Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Fish Butchery, Paddington

The Fish Butchery is an interesting place.
"Sustainably caught, under utilised species, expertly prepared for you to cook at home."
Mostly a place to pick up high quality rare seafood to prepare at home, although they do some made to order takeout.  It comes from the team behind one of Sydney's top seafood restaurants, Saint Peter.

Given my love of seafood, and trying new things, I couldn't wait to try it out when I was recently in town.
Fried, Fried, Fried ... and a Salad to Balance it out.
Since I was hotel living, I couldn't just get the raw products to prepare at home, and I was alone, so I couldn't get a huge feast, but I did try an assortment of items.

I ... wasn't in love with it.  I do think I picked poorly from the menu though.
Signage.
I had a hard time finding it.  I actually walked by before realizing I had done so.  This, literally, is the sign.  It is kinda an awesome sign, to be honest, but if you are looking for a sign that says "Fish Butchery", you will easily miss this.
Pantry Items.
A pantry area is stocked with fascinating pickles, preserved lemons, sweet and sour sauce, and batter for frying yourself, along with bread from a local baker.
Refrigerated Items.
In the fridge, along with aged, smoked, and cured seafood products, is jars of their house made sauces (mignonette, yougurt tartare, bacon killpatrick mix, cocktail sauce, tomato jam, prawn oil), bottles of curry stock and squid ink, assorted seafood terrines, a crab lasagna, crab cakes, housemade ling pie.

It made me wish I had a kitchen to return to.
Seafood Display.
But I was there for fresh seafood, which was available on full display.  I hadn't heard of many of the varieties, as they are native to Australia and not imported to the US often, but also, as they are mostly rarer species.

Here we had several types of prawns, king whiting sausage, black cod, john dory, and coral trout.  Each had information on the exact variety and fishing location.  All available by the kg.
More Seafood.
The lineup continued with mahi mai, trevally, yellowfin tuna, marlin, albacore, ocean trout, and broadbill, plus, um, their special creation, the T.M.T. Galantine (far left).  Yes, the last of which is  ocean trout, stuffed with murray cod and yellowfin tuna!
Prep Area.
The rest of the space is mostly an open work space, where the staff are busy prepping seafood with precision and care.  I believe most of this is headed to Saint Peter for service?
Dine In / Takeaway Menu.
For fresh prepared food there is an assortment of items available to dine at at the 8 little counter seats, or, as I did, takeaway.

I had a really, really hard time deciding what to get.  I kinda wanted it all.  I really wished I had someone to share with, or a kitchen for leftovers.

Did I want fried whitebait & aioli?  Sure, that sounded different.  King prawn toast with hot cocktail sauce?  Yes, particularly once the cashier told me it was his favorite.  The fairly famous tuna burger that folks have been raving about, complete with optional swordfish bacon?  Absolutely.  And then of course there is fresh fish and chips made with local ling, a tuna roll, a prawn cutlet, fresh prawns with cocktail sauce, a variety of sides (including an amazing looking potato scallop ...).  Not a large menu, really, but like I said, I wanted it all.

I settled on a bunch of small things, so I could try an assortment: one fried seafood, one fried side, and one salad.  Oh, and a bunch of extra sauces.  In retrospect, maybe I really should have just gotten the tuna burger or king prawn toast ...
Takeout Bag.
Everything was prepared to order in a back kitchen.

It took about 10 minutes for my order to be ready, during which time I browsed around the shop and admired the handiwork of the chefs in action.  I was not bored.

My order was handed over in a cute paper sack, which I choose to take outside to a nearby bench.
Albacore Bacon.
While I waited, one of the fish butchers offered me a generous slice of the albacore bacon.  I was *thrilled* to get a chance to try this unique product, in its simple form, just cured, not cooked or added to the burger.

It was fascinating, certainly not like anything I've had before.  Really quite interesting.  It had a great chew to it, and I loved the salt level.  I was surprised by how unfishy it was.  Was it bacon?  Not exactly, but it was quite enjoyable.  I'm curious how it transforms if you fry it up.

I think it would be fantastic on a BLT alongside tomato, or on their burger of course.

Thanks for letting me try this!
Fried Food Box.
My fried items came in one box, with my assortment of sauces included inside.
Salt & Vinegar Onion Rings. $6.
I was sooo excited for the onion rings.  I had been on a bit of an onion ring kick (super random, but I was ordering them every chance I could get), and the idea of a salt & vinegar onion ring, made entirely fresh to order, just sounded amazing.  They came with a vinegar dipping sauce too.

But ... wow they were oily.  Just, way too greasy.  I'm not opposed to oil, to grease, and I knew they were a fried item, but, this was just too much.  I couldn't actually taste the onions at all.  Just grease.  I appreciated the assorted sizes of rings.

