A Postcard from Portugal via The Qantas London Lounge
Towards the end of September, a long weekend break to Portugal gave me the opportunity to sample both The Qantas London Lounge at Heathrow and the InterContinental Lisbon, both of which had been on my to-visit list for some time. With detailed reviews of both, this report will also include some brief narrative on two BA Club Europe flights, updated impressions of the Cathay Pacific First Class lounge at Heathrow, and a snapshot of the ANA lounge at Lisbon airport. LHR-LIS
Departing from Terminal 3 at Heathrow is something of a rarity for me; before this trip, I’d last used the terminal in April 2017. As is the norm when departing from T3 and arriving by car, we opted to park in the T5 Long Stay car park and walk through to the adjacent T2/T3 Business car park, for the shorter minibus ride to the terminal when compared to the bus from the T2/T3 Long Stay car park.
There was no queue to receive our boarding passes at Zone D, where BA offer a partially screened First check-in area in a vague attempt at recreating the First Wing experience of T5. Fast Track security, located one level up from check-in, was moderately busy, but before too long we were airside and emerging into T3’s departure lounge, mercifully bypassing World Duty Free.
Brunch awaited in the excellent Cathay Pacific First Class lounge, located on the upper level towards Gates 1-11. I reviewed this elegantly designed lounge extensively in 2017, so will focus on our dining experience in this report. In the 2.5 years since I last visited, not much had changed aside from the notable growth in size of the indoor plants.
Taking seats in the Dining Room, we shared the grilled halloumi with smashed avocado on sourdough toast, before embarking on both the Chinese set (chicken congee with fried vegetable noodles and dim sum basket) and the Western set (two scrambled eggs, grilled back bacon, sautéed mushrooms, oven roasted tomato, homemade baked beans, sourdough toast and parmentier potatoes).
Each dish was well presented and of a good quality, and although portion size was on the small side, the relatively extensive menu meant it wasn’t difficult to feel satisfied. Service was prompt if not overly polished.
A couple of hours’ relaxation later and it was time for a late lunch.
Starters of hot smoked salmon rillette with fennel and orange salad and rye bread, and pan-fried chicken gyoza with Asian pickle slaw and soy dipping sauce were enjoyed alongside a mojito and glass of champagne.
Our main courses of pan fried seabream with jasmine rice, sugar snap peas and fresh lemon, and Cathay’s signature Wonton noodles in soup with Chinese style prawn and pork dumplings in chicken broth with vegetables were both excellent, the latter also served with a dim sum basket featuring BBQ pork bun, siu mai and vegetable dumpling.
Desserts of mango and coconut tapioca pudding with mango, mint and chilli salsa, and apple and blackberry crumble with crème anglaise concluded a couple of excellent lounge dining experiences.
In addition to the waiter-service Dining Room, the Cathay Pacific First Class lounge offers a small but well-stocked self-service buffet. Since my last visit, some indoor plants had been added to the shelves here, and I was pleased to note that the selection had not diminished in this time. In addition to a coffee machine and selection of delightful Jing teas, chilled still and sparkling filtered water is available from a tap. Throughout the afternoon, a couple of warm snack options were available, alongside whole fresh fruit, bread, cheese and accompaniments, and a patisserie selection.
A fridge offered an individual selection of salads, sandwiches, fruit salad, fruit juice and desserts. The lounge staff were proactive in keeping the buffet looking presentable, with empties cleared promptly throughout the lounge.
Leaving the Cathay lounge, we headed along the corridor back in the direction of the main departure lounge to the adjacent Qantas lounge. The subject of much anticipation and some construction delay, Qantas finally opened their lounge at Heathrow in late November 2017, occupying the space of the former Air Canada/SAS London Lounge (which incidentally was the first airline lounge I ever set foot in back in 2007 prior to an Air Canada flight to Calgary).
Set over two floors (one at gate level, and one above), the lounge was designed by Woods Bagot and, as with Ilse Crawford’s Cathay Pacific lounge interiors, is a great example of modern functional design combined with traditional elements. Apparently designed to ‘embody the essence of London at twilight’, the lounge features elegant Australian and British design influences, with stone, brass and walnut being the predominant materials deployed. The treatment of walls, columns, floors and ceilings is of a very high quality, whilst the lighting scheme cleverly accentuates and complements each feature.
