Qatar Airways Business Class Johannesburg-Doha, 777-300ER

Qatar Airways has become a favourite with South Africans and tourists either returning to Johannesburg via its Doha hub or those travelling from Johannesburg to Doha and beyond. This is reflected by the fact that the airline does double dailies on the route, using the brand new B787 and the larger 777-300ER. Today my 10-year old daughter and I are travelling Johannesburg-Doha-Abu Dhabi. 

Check-in at the Business class counter is uneventful and soon we are on our way to immigration. After getting through immigration, we make our way to the Bidvest Premier Lounge, the lounge that caters for Qatar Airways premium customers. I must say I miss the Shongololo Lounge which has so much soul. Don't get me wrong, the service, food and drink options are adequate in Bidvest, but a very slow internet connection and long walk to our boarding gate make me yearn even more for the old lounge. After a  functional lounge visit, we move to our boarding gate and we see that boarding has commenced. We are shown to or seats. 

This 777-3000ER is configured 2-2-2 in business class with the cabin split into 24 and 18 seats. We are in seats 5E/F. These are the oldest seats in all Qatar Airways' premium cabins, with the A380, A350 and B787 already kitted out in the latest seats. I understand though that the newBusiness class seat will be revealed 8 March at ITB Berlin. Nonetheless, unless you are in a  window seat, you have no issues having to climb over anyone as you try to get to the isle. Moreover, the seat is comfortable, with great lumbar support and features that are very child-friendly - my daughter has no issues operating its features!

The customary glass of champagne is offered and I opt for a glass of the Lanson Rosé NV. As opposed to its Middle Eastern rivals, Qatar Airways is the only airline serving a choice of bubbly in business class. I quite like the Lanson Rosé - the UK's top selling rosé offers airlines a nice balance between a nice champagne and great value. Our flight attendant, Ms Leung, shy and diffident at first but growing in confidence,  takes our dinner order but informs us that we can dine at any time. 

 Soon after taking off, I meet Sirin, the Cabin supervisor. Her Thai sense of hospitality is immediately evident as she introduces herself. I have always enjoyed the staff on Qatar Airways, be that in front or at the back. Their cabin staff is one of their major strengths and the main reason I prefer flying them. For my post-take-off drink, I opt for the Billecart-Salmon Brut NV, a wonderful non-vintage champagne. 

My daughter meanwhile has already launched into the onboard entertainment, although she says she misses the ease of the system on the B787 and the fact that she can start watching shows imeediately after boarding - I reassure her that this will likely change when the business class product on the 777-300ER is revamped or brought in line with the other aircraft. For her meal, she is served a children's portion of chicken breast and vegetable sticks. I think when serving kids, there is a delicate balance between presenting a  dish to catch a child's eye while also being true to the fact it is a premium meal. They seem to have got the balance right.

For my starter, I have the Wild mushroom soup with truffle oil. I like the dish for two reasons. There is a bit of texture in the dish, a bit grainy, giving it a homeliness. Secondly, truffle oil has been sparingly used, giving it a subtle presence on the palate. I enjoy it with a glass of Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Vinzelles 2014. Its freshness foils the mushroom soup rather well. 

Next to me, my daughter laps up the pumpkinlasagnee type dish, served on a bed of peas and tomato, with carrots on the side. She finishes it. 

The service meanwhile continues to move effortlessly between timeous, conversational and professional - Sirin seems to run things very tightly up front while allowing cabin attendants to express themselves, resulting in warm and unrobotic service. 

In anticipation of my main course, I request a glass of the fabulous Chateau Brane-Cantenac, Margaux 2012, a wine I have had before. It is a thrill seeing on board a flight. This full bodied Cabernet-Merlot blend accompanies my Herb grilled Beef fillet served with a selection of vegetables. 

As my dish is served (not photographed - a  flash would have ruined the cabin experience), I marvel at what a great job the cabin attendants are doing. There is no 'chef on board', so they reheat and plate the dishes themselves. This is not easy. Frankly, I would rather see airlines invest in constantly training staff rather than spending money on 'onboard chefs'  - the latter is a gimmick that is also a waste of money! As for my beef, while slightly overdone, there is sufficient moisture and colour to enjoy it with my Chateau Brane-Cantenac. However, I have to ward off my daughter who can't get enough of my beef.

After my main course, I feel a need for a walk around the cabin. I like the 777-300ER. While lacking the onboard bar of teh A380 or the self-service champagne bar it has on the B787, the cabin is very spacious. I have always loved the overhead bins which provide ample room at the top. 

I return to my seat just in time for my dessert choice - a cheese board. I like cheese and always see it as a fitting way to end dinner. I enjoy my cheese board, especially in view of the 24-year-old port it is served with - the Gran Cruz, Porto 1992. Superb!

While I am sipping away on my port, my daughter is more than content with her sorbet. 

Perhaps inspired by her child-like enjoyment of her sorbet, I also have a serving of the Strawberry and vanilla sorbet with fresh strawberry and a chocilate pencil. In fairness, I am intrigued by the Lions de Suduiraut, Sauternes 2013 as a dessert wine. The latter has a beautiful crispness about it that endears itself to me after the first sip. It is floral. deliciously sweet and an absolute joy at the end of my meal!

After dinner, I decide to enjoy some of the entertainment on board and indulge in a  couple of movies. While my daughter had a hot chocolate, I have a glass of Cognac in the shape of Camus XO Elegance. Even though some tortilla wraps are available before landing, I am quite satiated from a fine dining experience with excellent wines and champagnes. 

The Verdict

Staff manage to take the premium experience and make it really relaxed and laid back, while maintaining high service levels to match the menu and fine drinks list. They walk a perfect line bewteen professional service while setting the tone for  a very chilled cabin expereince. No wonder Qatar Airways' marketing department still refers to it as the World's 5-star airline! 

The Essentials

At present, Qatar Airways serves Johannesburg twice daily from its hub in Doha, flying the B787 and B777-300ER, both in two classes. 

I am a luxury hotel, travel and restaurant writer based in Abu Dhabi. This piece was written unsolicited.