Welcome to my last flight of 2012, the 112th flight of the whole year. This review covers my journey from Tokyo’s Narita airport to Frankfurt on 31 December 2012. Here is the link to the photos of this report.
I arrived in Tokyo the previous night on a Japan Airlines flight from Sapporo. I spend the night at the Century Southern Tower Hotel in Shinjuku, in close proximity to Shinjuku station, with rooms overlooking the tracks.
From: Tokyo Narita
Airline: ANA – All Nippon Airways
Aircraft: B 777-300
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 15A, window, left side
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I leave the hotel at around 08h00 in the morning. By the looks of it, the next direct Narita Express train from Shinjuku will not be leaving until 09h39, so instead I hop on a Chuo Line train bound for Tokyo station and grab the Narita Express from there at 09h00. The journey from Tokyo proper to Narita’s Terminal 1, ANA’s home, takes 58 minutes to complete.
ANA has a dedicated row of counters reserved exclusively for Star Gold members. As I arrive the place is deserted and there are about five check-in agents waiting to assist me with the check-in process.
The ANA lounges are located near gate 52, from where my flight will be leaving later on. The Star Gold lounge is enormous and offers a variety of different seating options. Needless to say I choose a seat by the window overlooking the action on the ramp.
There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes as well as drinks. The soft drink are from a machine – what else?
Boarding starts exactly on time and is a well organised and orderly affair. First passengers with children or in need of assistance are boarded and then it’s the First and Business Class passengers. The load in Business Class on the flight is very light today, with none of the seats between the two aisles occupied.
The cabin on this bird reminds me a lot of the Cathay Pacific Business Class set up in that the seating configuration offers a considerable degree of privacy in a 1 – 2 – 1 configuration.
When I arrive at my seat, there is already a pair of Sony earphones there, together with slippers, a large blue pillow and a large and very soft blanket. Before we depart I am also handed a thick blue cardigan in case I start to feel cold.
The cabin crew are polite and efficient. With the light load in Business Class today they take their time with the passengers, making sure everybody feels welcome. The crew are personable and give you the impression of really enjoying their job!
For a welcome drink there is a choice of sparkling wine or cold green tea. I choose the latter. For safety regulations the drinks must be served in plastic cups while we’re still on the ground.
Once we are airborne, service begins with the distribution of cypress scented hot towels. There are no vanity kits distributed on this flight. Instead, after the meal the crew set up a basket with a variety of items in the rear Business Class galley: moisturizing facial masks, ear plugs, toothbrushes, eye masks and a few other items of which I’m not quite sure what they’re supposed to do.
First the table is set and the menus are distributed. And then the experience begins: for an amuse bouche there is a small plate with a combination of Japanese and Western dishes: a small item made of pancetta and cream cheese stacked in layers that comes with a sardine filled olive and a Japanese style salted plum; cheese pastry sticks and a small dish of Tofu with Wasabi, soy beans and jelly. To drink I have a glass of plum wine and a Perrier with lemon.
What I particularly like about the ANA meal service is that they do not use trays at all. Instead, your table is set when they bring you the first course. The cabin attendant places a side dish with two different types of bread on my table, and two small dishes – one with butter and olive oil in it and the other with ground pepper and sea salt.
First course: chicken, scallop and mushroom terrine accompanied with a bean salad with grilled bell pepper; pickled onions, cucumber and radish with truffle scented salt and olive oil. The taste is excellent. The scallop and the chicken go well together, the pickles perfectly adding flavour, together with an ever so subtle hint of the truffle.
Main course: sautéed tilefish with a yuzu-citron chilli paste flavoured vinaigrette with pancetta and Japanese mustard spinach and new potatoes. A very unusual combination of flavours that works surprisingly well. The salty pancetta gives the chunky tilefish a lot of extra flavour and the citrus sauce is simply divine.
Dessert: First there is a plate of Camembert and Roquefort cheese with dried apricots and prunes with fig bread.
