Inflight degustation: sampling Etihad's first class tasting menu

By Chris Chamberlin, April 15 2016

A personal chef serving up two rounds of nibbles, an amuse-bouche and a mouth-watering seven-course meal: no, it's not a restaurant, it's Etihad first class, but you'd be forgiven for confusing the two.

That's because the airline's first class inflight chefs – yes, chefs – hail from restaurants across the globe and go far beyond the typical "chicken or beef?" rhetoric of your average flight attendant, customising meals exactly to your liking and even assembling an impromptu tasting menu on request.

We called on Danilo Di Fiore, one of Etihad's esteemed first class chefs from Italy, to do just that on a recent flight from Abu Dhabi to Brisbane in Etihad's Boeing 787-9 first class suites, and weren't disappointed.

A first class welcome...

Beginning our flight is Etihad's signature first class silver tray service with dates, a hot towel, a glass of Bollinger La Grande Année 2005 and a signed welcome note from the cabin manager:

That progresses quickly after take-off to an apéritif of your choosing while the first of the tasting delights are prepared – in this instance a classic vodka Martini with the appropriate nibbles...

... after which the crew stop by to set the table with Nikko Ceramics Silk Platinum place settings...

... echoing the experience, and expectations, of the best fine dining restaurants on the ground.

Etihad first class tasting menu: the feast begins...

Starting the degustation is the chef's fennel-flavoured amuse-bouche – tasty yet almost dwarfed by the plates beneath it – paired with a 2008 Dog Point Vineyard Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc...

... a crisp citrusy drop with scents of pink grapefruit and herbs, progressing with hints of green mango, ginger and grass that also tie in well with the next dish: an Arabic mezze plate with pita, tabouleh, baba ganoush, hommus and olives...

... alongside a refreshing non-alcoholic mint cordial. We'd have liked more pita with this dish to allow for some mixing and matching, but found each of the elements fresh and as expected.

Keeping the same wine, it's then onward to a Balik salmon with a new potato scallion and red onion mini-salad with a dollop of crème fraîche...

... caringly plated and which lets you indulge the salmon's sweeter side through the crème fraîche or to add a small kick to your fork by spiking some of the crunchier red onion.

Continuing the lighter courses is a simple soup duo with a paprika, chickpea and labneh soup (left) and a roast pumpkin soup (right), served with a contemporary twist in shot-like glasses...

... avoiding the need for a soup spoon, and joined by appropriately-sized garlic bread for dipping – rather than traditional plain white or wholemeal – which proved a flavourful mix.

It's at this point our chef recommends a new wine from his home country to pair with both the soups and the following course: a 2011 Tuscan Pietro Beconcini Chianti Riserva DOCG with notes of spice, mocha, ripe tomatoes and ricotta cheese.

Remaining in the garden, a wild mushroom risotto follows with Parmesan cheese and a drop of dashi, and while a simple dish at heart, the chef's decision to add truffle oil creates an element of sweetness to balance the more savoury aspects, turning something basic into something delicious that I'd order again as a standalone starter.

A drinkable mango sorbet helps to defuse any lingering oil and cleanse the palate...

... and if not served as a cleanser would hold its own on a warm summer's afternoon.

Etihad first class tasting menu: the main courses...

We move now from Europe to North America with a US rib eye steak done medium well with garlic balm potatoes and leaves, accompanied by a not-on-the-menu mushroom sauce...

... and despite being flown from the United States to the Middle East and then served to us en route to Australia, the steak was incredibly tender, easy to cut with a regular table knife, well-paired with the accompaniments and certainly didn't taste 'days old'.

Also complementary was a Californian Pinot Noir in the 2013 Line 39., an earthy blend of pomegranates, stewed strawberries, cranberries, fresh mushrooms, vanilla and cinnamon.

Next up: a trio of quail with baby carrots, parsnip purée, red cabbage and a grenadine jus...

... but which we'd rank as our least favourite dish as two of the three quail elements were more chewy than expected – normally from being ever-so-slightly overcooked – but the surviving quail breast was succulent and the carrots soft without being overly so.

It's also a great dish to pair with a French red, in this instance a 2011 La Croix de Beaucaillou Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Saint-Julien (Bordeaux): not as sweet as the Californian red, instead with aromas and flavours of fresh blackberries, dried tobacco and freshly-cut cedar wood.

Etihad first class tasting menu: dessert is served...

With a multitude of desserts on the menu, we hinted to the chef that we were near-full but certainly partial to the idea: met in return by some creativity: melted yet still-cold vanilla and chocolate ice creams in those small shot-sized glasses...

... served in tandem with a pour of Amarula Cream from South Africa: a great end to one of the most lavish dining experiences you'll ever have in the air, with tea and coffee also served to those so inclined.

Also read: A Qantas degustation: devouring the first class tasting menu

Chris Chamberlin travelled to Abu Dhabi as a guest of Etihad Airways.

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

24 Feb 2015

Total posts 22

Hi Chris,

Is this an option on the menu or something you need to request?  I didn't come across it on my last flight in First.

Cheers

The printed menu doesn't call it out, but when the chef comes by you can ask them nicely to put one together. :)

Food Porn posts are always much appreciated. Thank you Chris!

Now I'm sad I didn't have enough points to book Etihad :(   Ahh well, Emirates First is good compensation.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Mar 2015

Total posts 5

Hey Chris, .... Could you please pass on these photos onto Qantas it may give them some ideas !! Wow, .. we could only deam just to get the nice cutlery   regards

 


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