Running an airport restaurant can’t be easy. First there are the customers. Some will want their orders served as quickly as possible while others have plenty of time before their next flight.
There are also logistical issues. All the ingredients for airside restaurants need to be brought through security, so there’s no quickly popping around to the local greengrocer for some shallots that the chef forgot to order.
Even cooking has its challenges. Most airports frown on gas hobs, customary in most professional kitchens, and you can pretty much forget about wood-fired pizza ovens.
Despite these difficulties, there are some airport restaurants which stand out, not only because they offer something different but also enrich the journey.
Edward Frost, British Airways commercial manager for South and East Africa and who has travelled the world on business and for holidays, says enjoying great food at a good airport restaurant can add another dimension to a memorable trip.
“Just about anyone who flies reasonably often will have eaten at an airport restaurant, whether to grab a quick bite between flights or kill some time on a long layover. Relatively few will remember where they last ate or what they ordered. That’s the difference between an airport restaurant and a good airport restaurant.”
An informal poll of some of Edward’s equally well-travelled colleagues at British Airways provided a list of five memorable airport restaurants, admittedly with a slight bias to London’s Heathrow Airport.
“Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food at Terminal 5 is a great place to eat. To my mind it’s got everything an airport restaurant should have, from large windows with views over the airfield to a menu which caters for a quick bite or leisurely meal. With a variety of fish, pasta, steaks and salads there’s plenty to choose from. If you’re in a hurry you can choose from a ‘picnic menu’ selection of four starters, entrees or desserts,” says Edward.
Unsurprisingly Heston Blumenthal’s The Perfectionist’s Café, also at Heathrow, but in Terminal 2, also made the list. Billed as delivering food that is fun and familiar it offers brilliant breakfasts ranging from full English to toast and jam and plenty of traditional favourites in-between such as sausage sandwiches and boiled egg and soldiers.
The grill menu includes burgers, chicken and steaks. There’s also a choice of fish and chips and pizza as well a deli salads and sandwiches. To top it all there’s a nitro ice cream bar.
Outside of the UK, Conde Nast Traveler’s best airport restaurant in the United States, Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless at Chicago O’Hare, gets the nod. The menu includes hand-crafted tortas; molletes, which are warm, open-faced sandwiches; fresh tortilla chips and salsa and a guacamole bar.
If seafood and Champagne are more your thing then Bubbles Seafood & Wine Bar at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport is worth a visit. Arguably one of the best restaurant bars anywhere it also serves snacks of succulent oysters and traditional Dutch raw herring as well as offering a menu of full meals.
Munich Airport, which was voted as the best airport for dining in the 2013 Skytrax Awards, boasts Europe’s only airport brewery, the Airbräu Brauhaus. The restaurant attached to an indoor beer garden offers typical Bavarian fare such as pork shanks, sausage, potato dumplings as well as fast foods including burgers.
Last but not least the ink.sack at Los Angeles International Airport makes the list for turning the humble sandwich into a classic. It serves small, crusty baguettes with a selection of exceptional fillings from chicken and cured meats to more exotic Asian offerings.
“Of course this is by no means a definitive list and your experience of an airport restaurant will depend on how you feel, how much time you have and your preferences. For example the pre-flight dining offered in the British Airways lounge at JFK is popular with many customers who want to sleep all the way to London. Whatever your reason for airport eating the good news is that there is plenty of choice and a little research could help turn an otherwise tedious stopover into a memorable experience,” says Edward.