Behind reception, a walnut wood-clad wall featuring the Qantas kangaroo shields from view the majority of the ground floor of the lounge, home to the central tended Gin Bar with small integrated self-service buffet.
Surrounding the bar, a mixture of integrated tables and bar seating is available, whilst the rest of the ground floor features both banquette and standalone table seating ensuring a variety of options are available for passengers dining in the lounge. Banquette seating incorporates power sockets at low level.
Whilst the lounge is open all day from 08:00-20:30, the ground floor part of the lounge is only open for brunch (09:30-12:00) and dinner (18:00-20:30) to coincide with Qantas flight departure times. Although tables are laid to restaurant standards, the waiter service menu, inspired by Neil Perry’s Rockpool restaurants, is very limited, with just four hot options to choose from.
We sampled both the chicken pie with filo top, parsley and capers alongside the famous salt and pepper squid with green chilli dipping sauce and aioli; both were small plates, and neither ranked as highly as Cathay’s offering. Service by the Sofitel-trained staff was prompt and friendly.
Champagne is only available on request to Qantas First passengers, Chairman’s Lounge and Platinum One members, who also have a couple of premium wine options to choose from and the benefit of reserved dining tables adjacent to the windows. For the rest of us, Australian sparkling wine and a more interior-focused view is available.
One does have to remember that, as with The Qantas Hong Kong Lounge, this is a shared business and first class facility – business class passengers will no doubt be delighted at the waiter service offering, although first class passengers may be left feeling slightly miffed if expecting a service comparable to the Qantas First lounges in Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles and Singapore. I assume the lack of space available in T3, together with near-adjacent first class lounges being offered by fellow oneworld airlines Cathay Pacific and BA, meant Qantas didn’t opt for their own dedicated First lounge, even if the BA Galleries First lounge comes nowhere near the standard of The Qantas London Lounge.
The upper floor of the lounge is accessed via an impressive sweeping central staircase, although its position on the ground floor is somewhat awkward, requiring all passengers to walk through a small portion of the dining area.
Emerging onto the upper level, passengers are greeted by a tended semi-circular marble-clad cocktail bar with feature chandelier above, either side of which is a symmetrical seating cluster of sofas, armchairs and occasional tables. This aspect of the lounge features the only natural light and views from unfortunately high and small windows, a constraint of the early 1990s building in which the lounge is situated.
Working around to the right, a mix of armchair seating flanks a walkway through to the rear of the lounge, which ends in a large space comprised of a self-service buffet complemented by both high and low communal and individual dining tables.
Confusingly, two overhead signs point passengers in completely the wrong direction for the washrooms and showers – downwards or straight on, rather than to the left.
High-backed sofas at the far end of the lounge offer a semi-private retreat, although their proximity to the buffet means that noise can easily carry. These sofas can also end up being used for overflow dining space from the buffet area in a lounge that often gets busy in the couple of hours preceding Qantas flight departure times.
Adjacent to this seating area, two private window-less VIP rooms are available, one of which is set up as a children’s playroom when not required by VIPs. That the designers chose not to install a permanent playroom seems to be something of an oversight.
Back towards the cocktail bar, additional armchair seating flanks the opposite walkway, with a couple of seating nooks off to the left either side of the lift creating some variety of design. The majority of the seating on the upper floor does not have easy access to power sockets (there are none integrated into tables, for example), although wall sockets are available at regular intervals and are designed for passenger use. Wifi is available, although I find Heathrow’s own wifi service to often be better than that provided by airlines.
Showers and washrooms are situated to the left of the cocktail bar, the latter being individual unisex rooms, and all featuring Aurora Spa products.
