You know that feeling of elation you get when you realize you’re going to have an empty seat next to you on a flight? Well multiply that times a hundred for a 15-hour international flight. That’s the joy that coursed through my body as they closed the cabin door for my trip (CX881) from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG).
I’ve never taken Cathay Pacific before, but when they offered to fly me in Premium Economy to Hong Kong, I was glad to accept. They let me check out the First Class Lounge for a bit and then it was off to HKG on a 1:00am flight. I fly in Premium Economy seats often (although they’re technically “Main Cabin Extra” on American), so I’m used to having the extra legroom. I’m not used to having such comfortable seats, though. The CX Premium Economy seats were more like the domestic business seats I’ve flown and the extra elbow space would have been greatly appreciated if I ended up having a seatmate. Now onto the food!
Dinner was served fairly quickly — roughly an hour after takeoff — so everyone could eat and get to sleep right away. The entree choices were fairly standard: Seared USDA choice beef tenderloin with port wine sauce, garlic mash [sic] potatoes, fava beans and bacon; stir-fried chicken with red dates, steamed jasmine ice [the typo is theirs — they mean rice], choy sum and carrots; or tomato and mozzarella ravioli with pesto sauce and toasted pinenuts. I opted for the beef tenderloin and ended up wishing that I had ordered the ravioli. It’s not that the beef was bad. It wasn’t. I just don’t think you can offer a proper tenderloin on an airplane without some major changes to the airplane cooking environment.
The beef itself was right between medium and medium well, which is in and of itself an issue. While certainly tender, the lack of marbling in any tenderloin means that there’s no room for error in the air where everything dries out more easily. Luckily, the port wine sauce was like a culinary magic wand. Rich and savory, the sauce provided an umami-laden cure for the dryness of the beef. Great flavor that added to each component of the entree from the fava and bacon side (not bad!) to the garlic mashed potatoes (good although salty). When I put together a composed bite of beef, potatoes, favas, bacon, and sauce, I was pleasantly surprised that the whole thing worked really well together from a flavor standpoint. That said, I think beef is always a risk on-board. Ideally, you’d be able to get a nice fatty piece of ribeye, but then you get into knife issues and temperature preference problems. Overall, I’d prefer to see beef served in the form of meatballs or meatloaf where they can drown it in a braising liquid to eliminate the moisture issues. That said, I think people want to see high value items on their menu and there’s no two words that look more like dollar signs than “beef tenderloin.”
There was also a side salad of smoked salmon with Caesar dressing to start and a little cup of Haagen-Daz vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Breakfast was more successful. Roughly an hour before landing, Premium Economy passengers got their choice of arctic surf clam and chicken congee or ham frittata with salsa, streaky bacon, roasted red skin potatoes, and creamed spinach. Each entree also came with fresh fruit (cantaloupe, honeydew, grapefruit), yogurt, and a really good croissant with butter and jam. I wasn’t feeling congee so I went with the ham frittata.
Overall, I was happy with my selection. The frittata itself had a nice cheesy saltiness to it and didn’t feel rubbery as airplane eggs sometimes do. The creamed spinach was a nice contrast to the rest of the dish, although the roasted potatoes felt more boiled than roasted — this should be an easy fix — and the bacon was limp, obviously a casualty of being served on a tray table instead of a diner. The biggest travesty, though, was the salsa. The hot salsa, I should say. Like salads and grapes, salsa needn’t ever be hot. It takes away the balanced acidity and, in this case, lessened the flavor of the frittata that it was supposed to enhance. Bottom line: keep the frittata and creamed spinach, fix the potatoes, serve the salsa cold on the side, and eliminate the bacon altogether.
One more note: the amenity kit in CX Premium Economy is awesome for food-lovers. While the contents are wholly inedible, the kit itself is gray felt with a black pattern on it filled with icons of dim sum. It’s like a little guide to all of the dim sum goodness you’re sure to enjoy once you touch town in Hong Kong. Check it out: