Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Virgin Australia Business Class, LAX-SYD

Flight Details:
  • Flight #: Virgin Australia, VA 2
  • Depart: Los Angeles, 9:55pm scheduled (10:29pm actual)
  • Arrive: Sydney, Australia, 7:40am
  • Class: The Business
  • Seat: 4k
Another day, another international flight.  Since I lost my One World status, and I've never actually loved the business class seats on Qantas or American, I decided to mix it up, and try Virgin Australia for the first time.

Overall, it was a fine experience, and I'm glad I tried something new.  Life is about trade-offs, right?  The bed was far superior to the Qantas/AA versions, the seat had some nice features ... but lacked anywhere to store my laptop (!), the pajamas sucked, and the staff were pleasant enough.  I'm honestly not sure what my top choice is anymore for getting to Sydney, I think it might be Air New Zealand (previous reviews).

The Seat

The cabin is arranged with all aisle access.  Window seats face slightly towards the windows, while middle seats face straight forward.

I was in 4k, a window seat, mid-cabin.  A great seat in that I wasn't too close to the lavatory and galley in front, nor the bar behind.
Seat.
The seat is very private and has a decent amount of small storage spaces around it.  I did have my own full size, very large, storage bin above.

The seat was relatively comfortable in the seated position, much better than others I have flown.  Seat controls were a modern digital pad on the side.
Bed.
I was instructed to let the FA know when I wanted turndown service, as it doesn't simply recline, they also come add a thick mattress pad.

As a bed, it was also fairly successful.  Certainly long enough, fully flat, very stable and solid (I'm looking at you BA sloping bed!)  The mattress pad was decently thick and truly did provide a lump free, soft surface.  It was a bit too narrow when I lay in one direction, but not too bad.

My real qualm is that the way the tray table doesn't actually fold up and out of the way made it impossible to do any stretches in my seat in the morning (y'all do this, right?).  But overall, a good bed, and I got about as much sleep as I'd expect.

My seat position, 4k, turned out to be quite ideal for noise isolation.  I had no noise from the active galley and bathrooms in front, nor the bar in the back.  The only noise I had was from my fellow passengers as they opened bins and whatnot, but it was quite minimal.
Side Ledge.
Along the window was a ledge where I could place things during the flight.  The storage compartments located here however were far less useful than their deep counterparts on British Airways or Qantas flights.
Power and storage.
Under the side ledge was the main storage.  It was a shallow, awkward shaped compartment that also had a power jack, usb port, headphone jack, and the remote control for the seat.

The lid could not close while power was being used, which made it a bit awkward, since I couldn't leave my laptop charging easily.  I also couldn't open it when the tray table was extended, as it blocked the latch.  And my laptop could not fit inside.
Shallow Compartment.
The second compartment next to the compartment with power was also very shallow.  I used it to keep my menus, cell phone, and gum, but it really was too shallow to be very useful, and quite a strange shape.
Tablet and magazine holder.
On the side was a place for magazines, with a side door that fit a tablet.  It did not fit my 13" MacBook Air though.
TV Screen, Tray Table.
The tv screen was quite large and vivid, clearly a modern product.

The tray table was a different design than I've seen elsewhere.  It did not tuck away entirely, instead, it was always in a half-out position like this, which was great for setting drinks and other small items on.

It extended easily into a full tray table, which you could then pull closer.
Armrest.
The arm rest adjacent to the aisle needed to be down for takeoff and landing, but I could raise it later.  I'm glad my FA showed me that my headphones and a full size bottle of water were hiding in here, as I never would have found them myself.

Amenities

Bar.
If you have read any other reviews of Virgin Australia's new aircraft, you certainly know about the bar.  I've been on other planes with bars (but I haven't reviewed them yet, stay tuned!), but this one was the most useful that I've seen so far.  A full bar, with 3 bar stools along the front, and several on the side.
More Bar Area.
There was also comfortable couch seating off to the side.

The bar was used for the crew to stage meal service at the start of the flight, but after that, it was available for use.  You could order snacks, go have a drink, or just sit there rather than your seat.  They also had chocolates and other nibbles laid out.

By mid-morning, a continental breakfast was laid out, for those who got peckish before main breakfast service.  I saw a basket with croissants and muffins, butter, jams, yogurts, fruit plates, and juices.  I actually wasn't at all hungry early this time, likely because I ate in 2 lounges and some on the flight too, but I usually do get hungry before the breakfast, so I appreciated that they did this.  For next time.
Amenity Kit.
Amenity kits were mostly standard, with a crappy eye mask and ear plugs, a pen, toothbrush and toothpaste, and socks. The unique item was the vanity kit with q-tips.
Ren Skincare.
The skincare box contained hand and body cream, lip balm, and day cream.  This same brand was in the bathrooms.
Pajamas.
Pajamas were distributed before we took off.  Long pants and a long sleeve shirt, in a drawstring cloth bag of the same material as the pajamas.  The material was strange, kinda scratchy, and it reminded me of long underwear.  Heavier weight than most airline pajamas.  No pockets in the pants.

