April 30, 2007
Singapore Airlines Gets It Right, Second Time

For decades, it seems, I've been reading and hearing of the high culinary standards of Singapore Airlines. But dinner as we headed from San Francisco to Singapore over the weekend left us wondering what all the excitement has been about. The German riesling and the dulce de leche ice cream - not served simultaneously - were splendid, but the rest of the meal was curiously dispirited. Some sort of braised white fish, possibly cod, was tough and dry, and what the menu described as the fish's black-peppercorn sauce lacked any bite whatever. Another main-course option during the same meal, chicken with a mustard sauce, was only marginally better.

I'd just been reading in the airline's flight magazine about the company's million-dollar "simulated aircraft cabin" at its culinary center so chefs could test meals under flight conditions, and how Singapore Airlines also has recruited chefs like Georges Blanc of France, Gordon Ramsay of the United Kingdom, and Nancy Oakes and Alfred Portale of the United States to create "signature meals that would transform inflight dining into a fine dining experience." Maybe in first class and business, but clearly not economy.

Nonetheless, early Monday morning over the East China Sea, just as we neared Hong Kong, breakfast restored at least some of my confidence in Singapore Airlines. As with dinner, even passengers in economy were given a menu with three options. For me, neither the fried rice with chicken nor the chive omelet with pork sausage held much allure. The meal created primarily for the airline's Indian clientele, however, sounded intriguing.

More than that, it was wonderful. A spicy green-pea masala and what a flight attendant rather than the menu said was a potato bhaji were packed with resonating and layered flavors. And both tasted remarkably fresh, though we were 12 hours out of San Francisco. The fruity chutney was complex, the bread sturdy and wholesome, and while I ordinarily don't eat yogurt without loading it up with honey and granola, this version had a purity and depth refreshing all on its own.

Aside from that earlier dinner, everything about the trip validated the noble reputation of Singapore Airlines, from the exceptional poise and proficiency of the crew to arriving right on time in both Hong Kong and Singapore. I wouldn't hesitate to fly again on the airline, and I'd know at the outset to stick with the Indian menu.

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