The batter was really crispy, and had a bit of a slight vinegar taste to it, but the coating entirely fell off, and didn't cling to the rings well.  They were well salted.

These made me so sad, and I kept eating them, dabbing off the extensive oil, just trying desperately to like them, but, I really, truly did not.  Fascinating item, but, I think, flawed execution.
MOOLOOLABA KING PRAWN CUTLET. $7.
Next was the prawn cutlet, literally a huge, fresh mooloolaba king prawn (which I saw whole and raw in the display earlier!), crumbed, and fried.  It came with sweet chili mayo on the side, which I couldn't wait to try.

It too was fairly oily, but not quite as bad as the rings, as the coating was still crispy, and I think just soaked the oil up a little differently.  Also well salted.
Juicy Prawn Cutlet: Inside.
The prawn was good, clearly fresh, soo juicy and succulent.  It went great with the sweet chili aioli, or even just drizzled with the included lemon wedge.
Yogurt Tartar Sauce ($1 extra) / Sweet Chili Mayo (served with prawn) / Vinegar (served with onion rings).
The sauces were a mixed success.  Two came with my meal, one with each fried dish, and I added on the third, the tartar sauce, because I wanted to try it.

The yogurt tartar sauce was ... a healthier style of tartar sauce, clearly.  Tangy from yogurt.  Not really my thing, but I appreciated the generous bits of pickle in it.

The sweet chili mayo was great, this is the one that comes with the prawn, and it was creamy, slightly sweet, slightly spicy.  I really liked it, not actually with the prawn very much, but with chips that I dunked in it later.

The vinegar comes with the onion rings, to complete the salt and vinegar aspect of the dish, and, with the rings, it worked actually.  On its own, eh, just vinegar dipping sauce, but with the dish, it was good.
SAVOY CABBAGE, HAZELNUT & CURRANT SALAD. $11.
Yes, I know, I went to fish place and ordered a salad.  But I had read so many reviews of how great this was, and I wanted something non-fried to round out my meal.  Also, I love cabbage.

The serving was huge, and I planned to save much of it for later anyway, but, it was already dressed.  It sadly got soggy fast, although it was really fresh and crisp when I got it.
SAVOY CABBAGE, HAZELNUT & CURRANT SALAD: Close Up.
It was actually a pretty good salad.

Fresh, crispy cabbage, chopped up into enjoyable pieces.  It was a "good eating salad", as in, it was actually enjoyable to eat, given this base.

In the mix was tons of little currants, which looked like too much, but they actually were entirely necessary in that quantity, providing all the sweetness and little pops of chew.

And then, the hazelnuts.  Swoon.  I don't know what they did to these hazelnuts.  But I loved them.  Roasted and toasted, and just sooo flavorful.  At first I thought maybe Australian hazelnuts were just awesome, and started trying them everywhere I went, but, no others were quite like this.  They were awesome.  Also, added some crunch.

The last element, besides the fantastic scattering of fresh herbs, was the dressing.  This ... is where I didn't like it as much.  A buttermilk based dressing, creamy, but, for some reason, I just didn't care for it.  I wish I had asked for it on the side, as then the slaw would have held up, and I could have used a different dressing.

Overall, a very nicely designed salad, thoughtful, flavorful, textural ... I just didn't like the dressing.  Sadness.
Read More...

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

One World Lounges, SFO

Update Reviews, 2018

Cathay Pacific (November 2018)

It had been a few years since I visited the Cathay Pacific lounge, since most of my recent international flights have been to Sydney on Air New Zealand.  I've been traveling there a lot, and within the US a lot, but somehow, not any other international destinations.  I was happy to get a chance to check it out again.

The Cathay Lounge is definitely my favorite of the One World lounges at SFO.  Not that it is amazing in anyway, but it is not nearly as crowded, and staff seem far more on top of things, replenishing everything constantly and welcoming guests warmly.  The decor is also more my style.  I really appreciate the large high table, with stools, or, if you are me, perfect for standing height.

Drinks & Snacks

Drinks are all self serve, soft drinks, beer, wine, and spirits.
Snacks and Beer.
Whole fruit, and assorted chips are on top of the beer station.
Soft Drinks.
I appreciated the canned drink line up, including Perrier sparkling water.
Spirits, Wine.
The alcohol lineup was decent, with a nice variety of red varietals to choose from.  I had a decent enough old vine Zin.

Food Station #1: Cold Only.

