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We try out Virgin’s new afternoon tea in the Clubhouse and in the air!

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This is the continuation of my report on my (Jamie’s) press trip to New York with Virgin Atlantic.  Whilst Economy Delight does not usually come with Clubhouse access, I was allowed in to take a look at the new afternoon tea service and some other features.  I also got to see the afternoon tea service for Upper Class passengers in the air.  My Economy Delight seat review is here.

The Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow Terminal 3

It was my first time in the Clubhouse lounge and, following a tour by one of the meet and greet staff, I was very impressed with it.  Rob reviewed the Clubhouse in full here if you want to learn more about it.

Following introductions we were shown some of the new innovations that Virgin Atlantic are looking to roll out.

First up were these two mobile coffee machines which will be appearing in the air:

Virgin Atlantic Eric Lanlard Cake Boy afternoon tea

and

Virgin Atlantic Eric Lanlard Cake Boy afternoon tea

Both machines offer good quality ‘proper’ coffee.

The premium machine offers an espresso with the drink produced by hand pulling hot water over fresh coffee beans.  As this piece of equipment is purely mechanical with no electrical parts it has already been approved and hopefully will be appearing on flights soon, most likely in the Upper and Premium class cabins.

As a bonus, it will also be used to make espresso martinis for those who prefer something a little stronger. These certainly went down well with our group during the demonstration!

The standard coffee machine has a touch screen which can be used to create your coffee just the way you like it. Because it does have some electrical components, it is still awaiting approval to join the fleet. It should be available on flights from later in 2018.  As you can see in the photographs, both machines are compact and manoeuvrable. However it is not clear at this stage whether they will be pushed down the aisle or left near the galley for you to help yourself.

Next up there were the soft serve ice cream dispenser:

Virgin Atlantic Eric Lanlard Cake Boy afternoon tea

and

Virgin Atlantic Eric Lanlard Cake Boy afternoon tea

This is another mechanical kit whereby cylindrical containers of Walls ice cream are pushed through a nozzle to give it a soft and creamy texture.

It comes in three flavours – strawberry, chocolate and vanilla. And as if that wasn’t enough, you have a choice of delicious, naughty toppings such as a chocolate flakes, glacier cherries or sugar sprinkles.

Virgin Atlantic Eric Lanlard Cake Boy afternoon tea

I had a bowl of strawberry ice cream with cherries. It was rather good even if it did constitute the first part of my breakfast that day. These dispensers will be trialled soon and will probably stay at the rear of the plane. Please form an orderly queue!

Virgin Atlantic Eric Lanlard Cake Boy afternoon tea

Afternoon tea in the Clubhouse

A new afternoon tea service is being introduced both in the air and in the Clubhouse.  It has been created by master pâtissier Eric Lanlard aka Cake Boy. Eric worked with the Roux brothers before setting up his own business in Battersea Reach.  Channel 4 has produced two television series with him – Glamour Puds and Baking Mad with Eric Lanlard.

Eric welcomed us to the area where he had set up his Clubhouse version of afternoon tea with a glass of Lanson Rosé Champagne and a big smile. He then proceeded to talk us through his enticing looking creation.

Virgin Atlantic Eric Lanlard Cake Boy afternoon tea

Whilst some aspects of it are traditional – for example plain and fruit scones with strawberry preserve and clotted cream – Eric has infused it with a modern twist.

There are smoked salmon mini croissants, savoury tarts and prosciutto rolls.  All tasted fresh and delightful. Sweets include a macaroon, an Eton mess verrine (with strawberry coulis you inject before eating) and my favourite – a dark chocolate brownie that comes with an edible gold leaf and a tube of salted caramel sauce you squeeze on yourself.

It was creative, fun, delicious, wonderfully presented and totally self indulgent. I loved it.

Virgin Atlantic Eric Lanlard Cake Boy afternoon tea

Each plate shown, including two scones, is designed for two people – good luck trying to share this with a loved one…

Virgin Atlantic Eric Lanlard Cake Boy afternoon tea
Afternoon tea will be available in the Clubhouse between 3.00pm and 5.00pm.

I did think this would be difficult to match or improve on in Upper Class, since it is obviously harder to store and serve products in the air.  I was proved quite wrong later that day.

Upper Class Afternoon Tea

Eric was on board our flight to prepare and serve his new Upper Class afternoon tea.  We were invited down to the Upper Class bar to see him hand-finish some of the cakes. Having been so impressed with Erics new Clubhouse afternoon tea offering, I knew he had to do something special and he did not disappoint. It looked simply stunning.

Virgin Atlantic Eric Lanlard Cake Boy afternoon teaand

Virgin Atlantic Eric Lanlard Cake Boy afternoon tea

Upper Class afternoon tea has been designed to be served at the bar. The intention is to get passengers up to stretch their legs and create a pleasant social environment whilst you enjoy the delicious baking on offer. If this doesn’t appeal, you can still have it served at your seat.

