Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic, SFO-LHR

Flight Details: VS 42, SFO-LHR, 9:10pm departure.

This was my first time flying with Virgin Atlantic.

My journey started in the Clubhouse, where I had a lovely meal, and then we proceeded to the gate.  As I noted, the Clubhouse is landslide, so we had to leave the lounge with ample time to deal with security, which turned out to be frustratingly slow, even though we had Priority.  We wound up with no extra time on the other side, and boarded immediately.
Upper Class Cabin.
This was also my first time, finally, on a Dreamliner!  I was impressed with how spacious the cabin was, the ceiling so high, even though I've been on many huge aircraft before.

Amenities

Amenity Kit.
Boarding was relatively quick and easy.  Waiting at my seat was an amenity kit, with standard crappy earplugs and eye mask, pen, toothbrush and paste, socks, and some lotions.  As I settled in, pre-takeoff drinks were offered (orange juice, sparkling, water).  The seat had a little tray that pulled out for drinks, very convenient.

Soon after, I was offered a “sleeping suit”, pants and long sleeve shirt.  The long sleeve shirt was a pretty standard t-shirt, cotton, slight v-neck.  The pants were … interesting.  Drawstring waist, pocked on one side only, and, uh, drawstrings at the ankles.  Mine ended up being way too short, but I imagine that actually being kinda nice, so your pant legs don’t ride up?
Bathroom.
The bathroom was fairly standard, nothing was particularly interesting about it.  It wasn’t strangely large, it had the basics and nothing more.  Paper towels were paper, not cloth.
Bar.
One flagship feature of the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class brand is the bar.  Yes, they devote a fair amount of floor space to a bar, where you can wander up and order a drink or grab a snack, or just socialize with other guests.  It has bar stools.

I was amused when I looked up and saw that a few people choose to actually have their dinners there.  I mean, why not?  It was likely more comfortable than our seats, and then you had no risk of making a mess at your seat.  Hmm.  Next time.

At some point, very late in the night as they weren’t there the first few times I checked, a snack basket and fruit basket appeared.  Fruit was apples, pears, bananas, grapes, and a few other things.

Snacks included assorted chocolate bars, crisps, caramel corn, shortbread biscuits, granola bars, olives, and assorted lollies.  No nuts.

The Seat

Seat 7A.
The cabin layout is ridiculously spacious, single seats along the windows, with a single row down the center.  All seats thus have aisle access and feel extremely private.  I was in seat 7A, on the even more private side of the cabin, since the middle row faced away from me, so the wall that was the back of their seats is all that I could see.

The seat was a little narrow, not a problem for me while sitting, but I could imagine it feeling claustrophobic if I were bigger.  

USB and regular power ports were available, the seat had a little cubby for water/glasses/whatever, a slot of magazines, and general nice touches around.  The lighting however was awful.  Maybe I just didn’t find another lighting control, but the single light above really failed to illuminate.

At the foot of the seat is an ottoman, and we were allowed to stow bags under it, a fact I appreciated.  Overhead storage bins were huge and spacious.  Seriously, we could have brought all our bags on board if allowed!

The ottoman doubled as a seat for a dining companion, if you wanted to do that.

For dining, a large tray table pulled out, and it slid forward and back far enough that you could push it back to get in and out of your seat while it was still down. One point for that.

The seat wasn’t particularly comfortable to eat at.  Sitting upright at a a table was bit awkward.  I wondered if it would actually be better to sit on the ottoman.

It also wasn’t particularly comfortable for lounging, as it didn’t really recline nicely.

For sleep … also not great.  It did convert to a fully flat bed, like those on Air New Zealand (which I've reviewed many different times).  As a bed, it was sturdy, but, it was really, really hard.  And still very narrow.  On the plus side, the little tray for drinks doubled as a perfect bedside table for my glasses, and the other cubbies were all within reach.  Water bottles were provided.

For bedding, we had a very thin mattress pad, a blanket, and a single pillow.  As always I asked for extra, and was able to get a very small thin extra pillow.

Overall, having pajamas, a full blanket, a big pillow, and a real bed in business class is obviously great, but this wasn’t the most comfortable.
Entertainment Center.
The entertainment center featured movies, music, tv, games, and more.  It was easy to use and I had no problems navigating it or interacting with it, which, I can’t say is normal.

Next to that you can see my drink table, very handy throughout the flight.

There was wifi on the plane, at least, there was supposed to be.  And, i could connect to the access point.  I was never able to login however, as I got an error page every single time I tried.  I’m not sure if it was the fault of some corporate setting on my laptop blocking everything.
Fancy Windows.
Another feature of the Dreamliner is the fancy windows.  Rather than shades you lower and raise, they dim.

The Drinks

Drink?

The menu is two sided.  From one side, it opens up to show the drink menu, cutely labelled “Drink?”.

For wine options, there is a single sparkling, 3 red, and 3 white.  As in the Clubhouse, I was drawn to the cocktail menu, although all the cocktails were quite fruity.  They even had a non-alcoholic mango/lime/lemonade/cranberry selection.  There were also standard bar selections, soft drinks, juices, tea, and coffee.

Our drink order was quickly taken once underway (oh, pre-takeoff we were offered water, orange juice, and sparkling, as standard.
Creole Sour Smash, Sparkling Water.
“Made with Gentleman Jack, a taste of Tennessee meets the tropics in this sour blend.”

I was pretty surprised by how sweet and fruity this was.  I guess it did say “meets the tropics”, but, this was really just fruit juice, mango I think, mixed with some alcohol that was way too strong.  I just really didn’t like it at all.  I kept accidentally trying to drink out of the pretty purple swizzle stick.

The sparkling water was fine.  We were also provided water bottle in a little cubby in the seat.
2013 Cotes de Beaune Villages, Domaine Joseph Drouin, Burgundy, France.
“Light in color but certainly not in flavor, this Pinot Noir is crafted by family owned house of Joseph Drouin from sixteen different vineyard sites around the city of Beaune.  Delicate violet-like red fruits combine with a wonderful harmony of flavors on the palate.  An all time food favorite.”

Since I hated the cocktail, I moved on to wine, and asked for a small pour.  It was fine, inoffensive red wine, not too tannic, very drinkable.

The Food

Dinner

Hello you.
Flipping the menu over to the “Hello you” side I found the food menu.

Since I ate a full meal in the lounge, I didn’t want a second full dinner, but, I knew I’d get puckish before breakfast.  I opted for just a starter and dessert, since I skipped dessert in the lounge.

Options for starters were a soup, a salad, and a timbale.  “What’s a timbale?”, my companion asked.  I laughed, as the only place I ever see these is on flights.  A selection of 3 warm breads was offered next.

Had I wanted a main, choice were beef fillet, chicken, vegetarian ravioli, or a salmon salad.

I had my eyes on dessert, er, pudding, of course, and both options sounded good, a complete contrast to the lounge.  I had him order me the second one.

Finally, a selection of cheeses, that all did sound pretty good, but, I skipped.
Seasoned Chips.
After drink orders were taken, we were offered hot, scented towels.

Alongside our drinks, some “crisps” were offered.  They were seasoned, I think sour cream and onion.  I really enjoyed them, flavorful, and nice and crispy.
Table Setting.
After a short lull, a FA came through to prepare our tables, setting them with a tablecloth.  Soon after, a trolly came down the aisle offering additional beverages and hot rolls.  At this time, my table was set with silverware and little airplane salt and pepper shakers.  Our side was served last.
Starter: Crab Timbale.
“Timbale of crab with soba seaweed noodles and caviar - a light and indulgent treat”.

Starters were delivered one by one as they were ready.

Presentation-wise, this was lovely.  A tower of crab, topped with a little seaweed salad, and the tiniest little mound of soba noodles.  On the side was a couple pieces of frisee, a tiny bit more seaweed, and a tiny bit more soba, along with two little piles of bright green “caviar”.  The base of the timbale was a yellow pickled daikon.

The seaweed salad was good.  The soba was fine.  I liked the crunchy daikon.  But … the crab was fishy and I didn’t like it at all.  Good thing I wasn’t really hungry.
Main: Four Cheese Ravioli.
“Fresh pasta pockets packed with a four cheese filling and sautéed spinach, topped with a roasted tomato sauce and shavings of Italian cheese.”

My companion ordered the ravioli, and I of course got the first bite.  He offered!

It was … fine.  The pasta was a bit al dente in the “baked too long in the oven” sort of way, and it was kinda slimy.  Not awful, but, clearly not freshly cooked pasta.  The spinach was a mound on top, actually pretty good, nice flavorful, tender spinach.  It was all coated in the light red roasted tomato sauce, a kinda salty tomato sauce, with a slightly roasted flavor I guess.  The cheese on top was good.

Overall, fine, but, I didn’t feel like I missed out.
Pudding: Cherry Cheesecake.
“Luxurious, decadent cheesecake with a lovely cherry tang.  New York style cheesecake at it’s best”.

I ordered my dessert back when I ordered the starter an drinks.  As others around me finished their entrees, I assumed my dessert would come.  I watched tables get cleared, and person after person get dessert or cheese.  No dessert was coming my way.  My companion had also ordered dessert when main orders were taken, and after his tray was cleared, he was asked if he wanted dessert.  He repeated his order of the cheesecake.  Moments later, it was delivered.  I interrupted, asking for the sticky toffy pudding.  Around me, everyone else got dessert.  Still none for me.

Luckily, he ordered the cheesecake for me anyway, since I wanted both desserts.  He took one bite, and handed it over.
Cherry Cheesecake: Side View.
It was not quite what I expected, I think I thought the cherry component would be 1) red and 2) perhaps on top.  Instead, the cherry bits were actually located throughout the cheesecake and were mostly yellow cherries, although the cheesecake had a pink hue, which may have also been cherry?  There was subtle cherry flavor throughout.  The cherries were kinda mushy.

It had a somewhat strange consistency, not bad exactly, but not thick and luxurious.  The base wasn’t a graham cracker crust, instead it was a thin layer of sponge, I think lemon flavored?  Mushy, and not what I’d expect as a crust.  Not, uh, “New York style”.

On the side was a tiny bit of whipped cream, from a can.

This, like the ravioli, was fine.  Not good, not bad, but, fine.
Pudding: Sticky Toffee Pudding.
“A wonderful simple pudding, gloriously sweet and sticky perfectly paired with a spoonful of cream. Go on. No one’s watching.”

I waited a very long time for that sticky toffee pudding.  At some point, I decided that it must be served warm, so that is why it was taking so much longer.  Around me, everyone was having their seats converted into beds.  I was still waiting.  Finally, finally, it came.

It was indeed served warm, well, warmish.  Not exactly hot.

I took one bite.  WOAH.  Sweet.

Let’s rewind.  I’ve only had sticky toffee pudding a handful of times in my life.  Never in the UK.  And I’ve never liked it.  I wasn’t really prepared for this level of sweetness.  It took a few tentative bites before I really got into it.  At first, it was just too much.

The cake was not particularly interesting, molasses based I think.  The very, very center wasn’t covered in the sticky sauce, and it was kinda dry.  But the rest?  Absolutely soaked in sweet, sweet, sweet, sauce.  Thus, crazy moist.  Did I mention, sweet?  On top was also one single nut, I think a pecan, but it was gone before I knew it.

The base of the bowl was a pudding of cream, and, more sweet sauce.

I think I liked this in the end, but, it was about 100x sweeter than even I wanted.  I needed to alternate bites with the cheesecake.  It would have been glorious with some vanilla ice cream, and, if it was actually hot.

At this point, overindulgence + sugar coma + wine/cocktails coma set in.  I guess that meant it was time for bed?

[ Side note: I recently learned that the Sticky Toffee Pudding Company makes these puddings!  If that name looks familiar to you, it is because you can buy them in Whole Foods.  Which you should.  And serve them warm.  With ice cream.  You are welcome.  I've since had them *many* more times, and I adore them.  Reviews coming soon of course.  They also make a fabulous ginger version! ]

Breakfast

Breakfast Card.
Located inside our dinner menu was a breakfast card, to fill out in advance.  Options here were fairly extensive, starting with “Cereals/Fruit: A Good Start” with cereals (classic Kellogg’s, plus hot oatmeal, plus muesli), yogurt and fruit.  Next was the “Bakery” with croissants and hazelnut chocolate twists), and hot options of “The full works”, a full english breakfast, the “Smaller appetite? Why not try:”  bacon butty, or “Something lite”, aka, crepes.  You could pick and choose any individual components, which I thought was a nice touch.

Breakfast was delivered one by one, starting from the front of the cabin, as the crew worked to turn the beds back into seats.  They started about 2 hours out from London, which, given the short flight length, was a little sad.  Dinner finished 2 hours 45 minutes into the just over 9 hour flight, so, that left only 4 hours for sleep.  Oooh.  We were all done eating with more than an hour to go.
Breakfast: Muesli, Hazelnut Chocolate Twist Croissant, Peach Creepes, Coffee.
A little round doily was set on my tray first, and all my items arrived at once.  My order wasn’t quite accurate.  My crepes came with bacon on the side, which I didn’t order, and my coffee cake with milk, which I didn’t order.

Muesli

Muesli is something that I sometimes love.  This … I did not love.  It was regular cereal style muesli, not bircher.  On the plus side, it had a mix of all sorts of things, oats, rice puffs, a ton of different seeds, bits of nuts, dried apples, dried raisins. But, it was just a pile of mush.  I have no idea when the milk was added, but it was clearly in advance.  I did not like.

My companion opted for the porridge, which arrived well after his meal.  I didn’t get a photo, but took a bite.  It was actually pretty good, not standard oatmeal, short grains, nicely cooked, not too mushy, and with plenty of brown sugar mixed in.

Hazelnut chocolate twist croissant

My bakery item was served slightly warm, so it had that going for it.  But the pastry was not buttery, it was not flaky, and it was spongy and pretty gross.  You know me and baked goods, but still, this wasn't good.

The warm chocolate hazelnut filling however was tasty, and I extracted as much as I could.

Peach crepes

Interestingly, the crepes had a second option, “With streaky bacon”.  I thought it odd to have that explicit as a side, when you could opt for bacon or sausage from the English breakfast above.  Anyway.  I didn’t opt for the bacon, but I got it anyway.  It was almost crispy, but mostly just greasy.

The crepes were not very good.  Lukewarm.  The edges dried out and crispy.  I’m not sure who thinks crepes would be successful reheated on a plane?

The peaches were slightly spiced with cinnamon I think (and maybe nutmeg?)  I would have preferred without the spices, but, I imagine most folks would want this.  They were not fresh peaches, more like canned, but at least they weren’t in a sickly sweet compote.

On the plus side, there was a scoop of clotted cream not mentioned on the menu, and that was tasty.

So, overall, not so good.  I salvaged the peaches, cream, and chocolate hazelnut filling, and some nuts and pumpkin seeds from the muesli, but good thing it was 5am in my world and I wasn’t actually hungry.  

Coffee

My coffee was rather cold and light brown.  Hmm.  I ordered it black.  I inquired, “does this have milk in it?”  My FA said yes.  I asked for black.  He came back with a black coffee, this one piping hot, and much better.  Good coffee?  Nah.  But it was drinkable.

Later on I opted for a decaf, and it was clearly instant, but again, not bad.

I liked the large size mug.
Bacon Butty with Brown Sauce.
My companion went for the Bacon Butty.  He has had some great breakfast sandwiches on flights before, so I was eager to try it.  The roll was spongy and soggy and greasy, the bacon was flabby style, and I don’t like brown sauce.  Glad I didn’t get this, and, he was probably glad I didn’t want to steal it.
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