There are actually two food stations, one with only cold items, and one with both hot and cold items, plus the drinks, and made to order noodle section.  I'm not quite sure why the small station exists, but it had some of the better looking items. 
Fruit Salad, Pasta Salad.
I tried the pasta salad once I was disappointed by the hot foods, but it was pretty awful, incredibly over dressed, oily.
Roasted Vegetables, Dressing.
The grilled veggies (two types of squash and peppers) looked decent, and a selection of dressings was provided to go with salad.  I didn't try any of this however.
Salad Greens.
Basic salad greens were in both of the cold sections.
Salad Toppings.
A decent line up of carrots, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, black olives, hard boiled egg, and grilled chicken rounded out the salad bar.  All looked fairly fresh.
Cheese, Cold Cuts, Sandwiches.
Next was a selection of cheeses (brie, gruyere, manchego) and cold cuts (turkey, ham, pastrami), plus pre-made sandwiches.  Interesting, the main food section also had pre-made sandwiches, but they were totally different, and paled in comparison to these.  These actually looked decent, a turkey club, blt, or "Pesto Turkey" that even had melted cheese and was served on dutch crunch!

If I had wanted more substantial food, I certainly would have tried these.

Food Station #2: Hot and Cold.

The larger food station featured hot items, more sandwiches and salads, and baked goods.
Seafood fried rice, Sauteed Lemongrass Chicken, Pork with Spinach, Beef with Green Onion, Sauteed Green Beans.
From the hot foods bar, I tried all the stir fries, but skipped the fried rice.  These were frequently replenished.

The sauteed lemongrass chicken had great flavor, although I avoided the chicken, and just had the decently cooked veggies.

The pork with spinach wasn't great, just mushy spinach.  Beef with green onions was chewy, but again, the veggies had decent flavor.  The green beans were eh.
Sandwiches, Salad, Cold Cuts, Cheese.
The pre-made sandwiches in this section looked incredibly boring compared to the ones from the first section, these were all cut into triangles, served on standard sliced bread.  Ham, turkey, tuna, or veggie.  If you want a sandwich, definitely walk to the other station!

This section also had pre-made individual salads, rather than the nicer make our own salad bar, and sliced meats and cheese, again, a lesser looking assortment than the small station.
Croissants, Chocolate Croissants.
On top of this area, an assortment of pastries (leftover from breakfast?) remained, a few croissants and chocolate croissants. They didn't look great, and I was hoping for the scones I enjoyed before.
Muffins, Cookies.
Desserts were scattered on top, starting with oatmeal raisin or peanut butter cookies, a bit of a strange choice given how common peanut allergies are.

I tried the peanut butter cookie, which wasn't great, a hard style, not particularly flavorful.  Next to those were assorted muffins, again, likely from breakfast, that didn't look particularly good.
Bread, Dessert Cakes.
The other dessert was "assorted dessert cakes", which looked like pumpkin cream cheese loaf cake, which I skipped.  This area also had rolls.

Made to Order Noodles.

As always, the star of the Cathay Lounge is supposed to be the noodles, all made to order.
Noodle Menu.
The same three varieties were still offered - wonton, dan dan, or vegetarian.  I ordered the wonton noodles again, although I didn't care for them last time.
Noodle "Kitchen".
Noodle bowls are made one at a time by a staff member in the tiny kitchen.
Order Up!
My order was fairly quickly prepared, my buzzer going off by the time I had gotten a drink and a few other items.

Served from the window on a tray with chopsticks and a spoon.
Wonton Soup.
The soup was hot and steaming, but I did not care for the flavor of the broth, which is how I felt last time too.  The noodles were kinda mushy, ramen noodles.  The only vegetables in the dish were two big hunks of juicy enough bok choy.  And the wontons ... eh.  The pasta was mushy, the filling too firm.

I love this concept, but, I never actually like the results.

British Airways (November 2018)

After my cruise through the Cathay Pacific lounge, I decided to check out the British Airways lounge as well, knowing they usually had better snacks.

It was interesting to compare the welcome I got ("Are you sure you don't want to use the KLM lounge?"), the food stations (totally depleted), and the guests (crying babies, people everywhere, no free tables).  The Cathay Pacific lounge was an oasis in SFO, the BA lounge ... not so much.
Drinks, Chips.
Self-serve soft drink cans and beer, including diet Sprite and club soda, which I appreciated, so I could make my favorite mix of 50% sprite, 50% sparkling water.  Plain water is a bit boring, Sprite is too sweet, but when you mix them ... it totally works!
Liquor.
Decent spirits selection, along with a couple wines, and bar snacks (pretzels, wasabi peas).
Tuna with craisins/green apple/mayo/citrus zest, Veggie hummus/spinach/roasted red pepper/and cucumber.
The sandwich station was not exactly full, but, as always, I did find the ingredients used more interesting than average lounge offerings.  Citrus zest?
Ham and Turkey.
The ham and turkey stations were replenished right as I arrived, and again, although basic deli meats and on sliced bread, these too had interesting components like sundried tomato spread or basil mayo.
Cheese and Crackers.
Only one type of cheese was available, but the signage made it sound important.  No charcuterie.
Veggies and Dip.
The veggies on offer were bell peppers, tomatoes, and ... something that was gone and never refilled, along with ranch dressing.  No actual salad.
Cookies, Biscotti.
I do love the cookie jar lineup, just for cuteness sake.  Oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip, white chocolate macadamia, Oreos, and biscotti.

