Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Air New Zealand, AKL-SFO, Business

Another day, another flight, right? This time, Air New Zealand, NZ 8, from Auckland to San Francisco, completing the journey that I started earlier that day aboard the exact same aircraft from Sydney to Auckland.

After a stint in the lounge in Auckland, it was time to fly, again.

The Experience

The aircraft was the same as on my previous flight, on both this trip and others, so I don't have much to say about that.  Service was friendly and attentive, the staff to passenger ratio was excellent, and the staff worked well together.  They really created a welcoming and warm environment, and made the flight as enjoyable as possible.
Seat 4k.
The seat was ok as an upright seat, comfortable but not amazingly so.  I again appreciated the slot to easily stash my laptop, and the ability to stow things under my ottoman even during takekoff and landing.

As a bed however, this remains one of the best I've experienced.  It does not slide down like most, and instead flips over.  The FAs convert the beds when you are ready to sleep, since they do involve so much setup.  A mattress pad is added, and the base really is incredibly stable, firm, and comfortable.  The seat is fairly narrow, but it wasn't a problem for me, and I was able to side sleep in both directions without problem.  A single blanket is provided, fairly thin and scratchy, so, that aspect of the bedding isn't great.  Pillows however are great, two large, fluffy pillows, and I was able to steal an extra from one of the vacant seats in our cabin, so it all really worked out wonderfully.

I'm glad I opted to take this route, rather than flying direct back from Sydney.  While I did have trouble sleeping at what felt like barely 9pm, that was clearly better than trying to do it 5 hours earlier like the direct flights from Sydney.  I absolutely can't fault the bed for my sleeping problems, nor my cabin-mates.  Everyone was shockingly quiet, and everyone went to bed immediately after dinner.  I've never seen a cabin turn around so quickly, and everyone stayed in bed quietly until breakfast.  Such great behavior.

The flight was bumpy however.  The seatbelt sign remained on nearly all night, and the bumps did make it difficult to sleep.  On the plus side, the cabin itself was quite stable, unlike the ridiculously bouncy upper deck on British Airways.

So, even though it adds a layover, I'll likely opt to do this route for future journeys back from Sydney (unless of course I have the opportunity to use the Qantas First lounge in Sydney, as it trumps all else!)

Food & Drink

Standard pre-takeoff sparking wine, juice, and still water were offered, and I asked for sparkling (not on the tray that my FA came through with), but she brought one no question.  Before we took off, we were also asked what we'd like for our post-takeoff drinks, so they could have those ready to go quickly once we were airborne.
Seasoned Cashews, Riesling, Sparkling Water.
For my post-takeoff drink I selected the "low alcohol riesling", and asked for a small pour.  I didn't like it, so I'm glad I only asked for a little.

It came with a little bowl of spiced cashews, much like my previous flight with spiced almonds.  These however I didn't really like, the cashews were bitter, and the spicing just not a blend I like, and they were stone cold.

I was offered the full bottle of sparkling water along with the pre-poured glass, which I really appreciated, since I knew I'd easily drink it all, and it was better to not need to ask for constant refills.


Dinner Menu.
Dinner was a three course menu, with two choices for starter, 4 choices for main, and 3 desserts.  The menu was waiting at our seats when we boarded.  It was as follows:

To begin:
  • Smoked snapper brandade with poached prawns, preserved citron salsa verde, and pinenuts
  • Prosciutto with radicchio salad, asparagus, grilled artichokes, and blue cheese
From the bakery:
Oatmeal honey rolls, garlic bread, spelt seeded and traditional bread

  • Pulled barbecue beef brisket burger with Swiss cheese, pickles, tomato chipotle sauce, red cabbage poppy seed slaw, and crispy wedges.
  • Roasted chicken breast with roasted cauliflower and currant couscous, green olive tapenade salsa, and broccolini.
  • Blackened salmon with citrus labneh, saffron mash, edamame, and steamed spinach.
  • Butternut squash, roasted corn, and chili soup with toasted pumpkin seed pesto and warm paratha.
To finish:
  • Coconut cream tart with mango jelly and passionfruit cream
  • Gourmet dessert of gingernut ice cream with dark chocolate sauce and ginger wafer
  • A selection of New Zealand cheese served with plum and tamarillo chutney and cracker selection
Mid-flight snacks:
  • Ask your flight attendant for a warmed panini with bacon, caramelised onions and barbecue sauce
  • Help yourself from our range of snacks available throughout the flight.
Neither starter sounded great to me, but I was excited by the mains, remembering Ojan's actually delicious burger on a previous Air New Zealand flight.  I was tempted by the squash and corn soup with paratha, because I like all those things, but, really, there was no question.  It had to be the burger.