I often save airline pajamas and wear them in "real" life (the Cathay Pacific First Class pajamas are my favorite!) but even the lightweight basic Qantas ones have their use.  This pair though ... pretty sure I'll be discarding immediately.

Dining & Drinks

Now, onto the food, as this is a food blog after all!
Menu.
As I settled into my seat, a menu was provided.  It had two inserts, one for the dinner service, and one for breakfast, along with several pages of beverages and snacks.  I'm guessing those change less often?

Dinner

Since the flight departed at 9:55pm, there were several dining options available.  You could go for a full 3 course dining experience if you wished.  Or, if you had eaten in the lounge or terminal, you could opt for an "Express" meal, which was the same menu, just eliminating the main dish.  Of course, you could skip meal service entirely, and go for snacks later on, available at the bar after meal service was over.
Dinner Menu.
The dinner menu was:

Bakery: Your choice of warmed artisan bread

Starter:
  • Sweetcorn and smoked paprika soup with chives 
  • Green leaf salad with fennel, almonds, broad beans, goats feta and tahini 
  • Prawns with green papaya, macadamia, tomato and tamarind dressing
Main:
  • Salmon fillet on romesco sauce with beans and lemon 
  • Herb-crumbed pork schnitzel on asparagus with carrot and sesame slaw 
  • Lamb cutlets with barbeque spice on braised cabbage with oregano potatoes and olive dressing 
  • Eggplant, sweet potato and chickpea curry with basmati rice and coriander
Cheese or Dessert
  • Chaumes, France,  Camembert, America, Gorgonzola, Italy, accompanied by pecans, apricots, and crackers
  • Dark chocolate, hazelnut, and orange mascarpone mousse cake with creme anglaise and blueberries
  • Espresso gelato
  • Salted caramel gelato
Nespresso: Ristretto, espresso, macchiato, long black, cappuccino
Madame Flavour Tea: special breakfast blend, grey de luxe, green tea with jasmine and pear, mint and lavendar tisane, lemongrass, lime, and ginger tisane
Other hot beverages: filter coffee, hot chocolate

Our dinner orders were taken once underway, including all drinks.  I appreciated that they covered all bases at once, but it did seem to take a while to be offered my initial drink.  They took the time to ask if you wanted still or sparkling water with your meal, a wine to pair with the main, and any tea/coffee/dessert wines to pair with dessert.
Express Dinner Menu.
The express menu just eliminated the main, and since I had already eaten in the lounge, this is what I went for, particularly as it was midnight when the meal was served, and I don't like cooked salmon, pork, lamb, or chickpeas anyway.

It didn't seem particularly "express" though, served no sooner than the regular meals, and not until 2 hours into the flight.  Our welcome drinks came at 11:23pm, my starter at 12:06pm.
Kir Royale.
The drink menu had champagne, 3 red wines, 3 whites, dessert wine, spirits, beer, soft drinks, and juices, plus a section with cocktails (mimosa, peach bellini, and kir royale).

I went for a kir royale, taking after my favorite drink on British Airways.  While not served in quite as nice of a way, aka, no twist of orange, it was fizzy and enjoyable.
Salted nuts, edamame, olives.
Our welcome drinks also came with a trio of snacks: salted nuts (cashews and almonds, with one token pistachio), edamame (with a nice spice rub), and mixed olives.  These were all fine, but I wasn't particularly in the mood for them, not that I care for these items generally anyway.  I did wish the nuts were warm.
Dinner Place Setting.
A while later, my place was set for dinner, with a white tablecloth, two forks and two knives (even though I wasn't having a main ...), a white cloth napkin, a bowl with butter, a bread plate and knife, and salt and pepper shakers that look like the Sydney opera house.
Garlic Bread.
A basket was brought by with bread, a choice of a roll or garlic bread.  I generally skip the bread, but for some reason, I decided to get the garlic bread, I think remembering being jealous when Ojan has gotten good garlic bread on flights in the past.

The bread wasn't good.  It was spongy.  The crust was very ... crusty.  The garlic flavor was good I guess, but otherwise, not good.
Prawns with green papaya, macadamia, tomato and tamarind dressing.
The prawns looked rubbery and not very well cleaned, so I didn't bother with them.  I had my krab in the lounge already anyway.  I got this mostly just to get something, and because I do like papaya and macadamia.

The shredded green papaya was relatively flavorless but not dried out.  There wasn't much dressing, just a little on the prawns, which I tried to rub off onto the papaya the best I could.  There was a decent amount of chopped macadamia, but it was kinda soft and strange.  I love macadamia, but I didn't love this.
Salted Caramel Gelato.
I had a hard time picking my dessert, because I knew the gelato would just be gelato, no toppings, but besides the cheese and gelato, the "real" dessert was a cake that sounded like it would be fairly chocolately, and I try to avoid chocolate at night, particularly when trying to sleep in less than ideal environment.  (But ... mascarpone! creme anglaise! berries!)

The gelato however was very good.  It was served at the perfect temperature, I didn't need to wait for it to soften.

