Tuesday, May 31, 2016

QF 73, Sydney to San Francisco

After our lovely stay in the Qantas First Class lounge, it was time to get on board QF 73, from Sydney to San Francisco.  (Yes, Qantas has started flying direct again, I no longer need to connect through LAX!)

The flight was basically what I’ve come to expect from Qantas: lovely service, uncomfortable seats with crappy storage, decent food, good wine.

The Seat

11K (bulkhead).
The aircraft was a 747-400, outfitted with standard sky beds.  We were seated on the upper deck, front row, because pickings were slim for seats together, even though we booked far in advance.  As always, I have the same complaints about these seats, there really just isn’t much storage.  It really made me appreciate the well thought out seat we had on our American Airlines flight to Sydney.  But, because we were on the upper deck, my window seat did have a large storage bins beside it, so at least I could dig for my things, even if I had no where convenient to put them near me.  Grumble.
Front Row Storage.
Since we were in the front row, we also had no seat in front of us, so our TV screens were in the arm rest, and we didn’t have as much storage in front of us, but at least we had little shoe cubbies and a slot to stow our laptops.

Besides not having good storage, the seats also aren’t very comfortable for sleeping.  While they go “flat” and are supposed to be fully flat, mine certainly wasn’t.  It was very, very sloped.  Since the seat just slides out, you can tell that people put too much weight on the bottom over the years, and it has ruined the seat, resulting in the slant.  It also had some pretty big lumps and hard spots.

I also was not impressed with the sleeping amenities.  The “mattress” is just a very thin pad, nothing like what we had on our American or Air New Zealand flights, which had actual comfortable mattresses.  The blanket is scratchy.  A single decently fluffy pillow is provided (did I mention, American gave us 2 each?).  Of course, I knew that I’d want more pillows and blankets to build a sleeping nest with, so, the moment I was on board I asked for any extras they may have.  I was told that business class was fully booked, but premium economy wasn’t, and they could steal some from down there once underway.  I kinda assumed the FA wouldn’t remember this, but, he did, showing up with another blanket and two pillows a while later.  The premium economy pillows were a bit smaller, and the blanket was totally different, super scratchy on one side, but soft on the other.  I think I liked their blanket more, but it was much heavier too.  I really appreciated the attendant snagging me these items.

Ok, so, the seat isn't great for sleeping, the pillows and blankets aren't the nicest ... but there were more reasons I got no sleep.  The flight is always hard to sleep on, as you need to try to go to bed very, very early for Sydney time (as in, 6pm!)  I didn’t even bother trying until after 8pm, but the horribly uncomfortable bed made it nearly impossible.  Add on that the fact that Qantas serves breakfast 2.5 hours from landing and the SYD-SFO direction is about 2 hours shorter than SFO-SYD,  and … there just aren’t enough hours.  On the plus side, Qantas had the best movie selection I’ve seen in years, and I was happy enough to watch movies rather than sleep.

In the future though, it will be hard for me to pick Qantas over other airlines.  I do love the service, but … I got no sleep, and that seat just drives me crazy with its lack of useful space.

Anyway, I’ve talked about this aircraft before, so, I'll spare you more ranting.
Amenity Kit.
The amenity kit came in a colorful Kate Spade bag, with a low quality eye mask, ear plugs, socks, Aspar moisturizer, hand cream, and lip balm.  Light cotton pajamas were also provided, a nice touch, not always included in business class.


Dinner was not served until 5pm, almost two hours into our flight, which was fine with us, since we wanted it later anyway to be at a slightly more "normal" time, but it was a fair length of time from when we took off.  The salad course and drinks came by cart, but the small plates and main dishes were served individually, row by row.  The dessert was also done from a cart, with coffee, tea, and after-dinner drinks.
Sparkling Water, Tempranillo, Nuts.
Meal service began with our selection of drinks, along with which packaged snacks (brazil nuts with pretzels) were handed out.   Since I remembered not loving the shiraz last time, I opted for the other red choice, tempranillo.  It was … fine.
Dinner Menu.
Although I was provided a menu, I ordered in advance online (through Q eat), to ensure my choice was available, and to opt for the exclusive online only entree.  The full menu:

Small Plates
  • Sweetcorn and basil soup with grilled focaccia.
  • Confit salmon with smoked tofu, pickled daikon, ginger and lemon dressing.
  • Tomato, mozzarella and basil calzone.*
  • Tapas plate of jamon serrano, piquillo pepper, tortilla and gordal olives.*
Main Plates
  • Roast pumpkin with udon noodles, miso eggplant, mushroom broth and soy beans (vegetarian)
  • Crumbed blue eye with tarragon tartare sauce, roasted chat potatoes and crushed peas.
  • Lamb kofta, celery, carrot and harissa mayonnaise in warm pita bread.*
  • Tandoori chicken with basmati rice, roast cauliflower, spinach and mint raita.
  • Roasted pork cutlet with onions and sage, soft polenta, roast cherry tomatoes and rocket. 
  • Panzanella salad with anchovies, basil and balsamic dressing. (Online exclusive)
  • Selection of cheese served with accompaniments
  • Almond rice pudding with glazed peaches and praline
  • Maggie Beer ice cream
  • Seasonal fruit*
  • Valrhona chocolates*

Items with the * were available anytime during the flight, as were Red Rock Deli chips and another dessert (lemon coconut slice).
Mixed Greens.
To start, we were brought little bowls of salad greens, and offered balsamic or palm sugar vinaigrette.

The greens were boring, the dressing was mostly just oil.  Meh.  I declined the bread offering, sliced sourdough and multi-seed, served warm, with cultured butter on our trays.  The butter was tasty.
The Salad: After
The salad was fairly over-dressed, with tons of dressing pooling up in the bottom.  Maybe I should have gotten bread to dip into it?  I wonder if you can ask for dressing on the side?  It was added by the FA when she served it to me.
Panzanella salad with anchovies, basil and balsamic dressing. (Online Exclusive)
"A simple salad of quality Roma tomatoes marinated in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with fresh spring vegetables and chunks of toasted sourdough. It is accented with clean flavoured, savoury Spanish anchovies and fresh basil."

For the main, I really, really struggled in picking a dish.  I hoped that Ojan would want to share with me, so we could get the crumbed blue eye with tartare sauce and the Q Eat special panzanella, but, alas, he wanted the lamb kofta.  Doh.  I think I changed my selection online about 5 times in the week before the flight.  Finally, I settled for the panzanella, when I saw that it is an item normally only on the First Class menu and offered in business only as part of Q Eat online ordering, and, when I realized I’d have crumbed fish with mayo in the lounge right before, making more crumbed fish and tartar sauce unnecessary.  Thus, the panzanella.

Even though the panzanella was listed as a main, it was served as my starter. The attendant came with a calzone and a panzenella, and I thought they were both for me, assuming that they just did the entire meal in one service.  Nope.  The calzone was for Ojan, since he ordered a calzone as his starter, and the panzanella was for me as my starter, even though listed as a main.  Confusing, but, to be fair, this order made more sense, it just wasn't what I was expecting.

Anyway, the panzenella was not really a panzenella at all.  The bread component was ... 6 croutons.  Croutons do not a panzenella make.  They make a regular salad, garnished with croutons.

The base was sliced fennel, tiny cubes of carrot, red pepper, cucumber, celery, and capers  On top were slices of roma tomato, fresh basil leaves, and a few sliced anchovies.

The veggies were fresh and good enough, but, it was really, really overdressed.  Drowned in balsamic vinaigrette, even worse than the starter salad.  Really a shame, since I think this could have been quite good, and was obviously a higher end dish, with the fresh basil and everything clearly applied by the staff prior to serving.

Decent ingredients, decent plating, but, spoiled by the dressing application.  Maybe this FA just had a heavy hand?
Tomato, mozzarella and basil calzone.
“Originating in Naples, calzone is a stuffed pizza that resembles a large turnover.  Our calzone is filled with a mixture of parmesan and mozzarella, rich tomato sauce and basil. It is brushed with olive oil, baked and served fresh from the oven with a delicate baby leaf salad dressed with balsamic dressing.”

For my small plate, I selected the calzone, because it seemed like it would have potential to be done decently on an airplane.  I suppose the corn soup would too, but I never order soup.  But actually, given how full I was from my lounge feast, a little soup and bread sounded a lot more appealing than a big heavy calzone.  Whoops.  I guess that is one downside to pre-ordering, you can't modify based on how you feel at the time. 

