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What to expect from Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class and Clubhouse menu by Donal Skehan

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Virgin Atlantic is about to roll out some new meal options in Upper Class and in the Clubhouse restaurants.  We got to take a look at it (and sample it) at a private dinner event.  As both Rob and I were out of the country, we sent our foodie friend Lisa along to take notes.

Selected dishes designed by Irish food writer and TV host Donal Skehan will be added to the menu in Upper Class and in Clubhouse lounges this month.  Premium and Economy will see a food overhaul in 2019.

A star name in Ireland, Donal is best known in the UK as one of the rotating hosts of Saturday Kitchen.  He is also a TV regular in the US, and this was presumably a key factor for Virgin Atlantic who wanted someone who was familiar in both of their core markets.

The evening started with a welcome drink served by two flight attendants followed by mingling with other guests, Donal himself and VP Customer Experience at Virgin Atlantic Daniel Kerzner.  Virgin had hired an apartment opposite Buckingham Palace for the dinner which gave it an air of exclusivity.

The apartment was beautifully presented with an open plan layout which allowed everyone to watch the chefs at work.

Once everyone had arrived menus were handed out with a choice of three starters and three mains.

These were items selected from both the new Upper Class menu as well as the new Clubhouse lounges menu. I chose the chorizo, tomato and fish stew for a starter and the Ras El Hanout chicken thighs for my main.

Virgin tried to keep the experience as close to that offered at 38,000ft as it could.  All of the produce used to prepare our meals was the same as that served in Upper Class and the Clubhouse as were the wines and the table setting.

My stew arrived and at first glance looked more like Tom Yum. It was, however, delicious.  There was plenty of chunky chorizo and seafood and the flavours were perfectly balanced. I could easily have gone for seconds.

Next was the Ras El Hanout chicken thighs with fennel salad and baked feta. It was a meal I would be very happy to be served in a restaurant. The chicken was beautifully cooked, and the crispy fennel was a lovely accompaniment to the rich baked feta.

Whilst I was very happy with my choices, I must admit I did feel small pangs of food envy seeing everyone else’s dishes. Lucky for me, Donal ordered extras of all dishes, so we were given the opportunity to sample the items we had not personally ordered.

As a self-proclaimed omnivore, I am often sceptical of the vegetarian option, but in this case the roast cauliflower platter was very satisfying. The different textures of the cauliflower, chickpeas and roasted nuts were complimented well with a tahini yoghurt.

To end our meal, we were served the new Eric Lanlard-designed high tea, which was rolled out earlier this year, with a great selection of cakes slices and macaroons.  Head for Points wrote about the launch here.

Having a wheat intolerance, I asked if any of the options were gluten free. Of those we were offered none contained gluten.  However, they were not strictly gluten free so caution would need to be exercised for those with a genuine allergy.

Bearing in mind that you lose 30% or your taste sensitivity in the air, Donal has designed the menu to be rich and flavourful yet not so heavy as to leave you feeling gorged for the rest of your flight.

Whilst I was very impressed with the quality and flavours of all the dishes, it is difficult to judge whether the quality would be equal when served on a plane. I would be very interested in trying the menu at altitude to judge how the dishes stand the true test of being prepared in the air.  That said, I am confident the menu will be well received by all Upper Class and Clubhouse guests.

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Comments (38)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Shoestring says:

    You probably don’t have gluten sensitivity – few actually do

    • Peter K says:

      She didn’t say she had gluten sensitivity. She said she had a wheat intolerance. Different things. I know some of your comments are helpful but you do regularly mention about gluten in a dismissive way and it seems to come from a position that lacks understanding.
      I kindly suggest you thoroughly read up on the subject first then your informed comments will be truely edifying.

      • LB says:


      • Stu N says:

        Agreed. Shoestring is clearly lucky enough not to have any dietary issues as he is writing from a position of extreme ignorance.