I tried the white chocolate macadamia, but they were pretty bad, hard style, stale tasting.
Shrimp Dumplings / Lemongrass Chicken Dumplings / Sauces.
The dumplings station, a bit awkwardly off on the side, was a new addition from the last time I had visited the BA lounge, although, admittedly, it had been a few years.

Two types of dumplings (shrimp or lemongrass chicken), plus a trio of sauces: sweet chili, a thick soy (maybe hoisin?), and a hot sauce.  Chopsticks on the side.

I give them one point for the chopsticks, and another for the variety of sauces.
Dumplings and Wasabi Peas.
Since I already dined in the Cathay Pacific lounge, and the KLM lounge, I opted for just a small snack, one of each dumpling, sauces, and wasabi peas.

I was pretty pleased with this assortment, far better than the expected raw veggies and dip or stale sandwiches.

The dumplings ... weren't exactly good, but I kinda liked them.  They were clearly not fresh, the wrappers dried out, hard on the edges.  They even looked rather raw?  But still, I did kinda like that.

The filling of the shrimp dumplings I didn't care for, a bit too fishy, but, it did have big chunks of shrimp.  The lemongrass chicken was actually better, decent flavor.  But really, for me, this was all about the sauces, and I coated them in the sweet chili, soy-ish sauce, and hot sauce (which, I didn't mean to take THAT much off, oops). The hot sauce packed some heat, and I loved it with the sweet chili.

I enjoyed this little offering, but I can't say it was particularly well made or fresh.

The wasabi peas were fine, crunchy, quite hot, but not the kind of spice I actually like.

Update Reviews, 2017

JAL

The JAL lounge was underwhelming as always, a tiny space, and entirely full, even though we arrived fairly early for the only departing flight.

We stayed long enough to eat a quick bite (knowing the food choices were better there than the other One World alternatives), and then moved on to the British Airways lounge, where the food isn't as good (sandos, veggies, cheese, chips, etc), but the space is much larger, and the drinks far superior.

Food

The food area is equally tiny as the seating, with just a few snacks and food items.  Still, better than what BA has to offer.
Chips, Rice Crackers, Mochi.
The snack selection is fairly limited: plain Lay's chips, rice crackers, and three colors of packaged mochi.
Oreos, Ritz, Cheese.
And Oreos, Ritz, and a single type of packaged cheese.

That was it for snacks.
Yaki-Onigiri Chazuke.
"Grilled rice ball dipped in soup stock."

The real food selection was a bit better.

First up, yaki onigiri chazuke, with a grilled rice roll and a small piece of dried out salmon, to which you added broth.  My companion said it was simple, plain, but not bad.
Ramen.
Next to that was packages of noodles, I believe ramen (was there a flavor packet inside? Not sure), and hot water pots to make your own ramen.  My companion lamented that he likes his fancy ramen from amazon.com better.
Sandwich.
Sandwiches were unlabelled but looked to be egg salad and ham?  White bread, crusts removed.
Sushi "Futomaki".
I'll admit, the reason I was excited about the JAL lounge was the onigiri I enjoyed last time.  And ... they didn't have any this time.

However, they had giant vegetarian sushi rolls.

I did like the fillings: tomago, steamed spinach, pickled crunchy carrot, and mushrooms.  I never found any soy sauce.

The best bite of any of the lounges, and I'd happily have more.
 Chikuzen-Ni.
"Simmered root vegetables with chicken."

The final food selection was a hot item, chicken with root veggies in a broth.

I love lotus, so I eagerly went for this, even though there wasn't much left (which made it easy to avoid the chicken).

It was not very good.  The veggies were either soggy or too crisp, and it had a strange flavor.
Tea, Coffee.
The only coffee offered is a pre-brewed carafe, no decaf, no machine for anything fresher.
Cold Drinks.
A fridge holds a few soft drinks and beer.  No sparkling water, very few options.

I didn't take a photo of the wine and limited hard alcohol selection, but, it was meager.

British Airways

I've visited the BA lounge twice since my last review, both are below.  Things were slightly different on both visits, and, different from previous visits.