And then it comes, the grand finale. This must be without a doubt the best dessert I have ever had on a plane. It is simply divine, with an amazing combination of textures and flavours that harmonise so elegantly that you forget you’re actually eating on a plane and not in a restaurant: a velvety smooth milk chocolate cream infused with pieces of praliné puff pastry, slices of thin milk chocolate with caramelised hazelnut pieces and hazelnut flavoured shortbread.
To finish off the meal I have a cup of coffee. The meal is over and yet the cabin crew continue their relentless onslaught on my taste buds: with the coffee I am served a chocolate praliné that seems harmless enough to look at. But then I bite into it and the sublime taste of rich chocolate, Early Grey tea and bergamot explodes on my palate.
The attendant brings me a bottle of water and then slowly the lights go out and so do I. The seat is perhaps a tad too narrow, but only just and I still manage to have a very decent and comfortable sleep of about five hours.
When I awake I’m feeling peckish and we’ve still got another four hours to go to Frankfurt. So I order myself a bowl of Ramen in a spicy broth with spring onion. There is also a little sachet of something – it’s all in Japanese – which I decide to open and add to my soup, despite not quite knowing what it is. At a glance I assume it’s shredded radish or something until the strong smell of raw garlic hits me. The soup really is very tasty and helps to clear the tubes.
What impressed me when ordering the soup was that a flight attendant happened to be passing by my seat, walking towards the rear of the plane just as I opened the menu to have a look through it. I only realised after when I looked up from the menu that – anticipating that I might like to order something – she had actually stopped and waited at a distance until I was ready. So when I looked up from the menu she approached me and asked me if there was anything she could do for me! Such attention to detail was displayed by the entire crew throughout the flight.
About two hours out of Frankfurt the cabin is slowly coming to life again, window shades go up as the bleary eyed passengers cast a surreptitious glance out the window to check the view outside, not that there is one, clouds as far as the eye can see. At least there are some pretty crystals forming on the outer layer of the window.
The flight attendant arrives and asks me if I’ll be having the Western of Japanese second meal. I opt for the Western meal – apparently a creation by the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo – and it is yet another delectable and delightful meal with another array of unusual combinations of tastes.
First course: juniper berry flavoured beef consommé with red wine and Kyoto carrot cream and a basil and garlic pesto.
Main course: parmesan scented cereal cake with smoked salmon and braised endive.
Dessert: mandarin and pomegranate mousse.
The meal is served with a selection from the breadbasket and a small dish of butter and black pepper savoured blood orange jam. To finish the meal I have another cup of coffee.
After a flying time of 11 hours and 15 minutes our flight draws to a close as we land on the southern most of the three parallel runways in Frankfurt. A part of the Lufthansa wide-body fleet has been parked up for the holidays. The sight reminds me a bit of when the Swissair fleet was grounded ahead of bankruptcy. The next aircraft to come in behind us is the Japan Airlines flight from Tokyo – we beat them by about 5 minutes!
Immigration is a breeze and before long I’m already checking in to the Hilton at Frankfurt airport. I’ll probably sleep through the New Year, but that’s okay really and what I usually end up doing anyway.
Well that was fun! My experience with ANA is a truly enjoyable and remarkable one. I found the cabin crew to be very courteous and attentive and very charming in their handling of the passengers. They had a good sense of humour and no request ever seemed to be too much for them. There was a young couple travelling with a little girl of maybe three years of age and it was truly heart warming to watch the cabin crew do their utmost to keep the child entertained so her parents could get a rest.
The food on this flight was outstanding and certainly surpassed the meal I had in Lufthansa First Class on my way to Japan in terms of quality, taste and presentation.
I also like very much what ANA has done with the Business Class cabin, the seat is comfortable and offers a high degree of privacy. My only complaint is that perhaps the seat is just a bit too narrow, but not to a degree where it prevents you from sleeping.
This has been a memorable experience and a fun trip. Tomorrow I will have my first trip in the new year, a short hop from Frankfurt back to Basel. Then three weeks later I’ll be off to Montreal again, this time however on a Speedbird.