As you can see from the photos there was a wide variety of choices available. Fresh rolls and wraps included hot smoked salmon, falafel and red pepper houmous, roast beef, peppered pastrami, chicken caesar and greek feta salad.  There were freshly baked sausage and cheese rolls, both of which smelled irresistible.  Patisserie items included lemon and poppy seed cakes, red velvet cup cakes, passion fruit éclairs and of course macarons amongst others.  And the classic warm scones were there too.

If this was a true reflection of how afternoon tea will be served day-to-day when it is eventually rolled out then passengers are in for a treat.

Conclusion

Considering all aspects of my trip, I found it encouraging to see the improvements which have already been made and the innovations Virgin Atlantic is attempting to deliver.

We obviously need to see how these new products are actually delivered day to day.  However, whether its a better cup of coffee, an ice cream for the kids or an indulgent new afternoon tea service for the seasoned upper class traveller, the intent is there to improve the travel experience for everyone.  Now I need to work towards attaining enough Flying Club miles to fly Upper Class one day!

There is one article left in this series which will run at the weekend – a review of the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at New York JFK.

(Want to earn more Virgin Flying Club miles?  Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

FIRST LOOK: Review of the new British Airways lounge at Aberdeen Airport
Bits: BA innovates its long-haul deep clean programme, update on redeeming Avios for Flybe, MBNA closes its AA cards

Comments

  1. phatbear says:

    is there any date for the roll out as im in upper in 3 weeks time to SFO and was hoping I could partake of this new service as I do love a cake or three!

  2. Colin MacKinnon says:

    Any gluten-free options?

    • Vegetable soup?

      • Kathy says:

        I imagine this is the dairy-free/vegan option as well. *sigh*

        • Tilly says:

          The veg soup will probably have butter or cream in it. When it comes to lounges and airplane food i have very low expectations. Then I was thrilled when I had a bacon sarnie with no dairy made for me one morning in the Galleries lounge at LGW.

    • Peter K says:

      +1

    • Peter K says:

      To often it’s fruit salad, sigh. Even a honeybuns cake would be something!

    • Russell says:

      +1. It’s like airlines get all giddy whilst forgetting about a significant proportion of their passengers who simply cant eat their delicious food, then throw in some low quality tat as an afterthought.

      How hard would it have been to throw in some meringues or some brownies, things which are naturally gluten free so you don’t need to carry two versions?

      Restaurants are getting a lot better at this. Airlines need to catch up. Gluten free is still seen as a slightly amusing fad, but it’s not faddy if (like my partner) gluten causes you to swell up like a balloon and then get an attack of the sharts.

      • Steve says:

        I suppose it’s about the statistics. A quick search on the internet reveals that 1 in 100 to 1 in 133 people are gluten intolerant. Let’s say there are 100-200 people on average in the airplane. That’s 1-2 people who are gluten intolerant. Mathematically it is not a significant proportion of passengers.

      • Kathy says:

        Apparently Virgin doesn’t even bother differentiating special meals between classes – you’ll get the same special meal in Upper Class as in Economy. It has a low-lactose meal that is literally only for lactose intolerant people – and often comes smothered in lactose-free cheese, which is no good for those of us who can’t eat dairy at all (it’s not necessarily the lactose that triggers problems).

        It’s totally possible to design a business class menu that naturally has dairy and gluten free options without needing to make it a special meal order. Meat/Fish, veg and potato meals can be made without containing gluten or dairy if you pay attention to what you put in the sauces and how you cook them. A lot of Chinese and Japanese food is naturally gluten and dairy-free. Salads and soups are very easy to make gluten and dairy-free. I don’t understand why they don’t put a bit of thought into their menu designs, then they’d only have to differentiate the trimmings for the majority of people requesting special meals – the bread rolls and desserts, which must surely be much easier than the current special meal system.

        Obviously with coeliac disease you have to be a lot more careful – any cross-contamination at all causes problems, so meals need to be prepared using separate equipment. You would still need a sealed special meal for those, and for others with true allergies. But the current boom in free-from food is not caused by a huge increase in the number of people with coeliac disease and lethal allergies – it’s food intolerances that people are now much more aware of. I won’t die if I eat something with cheese in, I’ll just be very uncomfortable for a week or so.

        • David says:

          Have a look at the Kosher meals perhaps? I seem to recall they were designed such that the sauces are added at point of consumption, so that might get around some of your problems. Assuming that you are happy with the accompanying less palatable form of ritual slaughter for meat production, of course (or chose vegetarian kosher..).

        • Kathy says:

          Oh, I’d probably just pick the vegan option on Virgin. I won’t starve (as long as the meal *is* loaded) It’s just one of those things that’s annoying when everyone else is getting a premium offering and you’re getting the same as in economy only served on a plate.