Ojan also opted for the calzone for his starter, so, alas, I wasn’t able to try a second starter either.  I had assumed he’d go for the confit salmon!  He really wasn't helping with my desire to try more things.
Calzone: Inside.
Anyway, the calzone.  It was … pretty awful.  The filling was just mushy tomato sauce.  I honestly didn’t taste any cheese.  I didn’t like the flavor of the sauce.  It was very, very bready, and the dough wasn’t good either.  The crust was hard and almost burnt.  I was so confused by the lack of cheese that I interrupted Ojan to ask if his had come with cheese.  I really thought it was somehow left out of mine.  He said no.

The only good thing I can say about it is that it was served hot.  The crust was hard and not really doughy, and the filling I hated.
Lamb kofta, celery, carrot and harissa mayonnaise in warm pita bread.
"Spiced lamb koftas are grilled and served in warmed pita bread with pickled celery, carrot, red cabbage and harissa mayonnaise. Harissa is a North African pepper paste made with coriander, fennel and cumin seeds cooked with capsicum, garlic, palm sugar and chilli powder then blended into a smooth paste."

For his main, Ojan went for the lamb kofta.  Since I hate lamb, I never thought I’d even want a bite of his, but, I was so disappointed by my calzone, and I saw he wasn’t eating the last third of either of his pita pockets.  He ate the lamb kofta out of each pocket (2 balls in each), and discarded the extra pita bread with fillings.  I couldn’t resist trying.

And … it was good!  The pita, standard white pita, was served warm and was quite soft.  The shredded carrots, red cabbage, celery were crunchy and flavorful, slightly tangy from being pickled, and all the harissa mayo leaked down into the veggies.  So, fresh crunchy veggies, creamy mayo, and nice bread?  Totally tasty, and I quite enjoyed his discards.  Who needs the lamb?  His dish was clearly the best, and actually really satisfying.
Almond rice pudding with glazed peaches and praline.
To say I was thrilled when I saw the dessert selection is an understatement.  I love puddings and rice pudding is no different.  Plus, garnished with sweet fruit and praline?  Yes!  Of course, I also had my eyes on the ice cream, Maggie Beer brand.  Our selection of the day was burnt fig, honeycomb, and caramel.  I had a really hard time picking, but, since I had gelato in the lounge just hours before, I decided the pudding was more unique.

The pudding was … fine.  It was different from any rice pudding I’ve ever had.  The grains of rice seemed almost more like farro, they were very thick, but decently cooked, not mushy or too hard.  The sauce too was thick, I guess almond flavored?  I’m really not sure where the almond was in here, it tasted more vanilla than anything else.  I would have liked more spicing, like cinnamon perhaps?  And some nuts mixed in?

The praline crumble on top was good, sweet, and nice to mix in for texture.  I wanted more.  Or, like I said, some nuts mixed into the pudding.

The peaches were gross though, clearly from a can.

Overall, fine, but certainly not great.

Ojan opted for the fruit platter, with kiwi, passionfruit, and a melon.  The fruit all looked pretty ripe and good.
Dessert Wine.
To go along with my dessert, I also opted for a little of the dessert wine, which was sweet and delicious.  It was probably the highlight of my meal.

Vahlrona chocolates were also served with dessert, milk or dark chocolate. 


Breakfast Menu.
The breakfast menu is always hanging at the seat when you board, ready to fill out before take off, so your custom breakfast can be delivered to your seat with minimal interruption in the morning.  The menu was the same as my previous Qantas flights, with continental selections of muesli, fruit, yogurt, toast, croissants, and a breakfast pastry (blueberry danish this time), and three hot items.  You can also choose the express breakfast of just a danish and coffee, or choose to not be woken at all.