Late 2016 Visit

During this visit, I was able to visit both the regular Business and the First Class lounges.
Chips.
Chip offerings were kinda boring, Miss Vickies, Popchips, and Food Should Taste Good.
Soup.
 Soup was vegetable in the Business Class lounge, chicken in First.  Chicken ... the premium ingredient?
Snacks.
Both lounges had cashews, dried fruit, and wasabi peas, but only the First Class lounge had M&Ms.  Such a premium selection!

I tried the wasabi peas (super strong wasabi, crunchy, awesome!) and the dried fruit (decent enough, I appreciated the wide assortment: apples, pineapples, figs, dates, papaya, apricots, pears).  My favorite were the pineapples, super sweet and awesome.
Sandwiches.
The sandwich offerings were the same in both lounges, including wraps and veggie options.
Cheese.
 The cheese selection was different between the lounges.  The business class lounge had a cheddar and brie, no condiments.

The First had Tilamock Sharp Cheddar, blue, and jack, all with signs describing the origin, plus honey and fig jam.  I really quite liked the jack.
Crudite and Dip.
 Both lounges also had veggies with ranch dip.
First Class: Mediterranean Bar.
 Only the First Class lounge had a mediteranean section if olives, hummus, tabouli, and caper berries.  I had a caper berry, it was mushy and a bit off.
Cookie Jars.
Cookie jars, with awkward tongs, held chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, in Oreo cookies.

I tried the oatmeal raisin, it was a hard style, quite boring.
Hard Alcohol.
The drink selection is still good, plenty of hard alcohol, two types of red (chianti and cab sav), two white (chardonnay, sav blanc), and bubbles.

Regular soft drinks as well.

September 2017 Visit

As I have lost my One World status, and I was flying business, I didn't have access to the First lounge, where I could see Emil enjoying his champagne through the window.

Still, the BA lounge was pleasant enough, large, spacious, lots of seating options (or, in my case, they had standing height bar tables!)

The drink lineup was good, including sparkling water and Sprite Zero (which I love to mix), plentiful hard alcohol, beer, wine.
Sandwiches.
Unlike the JAL lounge, the sandwiches here were labelled and separated by type, and there were many more options.  First up was smoked ham/mozzarella/honey mustard/romaine and turkey/pepperjack/sun-dried tomato/basil mayo.  White bread, but they had crusts.

 I give credit for fairly interesting sandwiches, even if just ham and turkey, they each had interesting elements.
More Sandwiches.
Next up were even more interesting sandwiches, tuna salad/craisins/green apple/mayo/citrus zest on wheat and a veggie wrap with steamed asparagus/roasted red pepper/arugula/hummus.

Craisins in tuna salad?  Interesting!
Veggies and Dip.
Decently fresh veggies and ranch came next.
Snack Mix!
But I of course went right for the snack mix.

The wasabi peas were a bit too strong for my taste, too much wasabi, but were still crunchy and good to munch on.  I skipped pretzels.  The dried fruit mix was good as always, I like the bits of mango.

There was also bags of chips (Miss Vickie's or a healthy option from Food Should Taste Good), whole fruit, Oreos, M&M's, chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies, and biscotti.

Nothing very Brittish, besides the Twinnings tea.

Update Review, 2016

This was my first time flying without BA Gold Status (I am now Silver), so, I had no access to the First Class lounge.  Not that the SFO BA lounge has ever been particularly nice, but, I was shocked by how uncomfortable it was in the main Terraces lounge.  It was loud, there were no working power ports, and it was crazy crowded.

The food was the same as always, just some crudite, stale looking sandwiches, bags of chips, and hard cookies.  I grabbed a snack of mediocre wasabi peas and dried fruit, and quickly headed out to explore the regular terminal.  I was delighted to discover that the Cathay Pacific lounge was already open, so, I made a beeline for that, and sent Ojan a txt message telling him to come join me.

Cathay Pacific Lounge

The Cathay Lounge was the opposite of the BA lounge.  It was quiet, calm, and nearly empty.  They did have sandwiches like the BA lounge, but they also had fairly decent looking salads and cheeseburgers in a buffet, and, of course, the made to order noodle bar, which I had also tried on my first visit to that lounge several years ago.

The food wasn't great, but, it was much better than what BA had to offer, particularly if you like noodles.
Ordering Counter.
Noodles are made to order, so you select a style from the menu, and are given a pager to wait.  Once ready, the pager goes off and your noodles are handed over on a tray with chopsticks and a soup spoon.

