a plate of food with a fork and knife

SNEAK PEEK: Cathay Pacific’s NEW Business Class Dining Concept

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I’m a fan of Andrew from Expatriate Days’ photos on Instagram. Earlier this month he had the chance to fly Cathay Pacific’s inaugural flight from Hong Kong to Washington Dulles on the new A350-1000, which included Cathay Pacific’s new dining concept. I reached out to Andrew to see if he could provide his thoughts in a post, and he was kind enough to oblige.

Here they are below. While all opinions below are his, I largely agree with them (I’ve been more critical of Cathay Pacific’s current premium product than he has, though). Thanks, Andrew! 🙂

In September, I had to fly from New York to Shanghai for business. The month of September must be a busy travel time as premium cabins were largely full on more desirable carriers — JAL, ANA, Cathay, even the U.S. carriers.

I couldn’t book myself onto one of the five Cathay flights from New York, but luckily space was available on the flight from Washington D.C.— Cathay’s longest flight by distance — and on the inaugural flight no less. The flight nicely coincided with the dates that I needed to fly, so as a result, I got to experience two new Cathay features: the A350-1000 service (with updated reverse herringbone seating and inflight WiFi) along with the new Cathay business class dining concept.

a plane in a building
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-1000 Washington Dulles Airport

Cathay’s service is largely superior in all regards — hard product, service and ground experience (at least in Hong Kong) — and it remains one of my favorites ways to cross the Pacific. However, the major weak point of its business class has always been the food. The catering is usually quite sloppily presented, and the portions quite meager for business class. The airline acknowledged this when it announced the rollout of a new “restaurant-style” dining concept for the business class cabin, which will be fully rolled out on all longhaul flights by mid-2019.

There were a few factors that threw off the rhythm of the meals and made for an irregular service on our flight. Mainly, and most significantly, Typhoon Mangkhut was due to batter Hong Kong while we were in the air, so our 1:20 AM flight did not board until nearly 5 AM. A pre-dawn departure really throws your body clock off, and as a result I didn’t really know what meal I was having. On top of that, while the cabin crew certainly wasn’t new, it was easy to tell that it was the first day of school for the ground service crew.

Despite that, overall I really loved the new dining service and thought it was a real welcome improvement toward making Cathay’s business class service even better. Here are a few reasons why.

Awesome New Menu

The new dining service sports a new menu — a matte broadsheet that also includes local articles on Hong Kong dining. This replaces the former, restaurant-style menu. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of this format, but the menu reorganizes the service, and offers six main entrees. (I read that there would also be three appetizers on offer, but they may have been omitted due to the late night departure.)

a newspaper with a picture of food on it a paper with text on it
Cathay Pacific New Business Class Menu

Cathay previously had a list of dinner entrees, followed by snacks that you can order anytime. The snacks and dinner have been merged into the dinner entree’s list, which means the “snacks” are much better quality. In addition to the dinner items, passengers can order, at any time, a burger and chunky fries, a spicy prawn laksa, or a farro salad. Gone are the wonton noodles from the previous menu, which were quite bland.

Partial dine-on-demand

As I mentioned, the timing of the flight was quite irregular. On post-midnight departures from the U.S., Cathay offers a full meal – but, realising that some travelers might prefer to go straight to sleep, they also offer an express menu. This was especially the case when our flight was delayed until 5am. The crew quickly offered up breakfast as the first meal service, to be served if and when you so decided. Since the “anytime” snacks are entree-sized, it is totally possible to dine along your body clock throughout the flight.

Upon takeoff, at around 5:30 AM, I quickly informed the crew that I would be going to sleep right away. I woke about 6 hours later, and the crew informed me they were preparing a meal service during the flight’s mid-way mark (8 hours in) and that I could order breakfast. I wasn’t so keen on eating breakfast for lunch, so the crew suggested they prepare a continental breakfast for me immediately and bring me my desired entree, the seared lamb rack with salsa verde, during the meal service.

a plate of food on a tray
Cathay Pacific Business Class Meal – Seared Lamb Rack with Salsa Verde

A few hours later I was still hungry, and the crew offered me anything off the menu – since breakfast was already served, there would be no more “preset” meal services. So I ordered the laksa, which I devoured. About an hour before landing, I ordered the burger. Like I said, my body clock was completely jumbled up at this point, so it was great to eat whenever I wanted.

a bowl of soup with shrimp and noodles and a can of soda
Cathay Pacific Business Class Meal – Spicy Prawn Laksa

This is one of the biggest improvements in Cathay Pacific business class that will make it a much more competitive product in the long-run. While you still can’t order anything off the menu anytime, select dishes from the main menu will be available throughout the entire flight. That’s something not many airlines offer right now.

Amazing food quality

The new catering is vastly improved, for sure. Rather than being served off of a cart with food on a baking dish, the new dining service features food on actual real plates. It’s hard to believe that Cathay doesn’t already do this. The first meal I had was a lamb rack with a “salsa verde,” which was really like a chimichurri sauce. Despite the misnaming, it was the most perfectly prepared piece of meat I’ve ever had on an airplane, and was basically First Class quality. I realise that most travelers have had mixed experiences with meat offered on airplanes, as meat doesn’t cooperate well with airplane ovens. Last fall, I had a perfectly cooked ribeye while flying Cathay First, so they must be doing something right.

a plate of food with a fork and knifea fork with meat on it
Perfectly cooked lamb in Cathay Pacific business class!

Bottom Line

Cathay’s new dining service is a definite improvement. The food was not only delicious and plentiful, but the manner and timing of which it was served helped me combat jetlag, since I could dine along my body clock adjustment.

The only issue right now is that this new service is only available on a few flights. I wish Cathay would roll out the service at a much quicker pace – for example, I didn’t get it on my return flight from Hong Kong to Newark. But I’ll take it when I can get it. This new dining concept brings Cathay one step closer to being one of the best business class services in the world.

Now, if only Cathay could get it together and offer properly prepared espresso-based drinks in business class, they’d have a near-perfect product.

Partial dine-on-demand brings Cathay Pacific from an average product to an excellent, even industry-leading product, in my opinion. It’s a definite improvement to an area that seemed like an afterthought to Cathay Pacific in the past. 

I can’t wait to try out the service for myself, but for now, I’d like to thank Andrew for sharing his thoughts on the new business class dining service! For now, please give him a follow – he’s on Instagram as @expatriatedays and you’ll find great content regarding his travels, including airline products and more!

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