  • Orange juice
  • Apple juice
  • Watermelon and ginger energiser
Continental Breakfast
  • Fruit salad (with yoghurt optional)
  • Brookfarm toasted muesli (with low fat or full cream milk)
  • Toast
  • Croissant
  • Blueberry Danish
  • Berry jam, marmalade, honey, vegemite.
Full Breakfast
  • Free range scrambled eggs on toast with bacon, hash browns, and mushrooms
  • Spinach and feta baked egg with cherry tomato salsa
  • Sour cherry french toast with mascarpone and cherries
As I mentioned, you pre-order breakfast from a card before takeoff.  Qantas serves breakfast between 2-2.5 hours before landing, earlier than most other airlines.  While I was grumpy at American Airlines for not having a “real” breakfast, their quick, continental style breakfast did mean that they served it only an hour out, which really makes a difference when it comes to sleep, particularly in the SYD-SFO direction, as the flight time is nearly two hours shorter.  I rolled over at one point, and immediately in my ear was the flight attendant, “Ms. Parent, are you having breakfast?”  I pulled off my eye mask, blinked, and looked around.  It was still dark.  I said, “uh … yes, can I wait a little while though?”  She told me that no, they were serving breakfast then.  Oooh.  I said ok, and got up to use the bathroom first.  I joined the line of two people, both of whom were changing, putting in contacts, putting on makeup, etc.  I saw my food arrive within moments of my standing up to join the line.  It was getting cold.  But a line was forming behind me.  If I went back to grab a bite, I’d get stuck waiting even longer, and I did need to use the bathroom.  Sigh.  So, the breakfast flow certainly didn’t go as planned.  Beside me, Ojan kept sleeping.  About 30 minutes later, after I’d finally used the bathroom and eaten, the FA asked me to wake him for breakfast.  Ugh.  I could have waited that long too then, right?  Why did she make me eat before I was ready?

Anyway, grumpiness aside, I really do appreciate that they offer warm interesting breakfast pastries and always a warm breakfast carb (french toast, pancakes, waffles, etc).
Blueberry Danish.
On my last Qantas flight from Sydney to LAX, I loved my rhubarb, brown sugar, and cream cheese danish.  So, when I saw a blueberry danish on the menu, I knew I was getting it.  It was served warm.  It was huge.  It was a different style though, no cream cheese, no artistic edges, this was just a standard danish.

And … it was seriously overcooked.  It was hard as a rock.  I’m not exaggerating here.  It really was rock hard and basically inedible.  The blueberry goo in the center was tasty though, and the pastry seemed like it had a nice buttery taste and would be flaky, but alas, ruined by the oven.  When I got up to use the bathroom later, I saw that every danish, croissant, and piece of toast went unfinished in the cabin.  Clearly, someone had the oven up too high and didn’t realize it, which, now that I think about it, also applied to my calzone ...
Sour cherry french toast with mascarpone and cherries.  Decaf coffee. Sparkling water.
For my main, I obviously went for the french toast.  The presentation was nice.

I’m sure it was warm when it was served, but, alas, I was stuck in the bathroom line, so it was basically room temperature when I got to it.  It was still pretty good though.

The bread looked like raisin bread, but, I guess it was cherry.  I wouldn’t really call it “french toast” though, it didn’t seem eggy, soaked, fluffy, or any of those things.  It really just seemed like toast, flavorful toast, but, toast.  Like the calzone and danish, it too was overcooked.  I really think they had a temperature problem in the oven.  The crusts were actually nearly black, and it was really hard.  Luckily, I could coat it in the delicious toppings and it wasn’t too bad, and I like some crunch, but, it was clearly over cooked.

The toppings were great though.  The sour cherry compote on top was flavorful, full of juicy cherries. I adore mascarpone, and I was provided a generous scoop on top.  I was going to say dollop, but, this was far more than a dollop.

So, even though the toast was overcooked, the tasty toppings made up for it, and I did almost enjoy this.  I’d like it even more if it were warm and fluffy.  This was better than the pancakes with raspberries and mascarpone I had on my Qantas flight from LAX to Sydney last year.

Ojan had the spinach and feta baked egg with cherry tomato salsa.  I had no interest in trying the eggs (it looked like a frittata), but he didn’t eat his tomatoes.  Normally, when someone leaves something behind it is because it is gross, but, you know me, I still needed to try it.  I actually really liked the cherry tomatoes, baked so they were blistered, in a flavorful marinate, perhaps balsamic?  Savory, and really fairly tasty.  I don’t know why he rejected them.  His dish also came with a piece of turkish bread on the side.  As you can guess, it was rock solid, nearly a weapon.  Seriously, that oven.

The decaf coffee was standard instant, and not very good.