It was light and fluffy, sweet, and slightly salty.  Really a decent gelato, and they have perfected the serving temperature.  Still, I'd like toppings with it.

With the dessert, I opted for the dessert wine.  I didn't really like it.

"Pantry"

The menu also included a section on the "Pantry", broken down into "nibbles" and "lite bites".  These are items that I could ask for at my seat later on in the flight, or have at the bar.

Nibbles
  • Nuts: roasted mixed nuts
  • Chocolate: valrhona milk and dark chocolate
  • Chips: gourmet potato crisps with sea salt
  • Olives: marinated green olives
Lite Bites
  • Chicken and tarragon finger sandwiches
  • Roast capsicum with white anchovies on toast
  • Guacamole with corn chips
  • Artisan cheese plate with grapes and fig paste
I was hoping that some of the lite bites would be appealing, as they are often the tastiest things on flights, but, alas, none of these called out to me.

Breakfast

Breakfast cards were part of our menu, and we were asked to fill them out before we took off.  You also had the option of not being woken, or, to have a continental breakfast at the bar earlier.

The menu was extensive and fairly awesome sounding.  I again appreciated the thoroughness, making sure you could specify pretty much everything up front.
Breakfast Card.
The menu read:

Juice: fresh orange juice or seasonal juice blend
Fruit: seasonal fruit blend with natural or fruit yogurt
Cereal: corn flakes or sultana bran with full cream, reduced fat, or soy milk
Bakery: whole wheat roll, croissant, blueberry muffin with strawberry jam, orange marmalade, honey, vegemite
Main: 
  • Bircher muesli with strawberry, raspberry, and blueberries
  • Coconut pancakes with pineapple, maple syrup, and ginger
  • Mushroom, capsicum, and feta omelette served with your choice of smoked salmon, bacon, wilted spinach, tomato relish, onion jam, chorizo
Tea (same selection as dinner), with option to ask for a mug and slice of lemon
Nespresso, coffee, and hot chocolate (same as dinner)
Milk & Sugar: their own section of the menu, full cream, reduced fat, or soy milk, sugar or sweetener.

I skipped the juices and fruit because of my melon allergy, and the cereal and yogurt because, well, boring.  Instead ... I ordered 2 main dishes and a bakery item.

If I had been ordering at actual breakfast time, rather than the night before, I probably would have only ordered one main dish.  I wasn't particularly hungry.  But I just couldn't decide between the muesli and pancakes!  I do love bircher muesli in Australia (except I'm picky, and don't like it if its too sour, too acidic, too much apple, etc).  And, um, how do I resist pancakes?  I was even tempted by the sides that come with the omelette, and pondered ordering a croissant with all the sides, to make some kind of savory croissant sandwich.

But in the end, I checked off two mains and a muffin.
Blueberry Muffin, Bircher muesli with strawberry, raspberry, and blueberries.
My tray arrived with the muffin, a pat of butter, and the muesli.  The FA told me to let her know when I wanted the pancakes, and she'd get those going.

The muffin was served quasi-warm, but much like the garlic bread, it was spongy.  If it wasn't for the sponginess, I actually would have quite liked it, in the same way that I like Costco muffins.  Sure, it wasn't a nice fresh baked good, but, these sorts of muffins do have their place.  It was loaded with plump berries.

The muesli was ... interesting.  Honestly, it seemed just like cold porridge.  It had no bits of apple or any other fruit.  No nuts, no seeds.  So sweetener.  Just cold oats, in a milky-yogurt base.  That meant that it wasn't too acidic at least, but, it was incredibly boring.

The fruit on top was mediocre at best.  The strawberries weren't even remotely ripe, and I didn't bother try them.  The blueberries and raspberries had no flavor.

I wanted to ask for honey to drizzle on top, but I was too lazy.  I think honey would have at least sweetened it nicely.

Overall, lackluster, and really needed some mix ins.
Main #2: Coconut pancakes with pineapple, maple syrup, and ginger.
My pancakes arrived soon after I asked for them, a stack of two mid-size pancakes.

They looked better than they tasted.  They were fairly fluffy, and weren't rubbery or gummy, but ... like the garlic bread, like the muffin, they were soggy and spongy.  Clearly, something about the way Virgin Austrlia heat up their baked goods just doesn't work well.

The pancakes were also a really strange texture, as they were loaded with shredded coconut.  It made them really not pleasant to eat.  The ginger flavor and coconut flavor were both quite strong, and I can't say I cared for either.  I'm not sure what the green stuff on top was, it tasted sorta like lemongrass?

I also never found the maple syrup.  It certainly wasn't on the side to pour on.  Perhaps that is what made them so soggy?  I didn't taste any maple whatsoever though.

The pineapple was soaked in something, I think a ginger syrup, and was I think somewhat stewed?  It was strangely soggy too.

So ... good concept with bold flavors (ginger! coconut! pineapple!) but, these just didn't appeal to me.
Long Black.
To go along with my meal, I ordered a long black, and for once, not decaf.  It was a standard Nspresso beverage, good enough.  I swapped to decaf after this, and they weren't as good, but, a little sweetener fixed that up.
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