Qantas have done a sterling job with the design and functionality of the space available to them for their lounge at Heathrow. The slightly awkward configuration of the lower level and lack of natural light or views are unfortunate results of the building’s configuration, but the stylish design of the space more than makes up for this. Coupled with the adjacent Cathay Pacific lounges, the addition of the Qantas lounge elevates the lounge scene at Heathrow, and results in Terminal 3 offering an excellent departures experience for the premium oneworld flyer. As I write this report in mid-May 2020, T3 (together with T4) had sadly been temporarily closed as a result of the dramatically reduced passenger demand arising from the Coronavirus pandemic. Whilst there are some signs of recovery on the horizon, these two terminals (and their lounges) are likely to stay closed for some months to come.
Our flight to Lisbon aboard G-EUUA (my second time onboard BA’s first A320-232, delivered in 2002) was entirely unremarkable, with the menu being the same as that which I had experienced travelling to Madrid the previous month; BA’s Club Europe menus on services from Heathrow rotate every two weeks. I had enjoyed the British roast chicken with runner beans, garden peas, potato risotto and thyme jus so much on that occasion that I opted for the same meal on this flight – you can see the menu and a photo of this meal in my recent BA A350 report. Unlike on the A350, a welcome bar service was offered prior to dinner.
Arriving into Lisbon, whilst there was no immigration queue, the taxi queue was the longest I’d ever experienced; once we were eventually in a taxi and on our way to the InterContinental, the driver informed us there’d been some weather earlier in the day that had resulted in a number of delayed flights and consequently an unusual number of passengers arriving at the same time. InterContinental Lisbon and Views from Lisbon
Located adjacent to Parque Eduardo VII, the InterContinental Lisbon started life in 1984 as the Le Meridien, before becoming the Tiara Park Atlantic in 2008. IHG took over the property in 2014, and soon embarked on a multi-year full refurbishment that completed in 2019; indeed, much of the property still had a new smell at the time of our stay in late September.
As we were arriving after midnight, it was unsurprising that the Ambassador check-in lounge (located in an elevated recess to the right of reception) was closed, but it appeared to be an impressive space nonetheless – much more than a simple dedicated desk. A similar space to the left of reception is home to the concierge desk.
The airy walnut wood-clad lobby, open to the banqueting floor above, is smartly decorated with blue and brass accents, and includes several Portuguese-tiled occasional tables.
Directly opposite reception, lifts take guests up to the bedroom floors. To the left of the lifts, the hotel’s only restaurant, Akla, sits in a recess along with the UpTown Bar, whilst to the right of the lifts a small business centre can be found. Small gift and patisserie shops are also available off the lobby, either side of the entrance to the Club InterContinental lounge.
We were checked in promptly and were soon heading upstairs to our 10th floor Junior Suite, a one category upgrade from our booked Club room and the lowest of no fewer than seven different suite types the property offers. The lift lobbies and room corridors have been as smartly refurbished as the rest of the property, with floor and room numbers both sporting Portuguese tiling accents.
At the end of the corridor, our Junior Suite was a spacious 43 square metres in size. Unusually, there was no hall to the suite, with the entrance door opening directly into the room, revealing a super king size bed, two-seater sofa, expansive desk and large minibar console (including Nespresso machine) below a wall-mounted TV.
The floor plan on the rear of the entrance door showed the layout of our suite before refurbishment, which seemingly included partitions separating the bedroom from the living area – this would’ve perhaps offered more privacy than the current layout, albeit with a reduced sense of space.
The suite continued the interior design styling of the rest of the hotel, with walnut wood furniture and features, brown marble-topped tables and blue accents. I appreciated the reading lights integrated into the bed’s headboard and the full height and width mirrors above the (albeit dimly lit) desk, although found the mirrors surrounding the TV to be a little unnecessary – and somewhat disconcerting! The bedside lamps were both on the small side given the proportions of the room, although the blue shades added a welcome pop of colour to the room.
Whilst fruit plates are no longer a published benefit of Ambassador membership at properties outside of China, I was pleased that the IC Lisbon chose to offer one, alongside complimentary still and sparkling water and a small gift of a Lisbon tram fridge magnet. Quite how many InterContinental guests pop magnets on their fridge is questionable, but the thought is well intended.
In another nice gesture, the IC had agreed on request to provide two beautifully presented Portuguese custard tarts in our suite in lieu of access to the Club lounge that evening (our arrival time being so late).
