Last week, I came one step closer to my bucket-list dream of flying first class, with a behind the scenes glimpse at Virgin Atlantic HQ to find out more about their new Premium Economy menu. Cruising at approximately 0,000 feet, I toured the training rig at Virgin’s Gatwick headquarters, without ever leaving drizzly Surrey. Still, for a couple of hours I got to escape reality and indulge my first class fantasies – starting with a cocktail making class at the bar from mixer supplier Funkin and an Upper Class food prep demo in the tiny aircraft kitchen.
On board dining seems so commonplace that it’s easy to forget the kind of thought process that goes into it. Just from a technical perspective it’s fascinating: every detail of all the food brought on board needs to be carefully considered, from meeting weight and space requirements to limiting preparation time. Service training instructor Richard Fitzgerald explained how, in Upper Class, every dish is carefully designed so that all meals take the same amount of time to plate and garnish, whilst still looking like stylish restaurant dishes.
Who knew so much thought went into airline food? But then, this is Virgin Atlantic, where the focus is on turning every flight into a unique experience. Hence the attractive on board bar, and the brand new Wander Walls on the 787’s – relaxed and welcoming food stations where passengers can pick up treats at their leisure. It’s no wonder that the entire menu is carefully chosen, not just for practicality but also to meet Virgin’s exacting standards of excellence, with a great selection of products, sometimes completely bespoke ones, from top suppliers like Divine, Gu, and Champagne Gardet. Working with niche suppliers, like South African cream liqueur Amarula and gourmet popcorn brand Joe and Sephs, Virgin have created an amazing food experience on board. It’s all about being exciting, glamorous, and just a little bit edgy; from the unique concoctions on the cocktail menu to the carefully chosen wine list from classy wine brand Berry Brothers, which always features one quirky option (watch out for the Sicilian Isolano at the moment).
The whole point of the day was to trial the new Premium Economy food menu, which has been upgraded recently for a more restaurant feel. On board the training rig, I settled in to an armchair-like leather seat with an actual, physical menu – gone are the days of “chicken or beef?” – and made my choice as the fabulously dressed flight attendants came round with drinks. Forget foil trays, my chicken tikka was served in a china bowl, with a fresh, crispy side salad and a creamy Apple Normandy cake for dessert. It was unlike any airline dining I’ve ever experienced, and just close enough to first class, highlighting the value in a Premium Economy upgrade.
With a food menu changes that every three months to keep things fresh, different meal themes chosen for each flight route, and everything following current food trends, Virgin’s whole food experience is incredibly well thought out.
And it doesn’t stop there! Ever the trend-setters, Virgin Atlantic were the first airline in the world to rate their suppliers by sustainability, focusing on fairtrade and rainforest alliance products and working with Food Made Good to create a set of strict standards which 68% of their suppliers are already meeting. And, with charitable bottled water company One Water on board, Virgin’s food menus really are doing as much good as possible – whilst remaining as glamorous and exciting as ever!
Huge thanks to Virgin Atlantic for this behind the scenes look at their on board food experience. It was a real eye-opener!