        • Tilly says:

          +1

  3. Mmm I wonder who is going to keep all these delights on their tray in times of turbulence! Looks great but will turn into a big mess!

    • Not just your own tray, I can see all those cakes flying into the air from the bar area…

  4. Catalan says:

    I wouldn’t have thought there’d be enough stowage positions onboard to stow these mobile coffee machines.

  5. It looks and sounds delicious. I presume Jamie means glacé cherries – he’s probably too young to remember the days when everyone’s grandma had them as a pantry staple!

    • Delbert says:

      Ah, those were the days. A glass of Warnicks at Christmas with a cherry thrown in. We felt well posh.

  6. Nick (not arrogant Nick aka “The Original Nick) says:

    All look like genuine service enhancements – great to see Virgin Atlantic continuing to differentiate, innovate and delight its customers. If this were BA (Budget Airline), the hapless Mr Cruz would be rubbing his hands in glee as he could save weight and space by canning the coffee machines and ice cream dispensers and replacing the afternoon tea with a single Rich Tea biscuit.

    • Indeed, beats being thrown a curly plastic sandwich in Club World by a country mile…

  7. Looks yummy and I genuinely look forward to having decent coffee on hand. How are we going to keep PE customers from sneaking through the curtains for a cheeky patisserie 😉

  8. Matt Black says:

    Fingers crossed this is available onboard for our honeymoon in upper in August.

  9. Intentionally Blank says:

    Those were the days when UC actually had a proper espresso machine….

    However, this is a simple yet very visible (and nice) innovation. I do appreciate the “get people out of their seats” type approach to this

  10. Think the new UC pm Tea service at the bar is good, one of my favourite aspects of UC is the unuque friendly social atmosphere, especially in the old 747s with just 14 UC seats in the nose.

  11. This looks incredible. Thanks for the review!

  12. Tilly says:

    Can’t imagine they’ll cater for dairy allergies.

  13. Clive says:

    I was able to try this afternoon tea in the clubhouse – can confirm that although the article says it is designed for two people, they do provide everything shown on the pink plate if one person orders it. You wouldn’t need to share if you each take turns ordering one. 🙂

  14. James Gibson says:

    A fancy, gimmicky coffee machine is all well and good, but if Virgin actually wanted to go beyond the superficial then they’d invest in decent coffee beans and make sure they’re ground right before brewing. A standard filter machine can make great coffee – it all depends what you put in it.

    And soft-serve Wall’s ice cream? Come on, it’d be nice to have something I can’t buy at every local funfair and beach.

    • Clive says:

      Could you share your inside information about what coffee beans they are using and when they are ground? I can’t see a mention of those details above.

      • I believe they are ground on the ground. Not on the ground of the airport but on the ground of the factory floor. And I’m reliably informed the man who performs the grounding is a well grounded individual.

  15. I flew UC for the first time in ages recently, and have to say I was impressed. Service was excellent – the staff were friendly and continually checking to see if refills or anything else was required. Food on board was very good – definitely much tastier and better presented than the old CW catering (I haven’t tried the new) and it was all served very efficiently with no long waits, which was no mean feat given the small galley at the front of the A330. Breakfast in the clubhouse at LGW was very tasty and the staff there were excellent too – they really embodied the Virgin brand, unlike the BA galleries lounge staff, who seem like minimum wage catering staff who don’t care who they are working for. The LGW clubhouse is also a very nicely designed space – light and modern compared to the rather stuffy Galleries lounges.

    Overall, it was an excellent experience, particularly when compared with CW. Both seats have their issues – the limited recline of the Virgin seat when in seat mode is my only bugbear, the bed is very comfy though. I greatly dislike the CW set up with the climbing over people to get to the window seat and the divider continually going up and down, so on balance, with everything else, if it came down to it, I’d choose Virgin over BA in the future. More so with the afternoon tea!

  16. Charlieface says:

    @david I would hate to start a theological debate on a travel blog but I’m glad that the animals I eat have been painlessly killed using a sharp knife with a slit in the carotid and jugular rather than a random painful combination of clubbing/gassing/electrocution/shot in the head. And no chance of x% horse meat because someone’s actually standing watching or sealed shipments at every [email protected] I would hate to start a theological debate on a travel blog but I’m glad that the animals I eat have been painlessly killed using a sharp knife with a slit in the carotid and jugular rather than a random painful combination of clubbing/gassing/electrocution/shot in the head. And no chance of x% horse meat because someone’s actually standing watching or sealed shipments at every stage

  17. OT: sorry I missed the Ethiopian news yesterday.
    How is Ethiopian airlines business class?

    • Fairly well regarded. These are new Boeing 787 aircraft. It’s not Qatar / Emirates but certainly comparable with South African I believe.

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