        If you do have a food intolerance, it’s a real pain in the arse. Every time you eat out you have to check things don’t contain the ingredient and if someone else books a nice restaurant, you have to check they have notified restaurants. I’m lucky that my intolerance (tuna and similar oily fish) doesn’t involve a “hidden” ingredient and isn’t too severe. It just gives me stomach cramps and severe indigestion at small exposures – but it’s enough for me to wonder how people with severe allergies cope with daily life.

        • Andrew says:

          Pain? It burns!

          For some people, it’s not always what is eaten, but how it is eaten. I can’t take fluid before I eat a meal – but the eating out culture always starts with drinkies. Give me a good solid pate to start and we’re ready to go. Similarly seating position and height of seat. Poor posture, cold legs or very low seat equals cramps…

          People who are familiar will know the feeling of sitting there in a cold sweat, choosing a readily exitable seat when with a large group, planning a route to the bathroom, trying to reassure myself that it’ll pass, before making the brisk walk of shame for a vigorous evacuation..

    • Ingvar says:

      Very pleased to see gluten intolerance mentioned on HfP. If you say it’s all in my mind, I say ‘phhhht’. Following a stomach infection I was sick for a year, doctors couldn’t work it out, until I on a whim tried cutting out wheat from my diet. Within a week I was back to my old self. Please don’t tell me (to be blunt) diarrhoea and stomach cramps and extreme fatigue are all just in my head. It was my annus horribilus.

      • gluten dodgers says:

        here here

      • Shoestring says:

        [It was my annus horribilus.]

        I bet it was.

      • Jonathan says:

        Had you been abroad? Sounds a lot like tropical sprue to me. Worth asking for a referral to a gastroenterologist or infectious diseases specialist if you have persistent (>1 month) GI symptoms after overseas travel.

  • Christian says:

    It would be great if you reviewed more vegetarian dishes – maybe the new writer could – as this is something none of the blogs actually every cover. And the quality is often insultingly bad. I usually have to write a complaint after every long-distance flight.

    • george says:

      BA premium economy vegetarian main dish to Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago was hands down the best thing I have tasted on air (include many first and business class flights with many airlines but excludes JAL first)

    • Shoestring says:

      Nothing wrong with a bag of apples, methinks.

    • Will says:

      Agreed. Think airlines need to up their game on this. On one of our recent flights, the only veggie options all had cheese which was really infuriating. Yes you can pre-select intolerances but also shows lack of imagination. Though the wife sounded excited about the idea of cauliflower chunks.

    • Kathy says:

      BA’s special meal catering in general is appalling – it’s not great on most airlines, to be fair. Not enough people order them for it to be worth spending money on improving them.

      Though I did have a genuinely delicious dairy-free meal on Cathay Pacific HKG-AKL – so tasty I wolfed it down despite having already stuffed myself in the HKG lounges having come off the BA LHR-HKG flight feeling starving during to only eating half of their low lactose meal!

      • gluten dodgers says:

        yep BA tends to be pretty awful for gluten free (even in business), although Virgin is only a bit better, and Qatar business was surprisingly bad too

      • Gerry says:

        I was on a 3.5h BA CE flight last month and saw a gent across the aisle accept his vegan meal, open it, harrumph and ask why there was not three choices on the menu like everybody else. The cabin crew explained vegan was his choice and space etc stopped them from carrying any more………

        • gluten dodgers says:

          if they could just list allergens on the menus and know what meals contained that would be a good start and give people some wider options

    • gluten dodgers says:

      yep, the standard of gluten free meals in the air is a constant source of irritation for me too. Why should we get a some orange segments or slices of apple and some plain fish or chicken when everyone else is getting quality meals (esp in premium/ business). And why o why restrict everything else too – no butter (always dairy free spread), no cheese, no yogurt/ mousse, often no meat (more likely fish) for many courses. Just because someone has a gluten allergy it doesn’t mean they also have to miss out on everything else.

      • Kathy says:

        Because the gluten-free meal does double-duty as the dairy-free meal/pescatarian meal too. Sometimes is actually a vegan meal being made to serve everyone – i.e. some veg in a tomato-based sauce and some rice, a gluten free roll, some plain salad, and some fruit. It’s annoying for everyone!

