It appears as if everyone and their mums hate Cathay Pacific’s Business Class catering. Need any proof? Just log onto Facebook’s Hong Kong Aviation Discussion Board, and you’re likely to find a post criticising every aspect of the food, from the taste to the presentation. However, is it actually that bad? I had the chance to fly between Hong Kong and Newark in Business Class (again) and decided to do a quick “food review” in lieu of a whole review. If you want to see a review of Cathay Pacific’s longhaul business class product, Alvin and I have written about our experiences here, here and here. So, here goes:
Cathay Pacific Flight 890
Monday, November 28th, 2016
Origin: Hong Kong (HKG)
Destination: New York (EWR)
Duration: 16 h 05 min (14 h 45 min)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 18A (Business Class)
Cathay Pacific’s Business Class meal service comes in five courses, starting with a drinks and nuts run, followed by the starter and a side salad, proceeded by a meal service. After the main meal service, it’s a round of fruits and cheese, before hot drinks, dessert and pralines.
The meal service started with the Senior Purser rolling down a trolley stocked with drinks and mixed nuts down the aisle. In addition to a wide range of soft drinks, juices and wines, flight attendants were willing to mix up a variety of cocktails and mixed drinks. I ordered a Coca-Cola, which was served with a side of cashews, almonds and peanuts which were cold by the time it had reached my seat.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Catering
In Cathay Pacific Business Class, the “main” meals are served on trays which I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, it’s much easier for the crew to serve meals using carts. However, tray-less service is much classier and luxurious, giving a “premium” feeling to the whole in-flight experience.
The starters were served by the Flight Attendant who rolled a cart down the aisle, presenting each passenger with a tray containing an appetiser, a side salad. The tray also comes with a small glass of water which is a really small touch. The Flight Purser then came down the aisle with a bread basket containing several types of buns and bread.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Starter
The appetizer consisted of a Cajun spiced prawn served atop a green mango salad, which was phenomenal. The prawns were fresh and tasted phenomenal, while the salad was refreshing and provided a nice acidic kick to the dish. The side salad was nothing special, but at least contained some marinated peppers and cherry tomatoes which gave the dish a bit of extra flavor. Cathay has ditched a cheap citrus dressing which tasted pretty gross for a small jar of olive oil and balsamic vinegarette which I thought was a welcome enhancement. The garlic bread served with the meal was quite tasty, with a soft center and a toasted crust.
A trolley was then rolled down the aisle, which displayed all of the main options. While some disagree with me, I think it’s nice to be able to actually see what the food actually looks like. It saves people from the disappointment of having a dish turn out not as expected. Cathay differs from many top-tier airlines in regards to their meal presentation, which is all done in a catering facility rather than onboard, which really shows in the presentation of the meals. Some of the meals looked really, really sloppy.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Kung Po Chicken
For my main I selected the chicken in kung po sauce with rice, which was incredible. The rice was well cooked, warm, soft and tasty, while the chicken was phenomenal. The meat itself was tender and juicy, while the sauce was spicy but not too overbearing. The side vegetables were crispy and flavourful. Overall, a fantastic showing from Cathay Pacific catering. Interestingly, this dish was part of a collaboration with acclaimed Chinese restaurant MOTT 32.
Shortly after the tray was cleared, the cabin crew rolled a fruits and cheese cart down the aisle, which was very classy. The fruit and cheese were plated at each individual seat and could be altered based on the requests of the customer. The flight attendants were also very knowledgeable about the cheeses, which I thought was a nice touch. As I was quite full at the time, I only had the fruits, which were very fresh.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Fruits
After the fruits and the cheese, one last cart was rolled around the cabin with a selection of hot drinks including illy coffee, JING Chinese Tea. Other drinks such as hot chocolate and Hong Kong style milk tea were available on request. The cart also contained a selection of desserts. I picked the chocolate brownie, which was served with yuzu cream cheese on the top. The brownie was phenomenal and not too heavy.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Catering
I also ordered a cup of Hong Kong style milk tea which was very good, but obviously powdered. Finally, a box of pralines was passed around the cabin by the crew containing a selection of specially created chocolates, including a phenomenally tasty sesame praline which I did not get a picture of.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Milk Tea
The meal was served in around 2 hours, which appears to be quite short for a full meal service in International Business Class. Although the food was tasty, the cabin crew were the highlight of the in-flight service. Throughout the meal, crew members were walking around the cabin clearing plates as soon as they were finished, while also topping up drinks when finished, which I found was such a nice touch.