Our main dinner orders were taken soon after takeoff.  I was surprised by how much variety there was in the orders around me.  I didn't hear anyone ask for the soup, but the distribution of burgers, chicken, and salmon seemed uniform.

The starters were both chilled, and offered from the trolley, along with additional drinks, and a bread basket.
Starter: Prawns.
"Smoked snapper brandade with poached prawns, preserved citron salsa verde, and pinenuts."

I did not like like this.

The prawns were rubbery.  The brandade was fishy.

On the plus side, the citron salsa verde was really flavorful and fresh, and it was beautifully plated with pine nuts and herbs on top.  But tasty it was not.
Bakery: Garlic Bread.
The bread basket didn't really look exciting, but the garlic bread smelt so good that I decided to try it.

The bread I think was sourdough (boo) and it was strangely spongy.   Not good.  But the butter and garlic were tasty and it was served warm.

The bread basket made several more passes throughout dinner service, but I didn't try any more.  The other breads were served with little bottles of olive oil or butter on the side.

The gluten-free passenger near me was provided a sealed package of crackers instead of bread.
Wine: Pinot Noir.
Since I didn't like the riesling, I moved on to red wine, because I knew it would go better with my burger as well.

This was a big improvement, and really a nice wine.  Not tanic, no bite to it, just really nice.
Perrier Water.
Interestingly, the sparkling water provided at meal service was different from the post-takeoff water.  That was "kiwi blue" in plastic bottles, and this was Perrier, in a can.  And again, I was offered the entire can, a nice touch.
Entree: Burger.
"Pulled barbecue beef brisket burger with Swiss cheese, pickles, tomato chipotle sauce, red cabbage poppy seed slaw, and crispy wedges."

The lag between our starters and mains seemed excessive (and for me was a full 40 minutes), but the staff was clearly busy preparing all the dishes, and delivering them one by one to diners.

When it finally arrived, my heart sank.  This was clearly nothing like the amazing burger Ojan had before.

The wedges were far from "crispy" as advertised.  They were soggy.  Mushy and soggy.  The seasoning was good, and I ate them, but, they really weren't good, no better than any random grocery store oven fries that someone cooked in a microwave.

The other side dish was slaw.  Now that I had hope for, as I love slaw.  It was ... meh.  The cabbage was crisp, so that was actually surprising, it clearly hadn't been mixed up hours before.  The poppy seed was very strong.  It was very dressed, but, not overdressed.  But ... there just wasn't much flavor to it.

The bun was excessive.  There was sooo much bun compared to fillings.  Sure, the filling was meager, but the bun itself was ridiculously thick.  It was toasted on the inside, and warm, but, it tasted stale, and it was kinda hard.  Bread on airplanes, sigh.  The black and white sesame seeds coating it were good though?
The Burger: Inside.
The slice of swiss cheese inside was entirely unmelted.  Boo.  There were 2 pickles, both fine.

Also inside was pulled beef.  It was chewy and not tasty, so I didn't mind the fact that there wasn't nearly enough for the large bun, but as you can see here, there really was not much filling in this thing.  The beef wasn't bbq itself, but bbq sauce was served on the side.  It had some strange spicing to it, but wasn't bad.

So, not a very good dish.  I didn't want the bun or beef at all.  I made a lettuce wrap with the slaw, pickles, unmelted cheese, and some bbq sauce, but it wasn't that great.  And the wedges, meh.

Meh, meh, meh.
Dessert: Coconut Cream Tart.
"Coconut cream tart with mango jelly and passionfruit cream."

For dessert, I selected the tart rather than the ice cream on this flight, since I wasn't really into the ice cream on the previous flight.

It wasn't quite what I was expecting in a tart, but, since I don't generally like tart shells, I welcomed this.  It looked like cheesecake.

The crust was a compressed crumb, slightly sweet, fine.  The majority of the tart I guess was coconut cream?  It didn't taste very strongly of coconut, and was a firm consistency, not a pudding or cream as expected.  It wasn't bad exactly, but, it wasn't at all what I'd describe as coconut cream.

On top was a thin layer of "mango jelly", sweet mango gel.  It was fine.

On the side was the passionfruit cream, sweet whipped cream with flavors of passionfruit, sprinkled with coconut.

Overall, no element of this was particularly good nor bad, but they did combined fairly well.  Coconut, passion fruit, mango, cream ... still, I did wish it was actually creamier.

My gluten-free neighbor had a special dessert as well, some kind of cake.
Decaf Coffee, Chocolate.
With my dessert I opted for decaf coffee, served in a sturdy mug, not bad, but not great.  It came with a chocolate on the side.   These same chocolates were available throughout the rest of the flight in the galley to help yourself to, along with chips, granola bars, and fruit.


Air New Zealand does not allow you to fill out a breakfast card and streamline the breakfast experience, which is one mark against them.  While sometimes perhaps I'd like to change my mind, I much prefer not having to get up a little earlier for breakfast service, particularly in this direction.

Thus, breakfast service began with our orders being taken.
Breakfast Menu.
The menu read:

Sleep in breakfast:
Before going to sleep, please advise your flight attendant you wish to sleep-in and we will wake you as late as possible and offer fruit, yoghurt, cereal, bakery, and a beverage of your choice.

Wake-up drinks:
Get yourself started with a beetroot, pear, and blackcurrant energizer juice.

From the pantry:
  • Fresh fruit salad
  • Plain Greek yoghurt or fruit yoghurt
  • Berry cereal
  • Toasted meusli
From the bakery:
  • Crossants and danish
  • Vogel's or fruit toast with your choice of marmalade, strawberry jam, Vegemite, Marmite
From the stove:
  • Omelette filled with sundried tomato and spinach mornay, roasted tomato, and piccata ham.
  • Scrambled eggs with skillet fried hash potatoes, soft onions, and pastrami with toasted muffin.
  • Banana, maple, and linseed waffles, with blueberry compote and vanilla bean yoghurt served with vanilla syrup.
  • Warm panini with bacon, caramelized onions, green tomato, and jalapeno relish and barbecue sauce.
2 hours before landing, the cabin sprung to life, our beds were converted back into seats, and warm towels were offered.  A few minutes later, orange juice and the "wake-up" drink were offered, and our hot breakfast orders were taken.

The entree was the hardest part of this meal for me.  I always go for the "sweet breakfast carb" item, waffles, french toast, pancakes.  But I knew on my previous Air New Zealand breakfast flights, that these just didn't work out (like the thin flavorless cinnamon hotcakes and the lukewarm soggy french toast.  And I knew that Ojan's warm bacon roll on a previous flight turned out to be great, but it had cheese, and this did not.

In the end, I asked for advice between the two.  My FA said the panini was small, so she'd recommend the waffles.  I asked if the waffles were crispy, and she no, they were soft.  Hmm.  I wanted crispy.  And I also wasn't excited by the idea of "vanilla bean yoghurt" rather than something like whipped cream.  A I would prefer my waffles without banana and linseed, thank you very much.  But I was worried the panini would be more spongy stale bread with flabby bacon.

My FA came to my rescue, "Why don't you have both?  We have plenty of the panini," she said. I told her I knew I couldn't finish both, but she reassured me that it would go to waste, and I should just get both.  So, I did.
From the Pantry: Mango Yoghurt.
The "pantry" items were offered from the trolly, with fruit salad (contained melons so I skipped), mango or plain yogurt, and two types of cereal (lightly toasted muesli or Light 'N Toasty with Berries), plus tea and coffee.  Interestingly, no other drinks, including water, were offered.

Since I had ordered two hot entrees, I planed to skip this selection, but I asked if the yoghurt was creamy or runny, and if it was tart, and I was told that it was very creamy, lovely, and highly recommended.  Plus, the fruit flavor of the day was mango.  So I asked for a very small scoop.