My noodles took about 6 minutes to make, which seemed like a long time, but Ojan's were ready in less than 2.  Not sure why such a difference.
Noodle Kitchen.
The noodles are made right there in a small "kitchen" really, mostly just hot water boiling for the noodles.
Dan Dan Noodles.
Ojan opted for the dan dan noodles, which I had on my previous visit to the lounge.  Of course I tried a few bites, but, I didn't care for them, as they were just too greasy for me.  Ojan also didn't like his dish.
Wonton Noodles.
I selected the wonton noodles (shrimp and pork).  My bowl was piping hot, with thin noodles, and two wontons.  I didn't like the flavor of the broth (too porky), the thin noodles were totally mushy, and the wontons were also overcooked.  I also wasn't expecting a big bowl of thin noodles, I'm just not a noodle girl, I only wanted the wontons.

The broth didn't have much flavor, and both Ojan and I were too lazy to go back up to the condiment station to add soy sauce or chilis or something to it, but we both thought it really did need it.

I handed it off to Ojan, who enjoyed it.  Then again, he likes noodles, and I don't.
Cheeseburger Slider.
Ok, so I knew better, but, um, I can't resist trying all the things.  Like cheeseburger sliders, in a buffet, from an Asian airline.

The bun was fairly stale, untoasted, and very boring and generic.  The patty was thin, fully cooked, and didn't really resemble beef.  There was a tiny bit of congealed, melted cheese on top, and a single leaf of lettuce.  No pickles, special sauce, or anything to jazz it up besides ketchup.

Again, I knew better, but I couldn't resist.
Salads, Sandwiches.
Ok, well, if the noodles weren't for me, and the cheeseburgers weren't for me, how about the salad?  I knew I didn't want a sandwich, and I was running out of options.   (Sandwich choices were turkey & cheddar, veggie with sprouts and cheese, and hummus, cucumber, and tomato pitas.  The sandwiches looked much better than the BA ones, with more generous, fresher looking vegetables.)

I selected the "Arugula & quinoa salad with parmesan cheese."  The arugula wasn't particularly crisp, it was very bitter, and just wasn't great.  I didn't taste any cheese.  I passed this off to Ojan too.  He also had, and enjoyed, a greek salad with cucumbers, red onion, tomatoes, feta, and olives, with basil & oregano dressing.  The final salad offering was a spinach salad with radish, quinoa, and I think thinly sliced apple.

Original Review, April 2014

I recently took a business trip to Tokyo.  It was my first time flying internationally since having One World Emerald status, so I was excited to check out the different lounges in my home airport of San Francisco.  Of course, I expected to only have an hour or so to "enjoy" these spaces, but ... I ended up being there for 7 hours.  Certainly not what I intended, but it gave me time to do very thorough "research" into all the lounge offerings.

JAL Sakura Lounge

Since I was flying on Japan Airlines (or, at least, I was planning too ... sigh, more on that later), I started with their lounge.  It was by far the least impressive.  The lounge was fairly small, the chairs very plain, and only borderline comfortable.  The entire place felt drab and dated.  Not many seats had nearby power.  The restrooms were a step above the ones in the main terminal, but not particularly nice.
Finger sandwiches, onigiri, Oreos, mochi, hot water for ramen.
The food offerings were sparse and laid out on a single bar area: a few finger sandwiches, hot water and ramen noodles, two types of pre-packaged onigiri, packaged sliced cheese, packaged rice crackers, packaged mochi, and ... Oreos and Lay’s potato chips.

I skipped the finger sandwiches as they didn’t look particularly interesting, and the American junk food, since I can have that any time.
Salmon Onigiri.
I started with the salmon onigiri.  I made a rookie mistake, and didn’t read the instructions on the package, and was left a bit confused.  I just opened it, to find the nori wrapper separated from the rest of it by a layer of thin plastic.  So I took that off, and tried to roll it up myself.  I was confused that I’d have to do this myself, and it turns out, that if I’d read the wrapper, I would have seen that it was magic, I was supposed to just pull a strip, and the whole thing would come together.

Anyway, the packaging was smart, as it kept the nori fresh and crisp, since it would have gotten soggy against the rice.  The rice was surprisingly good, and I don’t generally care for rice in any form (besides rice pudding for dessert).  It was sticky and consistently cooked.  The salmon inside wasn’t impressive, it was cooked, and tasted like it came from a can.  Overall though, I thought this was an decent selection.  I did want some soy sauce or something with it though to jazz it up, as just nori and rice is pretty plain, and there wasn’t much salmon inside.

Since I liked everything about the onigiri besides the salmon, I decided to try the other variety, a vegetarian one.  This time, I sorta followed the instructions, and it mostly all came together properly.  Like the previous one, the nori was crisp, the rice good.  The seasoned seaweed inside was more successful for me than the salmon since it had more flavor, but I still wished for more flavor from a sauce.

If I were stuck in SFO again, I'd get another seaweed onigiri.
Rice Cakes.
Next I moved on to the packaged rice cakes.  Crispy, slightly savory soy sauce flavor to them.  Not particularly interesting though.
Mochi.
But who are we kidding, I'm always in it for the desserts.  I was happy to see several varieties of mochi, since the only other sweet offering was Oreos.