As for the food itself, I thought it was very tasty. Although there are issues with the presentation of the options, the food itself was prepared and cooked very well which is a testament to Cathay Pacific Catering Services’ skill and experience in preparing tasty food. However, it’s certainly not as elaborate as some other top rate airlines. More specifically, the food is not presented in-flight, creating a less polished and refined experience. The use of trays are perfectly fine, but it may appear to be a “cheap” move by management. It’s certainly better to serve meals on trays if it means that the cabin crew are not going to have to put in even more work to complete the meal service.
Now, on to the in-flight snacks. Cathay has designed a series of snack boxes for passengers’ enjoyment. While the snacks themselves are stocked with some incredibly tasty snacks including popcorn, chocolate and bruschetta flavoured toast chips, they only catered one box, which was very disappointing. Is loading an extra snack box that hard? Unfortunately, I can’t find the picture I took of the snacks, so I’ll recycle some pictures that I had taken in Premium Economy on a previous flight.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Premium Economy Snacks
Cathay also offers freshly prepared hot snacks onboard, which is an area of their in-flight service that I’d argue is actually better than the vast majority of their competitors. Typically, a selection of hot snacks including a burger, noodles, and an afternoon tea set will be offered to passengers. On my flight, it was a choice between a burger and Szechuan-style Dan Dan Noodles.
I picked the Dan Dan Noodles, which I was fully expecting to be phenomenal based on the previous experiences with the dish in Cathay lounges. However, it was a disappointment. The soup was extremely oily and poorly cooked, while the noodles almost looked like udon noodles based on how thick they were. At the recommendation of the Inflight Service Manager, I also had a cup of JING Jasmine Tea with the meal, which was absolutely phenomenal.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Snack
Later on in the flight, I also had a burger which was much better. The bun was nicely toasted while the meat was juicy and the vegetables were very fresh. Interestingly, they physically construct the burger by heating the bun and the burger, before assembling it with a separately loaded pickle and vegetables, both of which were very fresh. The burgers are also served with Ketchup, which is a poorly thought out gimmick. It was impossible to get the Ketchup out of the jar that it was served in.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Burger
Although breakfast was served on this flight, I slept through the service and woke up 30 minutes before landing.
While this is supposed to be a food review, I thought I’d take the moment to point out how spectacular the cabin crew serving the flight were. The crew was Hong Kong based, and struck the perfect balance between being professional and friendly. Everywhere they did they went about with a smile on their faces and acted like they were genuinely happy to be doing their job. Special shout out to the Inflight Services Manager who was incredibly friendly. She actively walked around the cabin managing the service and even took the time to chat with some of the crew, taking the time to converse with and interact with passengers, which really nice of her.
Cathay Pacific’s Business Class catering isn’t actually that bad. In fact, I’d argue that it’s perfectly acceptable for a Business Class product. Are there still problems? Yes. There are still some issues with the catering specifically regarding the presentation of the food. However, the meals are tasty, well thought out, and extremely extensive. It’s a good in-flight catering experience.
Yet, we get wrapped up in how much Cathay’s catering lags behind Qatar’s, or Singapore Airlines’, purely based on the fact that the airline doesn’t offer a “dine on demand” service, or that the food isn’t specially plated onboard. Fancy presentation and flexibility with dining are without a doubt nice enhancements. However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that food is designed to fill people up in a manner that is pleasant, which is something that Cathay Pacific does well.
I have found Cathay Pacific business class catering to be inconsistent across particular flights. Last year, I travelled on four long haul sectors to Europe from Australia – and found that the quality catering on two sectors was really average and on two sectors it was really good. So, for example – Sydney to Hong Kong was very good, HKG to LHR was average. Dusseldorf to Hong Kong was very good and Hong Kong to Sydney was average. I might add, I only ate the western dishes. It may be that Cathay does its Asian main courses better across the board than its western dishes – but I can’t comment from my own ‘taste experience’. Also, neither western or Asian dishes look particular attractive or ‘mouth watering’ in my opinion.
I guess this goes to the core of having the food cooked at the catering facility and re-heated on board in the same serving dishes, rather than going to the trouble (as Qatar and Singapore Airlines for example) of further on board preparation and individual presentation and plating. I think until Cathay Pacific takes that further step, their business class catering will be a bit ‘disappointing’ compared to Qatar Airways and SQ.
I also note that I read in Australian Business Traveller this week that Cathay is indeed going to trial ‘dine-on-demand’ and a higher quality catering that goes with this concept on specific flights very shortly. I think from memory this will be the HKG/LHR sector and HKG/JFK. The trial will be for a month or so on each sector sometime mid-year. Let’s hope it’s successful and they can roll it out on all sectors, because for everything else – service, seats and lounges at HKG in particular, Cathay is so wonderful. ‘Perfect’ onboard catering would be icing on the cake!