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.
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 and 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
Date: 31. 12. 2012
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I leave the hotel at around 08h00 in the morning. 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 and drinks. The soft drinks are dispensed from a machine – what else?
And here are some of the views outside. The Singapore Airlines pushed back on time and even started all engines. But after it had been standing on the taxiway for about 20 minutes, the aircraft rolled onto the stand again instead of departing. It was still there when my flight left.
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. They 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 take the latter. For safety reasons the drinks must be served in plastic cups while we’re still on the ground.
And then we’re off!
Once we are airborne, service begins with the distribution of cypress scented hot towels.
There are no vanity kits on this flight. But after the meal the crew set up a basket with a variety of items in the rear Business Class galley: moisturising 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. It comes with a olive filled with sardine paste 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. Your table is set when they bring you the first course. The cabin attendant places a small side plate with two different types of bread on my table. With that she also places two small dish on the table: one with butter and olive oil in it and the other with ground pepper and sea salt.
First course: chicken, scallop and mushroom terrine with a bean salad and 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, pancetta, Japanese mustard spinach and new potatoes.
It is 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: 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. A flight attendant notices me looking at the menu. But instead of approaching my seat directly, she walks past me towards the rear of the cabin and stops a short distance away where she can keep an eye on me unnoticed. As soon as I look up from the menu she appears, seemingly out of nowhere to take my order. Simply outstanding service!
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. By the time I realise it’s garlic it’s already too late. The soup really is very tasty.
About two hours out of Frankfurt the cabin slowly comes to life again, window shades go up as the bleary-eyed passengers cast a surreptitious glance out the window to check the view outside: 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 or 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, an 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 southernmost 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. It’s 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 heartwarming 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 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.