        • gluten dodgers says:

          It is. Especially when you are paying for or using miles for premium or business. You don’t expect rice and veg and some fruit on the side. The free from audience is massive and it’s time the airlines took notice and looked after them better.

        • Shoestring says:

          My suggestion is to give you all an apple, a burger without the bun, a soup, a salad, some ice cream. Anything you want from the drinks trolley except no beer or whisky.

          What, ‘no beer?’ You cry.

          Yep, so you’ve been drinking beer all this time? Yet you’re gluten dodging?

          Perhaps you’re not gluten intolerant after all. Perhaps you just fell for a faddish idea that made you sound good.

          You’re probably a right porker but you told everybody you’re on a diet so they gave you the benefit of the doubt.

        • Kathy says:

          Anyone who genuinely has s problem will be avoiding beer. Don’t assume that people are not.

          I have no problem digesting gluten – it’s dairy that has me dashing to the loo (oh, and in pain for the next couple of days too). Even tiny amounts can have a bad effect on my digestion – pain, flatulence, etc. Trust me, you don’t want to be sitting in an enclosed space near me if I’ve accidentally ingested some dairy product – it’s not fun for anyone!

        • Crafty says:

          Shoestring – just because you’ve only recently discovered certain facts (such as beer not being something that coeliacs can drink, although some gluten free beers are available) doesn’t mean everyone else is as out of touch as you were before.

        • Shoestring says:

          OK you got me Crafty.

          Your round, I think?

  • NR says:

    The article mentions that there were six dishes on offer, yet we only got to read about three of them. Did the writer “take notes” about the other three?

  • Darren Kane says:

    I am wary about ordering “soup” dishes in the air due to the elevated risk of mess.

    • Alex Sm says:

      I think all depends on the class of travel and on how badly you want a particular dish. On a recent 2-4-1 BA flight to Singapore in First I couldn’t resist a plate of asparagus soup. I am a very messy person when it comes to food but that time I was lucky not to spill anything on myself, my fellow passenger or precious BA seat, and the soup was REALLY good. Unlike the pork belly which followed

      • Stu N says:

        BA soups are generally very good. I guess it’s relatively easy to put a lot of concentrated flavour into a soup so they don’t lack taste at altitude.

  • JPK says:

    I’d like to know about the wine choices too

  • Save East Coast Rewards says:

    This isn’t the first time a Virgin branded company has joined forces with a presenter off Saturday Kitchen. This does look a lot nicer than the ‘Tasty Journey with James Martin’ on Virgin Trains East Coast (now LNER).

    To be fair the first class evening meals on the train are usually good as are the breakfasts but they were anyway before the celeb involvement. It’s the pre-packaged sandwiches that are the main issue, they’re nothing special but they proudly mention James Martin on the box. I think this particular partnership served neither James Martin or VTEC well.

    • Chris says:

      Oh my god the James martin egg sandwich is the only thing that could possibly have made me dislike him more.

      Coming back north it’s fine, theres the pre-train pret. (Same going south provided you start at Edinburgh) but start halfway as a veggie and it’s terrible crisps and the worst Egg sandwich ever made, day in day out.

      Once in a million trips there’s the bubble and squeak at breakfast but since there’s no hot food most of the time due to %insultingly lazy excuse% I just pretend the catering isn’t there most weeks…

  • Dace says:

    OT but could someone clarify something for me. I have just finished a IC weekend redemption certificate stay and IHG are saying that I will not get any points for the stay as it was classed as a reward booking. Is this correct? I ask as I was under the belief that the points for the money spent would still credit?

  • kenny nicholson says:

    Great to have a review written by someone who is also gluten free. The only thing I’m wondering is if staff will actually know the ingredients/ allergens on board. In my past experience on most airlines no-one seems to know what is in any of the standard menu meals so you are stuck with the special meal loaded only.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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