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It had been a year since I last flew on Qatar Airways, incidentally from Doha to Johannesburg on their 777-300ER when I did a piece on their champagne and wine offering in Business Class. You can revisit that article here: https://bit.ly/2zNiP4G When the opportunity arose to fly them from Johannesburg to Doha recently, my focus once again was two-fold at a time when airlines have all been adjusting to lower profit margins, especially the so-called ME3, I wanted to see how the airline's on-board product reflected this while at the same time continued to offer the level of comfort and quality with which the airline is synonymous.
One of the reasons I was even more excited about this flight is that it was my first time on the much vaunted A350 and on today's flight, it was the 900 series.
On boarding, I am met by the usual Qatar Airways warmth and shown to my seat. The lay out is similar to that of the 787, with Business class divided into two sections, separated by a mini socialising area that features a bottle of champagne and snacks to be enjoyed throughout the flight. The 1-2-1 layout, with the exception of some 777s, is now standard up front on Qatar Airways. I wonder though, how long it will be before all cabins feature the fabulous Q-suites.
For my welcome drink I opt for a glass of Canard-Duchene Charles VII, a rose I have not tried before. It stars off well, with captivating bubbles that are lively and balanced. A gorgeous clear, pink colour adds to my excitement. Berry notes of strawberry and raspberry dominate while delicate brioche also greets the palate. It is a light, easy and undemanding bubbly, but I find it loses its fizz rather quickly, making me yearn for the Lanson that was served on the route last time.
After take off, the cabin supervisor, Marlissa, goes around the cabin, greeting every guest once more and explains the features of the seat and how to adjust the very cool window shades. I appreciate this because not everyone is a frequent flyer and it allows flyers to get the most out of the premium cabin experience. Warm and sincere, she sets the tone for the service that will follow.
The Airbus 350 is a wonderful aircraft. The absence of overhead bins in the middle row create a tremendous sense of space. There is ample space for personal belongings in each seat area. Then of course, the shades are fabulous. Finally, the lie flat seat is easy to operate, so even a technophobe will fancy their chances on this aircraft. One disappointing aspect, however, is the size of the bathrooms in business class. They are pretty standard and are more functional than aesthetic.
Menus are handed out and I must say, regardless of the cabin I am in, I love the feel of a menu, even more so that even though the on board experience is becoming paperless with some airlines even offering duty free through the entertainment system. I opt for the lunch service immediately.
In anticipation, I have a glass of Pommery Brut Royal, a champagne I fell in like with on my last Qatar Airways flight. It is a very stylish option, rich in citrus and apple with a defined toasty palate.
After a non-descript amuse of bouche, I indulge in the Pumpkin and coriander soup - it is beautifully smooth in texture yet hearty, with nutmeg cream rounding off what is still a very simple and unpretentious presentation. As much as I enjoy the soup, it is the appetiser comprising of a selection of Arabic mezze, a signature Qatar Airways dish, that delights not only my palate but also pulls at my heart strings because of an emotional attachment I have to the Middle East. I recommend this dish to anyone who has never been to the region but is curious about the cuisine. To accompany the mezze, I have the Duette Indomita, a 2017 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. As it is poured, I hold the glass with the sunlight coming through the window shade. It is clean and bright, straw yellow. I enjoy the fruitiness of pear and citrus, but thanks to sharp acidity, it offers perfect balance.
While I take a short break before my main course, I have a glass of the Laurenz V, Charming Gruner Veltliner, 2014, an Austrian wine that I find intriguing the moment it is poured and I have a sip. Apple, citrus and peach come together in a nicely balanced wine that would entice anyone who enjoys Riesling wines. It is decadently creamy - an excellent choice. By the way, the selection of artisan bread served with Monte Vibiano olive oil infused with balsamic vinegar, tomato chilli, spicy lemon and pomegranate, available on request, is a must have.
Soon after, my main is served, and it confirms what I have felt about my dishes thus far - homely style presentation that is real. I look at the Parmesan and lemon crusted hake fish and can't help reflecting on the generous portion which too contributes to that sense of homeliness. I know there are airlines who see their catering as designed to create a feeling of a restaurant in the sky - for me, I want home in the sky, my mother's kitchen to be precise. Unwittingly, that is achieved on this flight.
In the absence of a Pinot Noir - a real surprise - I opt for the Truchard Caneros, Napa Valley 2017 Chardonnay. It feels really old school for me to have a white wine with my fish, but it turns out a beautiful blessing in retrospect. Pear and pineapple are balanced by a rich oakiness, while citrus makes its way through, to surprise the palate. It turns out to be a really nice, surprisingly good wine - I am not usually a Chardonnay man!
I always recommend that anyone who enjoys wine on board should, in particular, take extra care in staying hydrated and I for one am religious about drinking water. A nice touch in terms of service is that on two occasions, my bottle of Evian is replaced without prompting, in addition to constant top ups of my sparkling water. Of course, it is easy to ask, but it is nice when service is intuitive and attentive, isn't it?
A cheese plate consisting of three cheeses is served next; Blue, aged cheddar and Fairview brie, complemented by fig jelly. The portion, again, is spot on, considering the fairly big main I had just had.
The Quinta do Vallado, a 20 year old Tawny port, has beautiful tears as I swirl my glass and watch it roll down the side of the glass. For my cheese plate, that includes a pungent Blue cheese, this strikes the right balance between sweetness and other notes like liquorice, caramel and nuts. It is so good that I have a second glass.
Thus ended a great flight with Qatar Airways. They remain, according to my research, the only airline serving two champagnes in Business class. It makes a huge difference because a Brut and Brut Rose are so different. Also, choice is very important to people. The bubbly, in particular the Pommery, notwithstanding my non appreciation of the Canard-Duchene Charles VII, were ably supported by a superb selection of wine and spirits. The dishes served allowed me to enjoy my pairings too. Kudos to the staff for their plating of the dishes and making me feel I am in my mum's kitchen. Finally, daytime flights are tough for staff because passengers tend to stay awake longer and can be more demanding. This flight was virtually full in Business class, so well done to the staff for catering to our needs.
It has been a time of continued growth for the airline despite the ongoing blockade by its Middle Eastern neighbours, but it remains resilient. Flights like this remind one just how resilient they are.