The mochi was disappointing, soft enough, but obviously not fresh, and not particularly flavorful.
Juices, few types of hard alcohol, single choice of each type of wine.
The drink offerings were not much better.  A few soft drinks, a single red and white wine, a couple spirits, a few beers, tea, and already brewed coffee, regular only.  Not an impressive selection.

I tried the white wine, it was inoffensive, but not particularly special, and I don’t even recall the varietal.

Not so thrilled with the JAL lounge, I moved on and joined my colleagues in the British Airways lounge.

British Airways Terraces Lounge / First Lounge

"The Library"
The BA lounge was notably nicer from the moment I entered.  It was far larger, had more pleasant lighting, and higher ceilings.  There was also a variety of seating types, and multiple food and drink stations.
Our little section of couches.
My colleagues had commandeered an entire section of couches, all with power and coffee tables between them.

There was also a separate first class room, with its own food stations and bar with slightly premium offerings.
One Snack Station.
Like the JAL lounge, the primary food offering was finger sandwiches, although the BA ones were larger, more plentiful, and labelled.  There were at least 4 varieties including ham and cheese, tuna caper, egg salad, and veggie, all on different types of bread (sliced, rolls, wraps).  The egg salad wasn’t just egg salad, it had “locally grown arugula”.  A much nicer lineup, although still mostly sandwiches.

Alongside the sandwiches was crudite and assorted dips, which I didn’t try, but they looked fairly boring.  Assorted bagged chips and bowls of fresh whole fruit completed this food station.
Close up of the assorted sandwiches.
I tried the tuna caper on pumpernickel.  It was ok, but the bread a bit dry.  I appreciated that it wasn’t over mayo-ed, but it was a pretty basic tuna sandwich.
Second snack station: soup (minestrone), more snacks, yogurts, espresso machine, tea ...
The second snack station in the main room had different offerings.  Like JAL, there were also packaged sliced cheese in the fridges, along with yogurts.  But unlike JAL, they also had a few other fresh items, like minestrone soup with rolls.  There was also a nice selection of packaged desserts, a mix of American and British offerings.
Wild Mushroom Bisque.
I didn’t try the minestrone from the business class area, but there was mushroom bisque in the first class area, and I’d read reviews that people really liked it.  It was creamy, and full of mushrooms, decent, but I wasn’t a big fan.
First class station: chips, sandwiches, assorted packaged snacks ...
Both sections of the lounge had an impressive number of packaged snacks: a zillion varieties of chips (Cape Cod, Sun Chips, Miss Vickies, Stacy’s Pita Chips), a bunch of types of Nutrigrain bars, assorted packaged cookies (Pepperidge Farm, Oreos, and some english varieties), raisins, peanuts, crackers.

The shot above is from the first class lounge, but the business class lounge had all of these offering as well.
Bar Area, business lounge.
Like everything else, the drink area was far more impressive than JAL.  In the main area there were two bars, with an additional one in the first class area.  They offered more types of soft drinks, juices, beers, multiple types of wine, champagne (in first only), and a much larger hard alcohol selection.
Spa Water.
They also had spa water that I fell in love with, with ginger and mint.  It was so refreshing, and they somehow really infused a ton of flavor in it.  They also had a larger tea selection and multiple espresso machines, including decaf.  Obviously, in a totally different league from JAL.
Vanity Area.
The bathrooms were also much nicer, with a separate makeup area.
Sinks.
The sinks were modern style, and they had more amenities with them.

Cathay Pacific First and Business Class Lounge

I wasn’t intending to visit the Cathay Pacific lounge because it wasn’t going to be open when I was at the airport.  And then, the unthinkable happened.  Japan Airlines didn’t just delay our flight (which uh, they never do.  Look at their flight stats and prepare to be impressed!  Our flight, which had a 6:10pm scheduled departure time, averages taking off at 6:02pm.  What airline takes off early, on average?).  But ... we had a horrible experience.  We got to our gate at the specified boarding time of 5:40pm, and waited and waited with no update.  The monitors all still said boarding at 5:40pm, departing 6:10pm, even when 6:10pm came and went.  We asked for an update, and they told us not to go anywhere, but never made any announcements.  Finally at 6:30pm I asked if we could go back to the lounge, and they told me no, but also that they wouldn’t know more until 7:30pm.  So we went back to the lounge anyway.  7:30pm came and went.  No update.  I went to ask at the desk in the lounge.  They told me they didn’t have an update.  8:30pm came and went.  We STILL did not hear anything.  Nothing at all.  And then, my colleague who was already in Tokyo told me that FlightAware was no longer listing our flight.  Around 8:45pm TripIt sent me an e-mail saying my flight was cancelled.  There I was, sitting in the JAL lounge, and TripIt notified me before they did?  It gets worse.

