN Taste of Britain For £16, travellers can enjoy a traditional English meal. The Taste of Britain tray features Loch Fyne smoked salmon with crème frâiche and caper berries to start. The salmon was very fresh with understated presentation making it a nice, simple choice with a heavier main to follow. It works nicely with the Kaiser roll; crackers and cheese are again provided. The main is slow-roasted Wiltshire pork belly (locally sourced). I felt the pork got most of its flavour from the fat, which wasn't what I was looking for. However, the celeriac mash and sautéed broccolini that it was paired with was quite nice. To finish is a classic dessert of summer pudding filled with juicy berries (not too sweet nor too sour) and Cornish clotted cream on the side. One of my favourites. 6.5/10 GOURMET DINING Gourmet menu Priced at £18, the Gourmet Dining meal is the most frequently ordered tray. The intention was to create a truly luxurious tray of food. Passengers begin with poached king prawns dressed in a simple Marie Rose sauce, which has sliced mushrooms running through it. At first, this may look and sound like an odd pairing, and while I wondered if the sauce was a bit too ordinary for the juicy prawns, it was surprisingly appetising. It was my second-favourite starter. The main was braised cheek of beef from Herefordshire, which was perfectly cooked and tender, with smooth potato mousseline and roasted root vegetables surrounding it. Accompanied by a Madeira shallot jus with a thicker consistency, I was surprised to find that it was not too rich, or at least not quite as rich as the sauce featured in the vegetarian meal. The usual Kaiser roll, spread and crackers are included on the tray, along with BA's first chocolate-based dessert. The decadent chocolate ganache bar with passion fruit coulis is an unusual combination of sweet with a hint of tart fruit. Alongside crushed, toasted hazelnuts, the flavours really work together well. 8.5/10 GREAT BRITISH BREAKFAST Great British Breakfast This is the only tray I didn't try. Priced at £15, it appears to be step up from the typical economy breakfast. The traditional English breakfast includes a Cumberland sausage, bacon, a potato rosti, a grilled tomato and a mature Cheddar cheese omelette. (There are no baked beans as this would have made the dish look messy after re-heating). The tray also features seasonal fruits, freshly baked vanilla and chocolate madeleines, bread, chunky cherry compote, Greek yoghurt and a bag of homemade granola to sprinkle on top. Brooke Bumgarner
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