It was ... ok.  Just yoghurt.  Not like the creamy amazing yoghurt in the Air New Zealand lounge in the Syndey airport.  Not like the super rich, full fat yoghurts I remembered from the grocery stores in Sydney.  Just yoghurt.  Slightly sweet, not runny, and with a decent swirl of mango, but, really, just yoghurt.

I also opted for regular coffee.  It wasn't very good, fairly lukewarm, and watery.  Speaking of water, I wanted water!
After the first round, the "bakery" was offered, a bread basket with croissants, danishes, raisin toast,  and "vogel's".  Jam, marmite, and vegemite were on the side.

While I don't normally go for the baked goods on flights, I remembered quite enjoying the danish on a previous flight, so, I went for it, even though I had no idea what kind it was.

It was ... good, in a non-traditional sort of way.  It was clearly not a fresh baked good.  It was crispy on top and a bit soggy inside, from the heating method (it was served warm).  It was flaky and layered, but greasy.  The filling was I think perhaps rhubarb and cream cheese?  I'm still not entirely sure.  But it was fruity, a bit sweet, a bit tart, and also a bit creamy.

I know this doesn't sound great, and it wasn't amazing, but, it was satisfying in its own way, and actually my favorite thing from the entire meal.

My gluten-free neighbor had an entire custom tray, with an individually wrapped blueberry muffin, an individually wrapped loaf of some sort, and a package of gluten-free cereal.
From the Stove: Waffles.
"Banana, maple, and linseed waffles, with blueberry compote and vanilla bean yoghurt served with vanilla syrup."

The waffles came first.  3 triangles of waffle, topped with blueberry compote and vanilla bean yoghurt, with a little pot of vanilla syrup on the side.  The presentation was lovely.

But ... the waffles?  Yeah, as I feared, not tasty.  They were soggy and mushy.  I didn't taste banana, linseed, or maple.

The blueberry compote was fascinating.  It did have a couple berries, but was mostly little cubes (!) of blue gel.  I expected more of a sauce, and, um, not strange little cubes.  Interesting, but not particularly tasty.

The vanilla bean yoghurt was thin runny style.  Good for a sauce, but not particularly good.

The only aspect of this dish that was good was the vanilla syrup, and not just because it was served in a cute little pot on the side.  It was sweet, sticky, and very flavorful.  If only I had something to put it on.
From the Stove: Breakfast Panini.
"Warm panini with bacon, caramelized onions, green tomato, and jalapeno relish and barbecue sauce."

My very attentive FA came over after a bit to ask if I'd like my panini at that point.  I was honestly stuffed already.  Yoghurt, a full danish, and about half the waffles were all I needed, particularly as my confused body thought it was way early for breakfast anyway.  But ... curiosity won out.

And I'm glad it did.  The panini, although not what I was originally wanting (aka, no melty cheese), was actually quite good, in a fast-food kind of way.

The bun had grill marks, but was actually soft, and reminded me of asian steamed buns, just, mega sized.  It was slightly sweet I think, or perhaps my palette was still just sweet from spoonfuls of vanilla syrup.  Good, in a really strange way, not a good fresh bun obviously, but, good.

The bacon was a big jumble of chewy, flabby bacon that I could care less about, and removed pretty quickly from the sandwich.

The onions were soft, sweet, and caramelized, and quite tasty.

But what made this sandwich fantastic was the spreads.  The jalapeno relish was actually quite flavorful.  Not spicy exactly, but really flavorful.

And the barbecue sauce, not the same as I had with my pulled beef burger.  It was actually served in a package fast-food style, which was striking given how well plated everything else was throughout.  But maybe this is a famous New Zealand barbecue sauce?  If not, it should be.  I loved it.  It was sweet and tangy, and I instantly wanted some McDonald's fries to dunk in it (I always dunk my fries at McDonald's in both bbq and sweet and sour sauce, and this was a perfect blend of those flavors in one!)

Once I removed the bacon, and just loaded my bun up with tons and tons of jalapeno relish and barbecue sauce, this was really, really satisfying.  Savory, a bit spicy, and very comforting.  I shocked myself by finishing it, particularly given that it was the last thing I had.

Next time, I'd totally order this as my main in the evening, as I think it was the same item available as a "midnight snack".


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