So, I went up to the desk, and they confirmed that yes, our flight was cancelled.  At this point, they finally made an announcement.  In the lounge, we were told to exit, go find our baggage on claim 12, and then go line up at the ticket counter.  We were handed a $20 coupon for food as a consolation prize.

When we got to the ticket counter, the line was already massive, and we didn’t stop for food or drinks.  I think they must have told the people at the gate before they told us in the lounge.  I guess that is what we get for going back to the lounge, although, 3 hours had passed at this point . There was a single line forming, no additional line for business class, or status.  There was a single agent working the counter.

This was crazy, and JAL was clearly not prepared for this situation (although, it was now at least 9:30pm, hours after we were supposed to have departed, so you would think that they would have started planning what they were going to do with all of us, or that they’d have procedures for this.  But … if they really do never cancel flights, I guess this was a unique thing for them.)  Anyway.  We waited.  Other folks with status demanded a second line.  So they made a second line, but of course didn’t inform anyone about it, but we saw it happening and jumped in (we were all One World Emerald and flying business class).  A few additional agents came out, and the lines started to crawl along.  But they really crawled.  Processing each person took forever.  And once we made our way to the front, we found out why.  They couldn’t just rebook us the next day, there was no availability.  But with a smile, they told us they could seat us in economy on the next day.  Um.  No.  The other option was to take a ANA flight from San Jose the next day in business, landing in Narita (we were booked to Haneda, more desirable, but not a deal breaker).  But, San Jose?  The next morning?  Um.  No.

Now, at this point, I need to thank my friend Emil.  He wasn’t even flying with us, but was watching our ordeal via our increasingly grumpy FourSquare checkins and tweets.  He let me know that there was a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong that was supposed to depart at 11pm, but it was delayed until 12:10pm.  And a flight 1.5 hours after from Hong Kong to Haneda. Now, our original flight was direct, SFO to HND.  It was only 11 hours.  If we flew to Hong Kong, that flight alone is ~15 hours.  Then we’d have a brief layover, and another 4 hour flight.  But it would be that night, from SFO, and in Cathay’s “new business class”.  Sure, our trip that was supposed to be a simple 11 hour flight was turning into a 39 hour adventure, and we’d already been at SFO for 9 hours.  But ... we went for it.  It seemed better than going home, and then going to San Jose the next day.

Not that JAL made this part easy, either.  Since we knew the flight existed, we asked about it, as had the person in front of us in line.  The agent told him to just go check himself over at the Cathay desk to see if they had availability.  Um, no, we weren't getting out of line after waiting so long.  My travel companion suggested that perhaps the agent could call over to Cathay.  Instead, the agent took off running, literally.  Long story short, she came and went several times, we were left alone at the counter for 20 minute stretches at a time, but eventually, we were sent over to the Cathay counters, where our boarding passes were printed up, and things started to go much more smoothly.  Finally.

We had about an hour to kill, and at this point we needed more food since we weren't having the dinner on the flight at 6:30pm as we'd been planning, so after going back through security, we headed to the Cathay Pacific lounge.

I think the lounge was bigger than the others, and had a variety of seating choices, but honestly, at this point I was so exhausted that I didn't really take photos or many notes.  The food was the only thing I checked out.
Food Station.
Like all the lounges, they had sandwiches, salads, yogurts, and soup, this time a clam chowder.  Unlike the others, they also had several hot dishes, including fried rice, stir fried udon noodles, chicken, and a veggie stir fry.
Dan Dan Noodles.
Along with the prepared foods, they also have one of Cathay's famous noodle bars, where you can order noodles cooked to order.  We had three options: wonton noodles, dan dan noodles with peanuts, sesame, and chili oil, or vegetarian noodles with mushrooms, carrots, and bok choy.

I went for the dan dan noodles, my travel companion picked the wonton.  We were given a pager, and went to sit down at one of the tables.  A few minutes later, the pager went off, and our noodles were ready.  So fancy.

Our dishes were hot and fresh, and the aroma coming out of my bowl was lovely, with a strong peanut flavor.  But, I didn't love it.  Maybe because I'm just not much of a soup girl, but it was a bit too rich, very very oily, the noodles mushy.  The peanut flavor was quite good, and it was nice to have fresh made noodles.

I also had a surprisingly good berry scone, probably left over from morning service, but good nonetheless.  It was dry, and crumbly, but really hit the spot.
Drinks, cookies.
A drink station rounded out the area, with water, wine, beer, a few spirits, coffee maker, and some packaged cookies.  But all I wanted at that point was water.
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