The port in the minibar represented a good use of the EUR15 food and beverage credit granted to Ambassador members (per stay – not per night).
Our suite offered a not terribly inspiring view of Parque Eduardo VII, through somewhat dirty windows.
As is so often the case with refurbished properties, the bathroom of our suite (accessed via a small wardrobe hall) had not been majorly altered in recent years, but despite this it was in good condition, save for a shower door that didn’t fully close. With dual sinks (complete with awkward taps), separate bath tub and shower stall, this was a decently-sized bathroom, complemented by local premium Portus Cale amenities that made a welcome change from the usual Agraria products found in IC rooms in most properties.
The following morning, we headed downstairs for breakfast to the Club InterContinental lounge, located through a semi-private skylight-topped lobby off the main hotel lobby. That the entrance to the lounge should be so sun-bathed is somewhat ironic given the lounge itself is entirely window-less – a major oversight by the designers who chose to site the lounge in this location in the building.
Whilst the lounge may be dark and fairly small, the space has been decorated to the same high standard as the rest of the property. The majority of the lounge is set on a raised podium, with around half of the banquette and table seating, including one table nook, located on a small lower level.
A selection of armchairs, banquette and standalone sofa seating takes up a third of the raised portion of the lounge, the rest being occupied by further banquette and table seating and the buffet area. The lounge never got terribly full during our stay, but given the lounge’s small size and open design, I would be concerned about lack of privacy during busier times.
There are no washrooms in the lounge, although facilities are available a few steps away off the main lobby.
In addition to a reasonably extensive buffet offering a selection of cereals, yogurts, whole and cut fruit, salad, cold cuts, cheese, homemade pastries, bread and a handful of hot items, a small à la carte menu is available offering a choice of egg dishes and porridge.
We opted for a tomato and mushroom omelette and the Portuguese baked eggs with chorizo and fresh cheese, both of which were nicely flavoured albeit simply presented. The friendly waiting staff were happy to provide some custard tarts in takeaway packaging for consumption later in the day.
Our first of three days exploring Lisbon started at the Sé Cathedral in the Alfama district.
From here, we walked up to the Castelo de São Jorge, offering sweeping views across the city to the Tagus beyond.
The walk down through the Castelo neighbourhood, ending at Praça do Comércio in the Baixa district, was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
Afternoon tea in the Club lounge at the InterContinental Lisbon is a mid-tier offering, comprising of a small but more than adequate buffet of sandwiches, nuts and patisserie items (with scones being notably absent), and waiter-service drinks. Alcohol is available at an extra charge. I appreciated the teapots in the lounge which featured designs by local schoolchildren.
In the evening, a slightly more expanded service is offered, with a selection of hot and cold canapés available from the buffet alongside nuts, cheese and accompaniments, fruit, chilled desserts and the same patisserie selection as available during afternoon tea. Whilst there are no waiter-served canapés, drinks are offered seat-side, with Perrier-Jouet being the champagne on offer during our stay.
We dined that evening at Momento HB, a charming local restaurant in the Barro Alto district, an easy 8-minute Uber ride from the hotel and pleasant half-hour stroll on the return.
The following morning, breakfast in the Club lounge suffered from fairly slow service from the à la carte menu, although the staff were quick to apologise. We sampled the eggs Benedict and porridge prepared with milk and topped with caramelised apple; once again, these dishes were simply presented but tasted pretty good.
The Versailles-like Palácio Nacional de Queluz was our destination for today, a swift 11-minute Uber trip (or much more complicated 50 minutes by metro and train) from the InterContinental. This being a Monday, despite arriving at midday, we had the beautiful Rococo palace and its expansive grounds almost entirely to ourselves. The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art maintains some of its horses at the palace and gives visitors to the grounds an opportunity to enter the working stables.
Returning to the IC, we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon tea and a few canapés before heading out on foot for dinner to a hastily forgotten and entirely unnoteworthy restaurant (one of the few that we could find open on this Monday evening) somewhere in the Barro Alto district.
Our final day in Portugal’s capital saw us head to Belém, with visits to the famous Torre de Belém (including traffic light one way system on the narrow spiral staircase) and the Mosterio dos Jerónimos.
Back at the IC, checkout in the Club lounge was handled efficiently giving us plenty of time to indulge in one final afternoon tea before jumping into an Uber for the 12-minute drive to the airport. LIS-LHR
Arriving at the airport a couple of hours prior to our 18:45 scheduled departure, check-in formalities were completed promptly at the Club Europe desk, with Fast Track security having next to no queue. BA use the third party ANA lounge at LIS; at first glance, one might be forgiven for getting excited at the prospect of spending time in a premium Star Alliance airline’s lounge, but alas this lounge has no relationship with the Japanese airline of the same name. Instead, the lounge, as with the airport itself, is operated by Vinci Airports and, despite being large and offering an apron view, is pretty basic.
Located a level above the main departure lounge and adjacent to the TAP Premium lounge, the ANA lounge is one large square space, split into predominately two unequal halves; a buffet and self-service bar take up a third of the lounge to the left, with predominately armchair-based seating in the right two thirds. Two refreshment stations at either end of the lounge supplement the bar with hot and soft drinks. Catering is the usual limited and unappetising third party offering, whilst the armchairs are of the annoying swivel type, set too close to each other to offer any privacy or respite from unwelcome bumps.
In a more unusual feature for a third party lounge, semi-private booths with sofas and reading lights are offered along one wall, although these were all occupied on our visit and, as with the rest of the lounge, did not appear to be very comfortably furnished.
Both washrooms and showers are available in the lounge, the latter being chargeable at EUR15.50 (although I’m not sure whether this fee would be waived for premium airline passengers as opposed to walk-in fee-paying passengers). Judging by the state of the washrooms, I shudder to think of how the shower experience would pan out.
The overall design aesthetic of the lounge is a little utilitarian to put it politely, with an unhealthy use of cheap pinewood throughout.
Whilst the lounge’s floor to ceiling windows are welcome, the building’s brise soleil was not doing a great job of deflecting sunlight the evening we were there. The TV area is particularly puzzlingly designed, with the TV image projected onto multiple dropped ceiling partitions, creating a huge dark mass in the centre of the lounge.
Positively, power sockets are located at fairly regular intervals between seats, although there are no USB ports.
Despite its failings, the ANA lounge is a world away from the tiny Blue lounge, fashioned out of an airport corridor, that BA used on my previous departure from LIS in 2014.
We travelled home aboard G-TTOE, one of the few A320s in BA’s fleet to feature an IFE system. Originally designed to be deployed on the longest of the Band 4 routes (Athens, Istanbul and Larnaca) alongside shorthaul-configured 767s, these A320s used to offer main screen entertainment to all passengers, and consequently feature in-seat channel selector and volume controls. The system was not removed during refurbishment of these aircraft with the Pinnacle seating product, despite IFE ceasing to be offered on shorthaul routes just a few years after this seating’s introduction in 2014. The aircraft we flew on that evening had been delivered new to GB Airways in 2002, transitioning to easyJet in 2008 before joining the BA fleet in 2009.
Presumably due to a fuller cabin, a bar service was not offered prior to dinner, unlike on the outbound flight. The menu on our flight this evening was, predictably, the same as that on my return from Madrid the month before. The starter of cherry tomato and mozzarella salad was not to my personal taste and was a little basic. Thinking it was time for a change from what would’ve been my third sampling of the baked risotto, I opted for the grilled North Atlantic cod, Mediterranean tomato and caper sauce, ratatouille and fennel mousseline.
I’d sampled this dish earlier in the year returning from Stockholm, and whilst not one of my favourite Club Europe dishes due to its saltiness, it is still a filling and satisfying choice. The lemon curd crumble with meringue, on the other hand, was low quality and disappointingly forgettable, although the celebration of British cheese (Croxton Manor Mature Cheddar and Somerset Brie cheese with apple pear chutney and crackers) was surprisingly decent.
That’s it for this trip – my second visit to Lisbon, one of Europe’s more relaxed cities. Thank you for reading and, as usual, comments and questions are welcomed.