Za’atar, chipotle and nuoc cham dressing. Not the standard ingredients you’d expect to find pepping up Economy Class airplane food. At least, not until now. Thanks to a partnership with Hong Kong’s award-winning Black Sheep Restaurants group, Middle Eastern spice rubs, Mexican chillies and sweet-sour South East Asian dressings are exactly the sort of fresh, tingling flavours passengers can anticipate on Cathay Pacific’s long-haul flights from this month.
The airline is reimagining the Economy Class airplane food offerings with one vital ingredient ramped up – flavour. Or, as Bernard Mills, Cathay Pacific’s Head of Customer Experience – F&B and Hospitality, puts it: ‘We want to take our customers on a culinary adventure.
‘We recognised an opportunity to do something innovative and different in Economy. We wanted the experience to be more contemporary and to reflect the adventure of travel and the role of food in sharing and celebrating different cultures.’
Food culture has changed, says Mills, and airplane food offerings need to change with it. ‘People are more adventurous and tuned in to a more global food scene. That’s particularly the case in Hong Kong, where people travel for food now, and we want to be part of that journey.’
Hence the partnership with Black Sheep Restaurants. The Hong Kong-based group boasts 25 restaurants – two with Michelin stars – and its outlets span the globe in terms of influences. Passengers can look forward to airplane food inspired by the South Asian flavours celebrated at New Punjab Club, Hotal Colombo and Rajasthan Rifles, Vietnamese classics from Chôm Chôm and Le Garçon Saigon, and influences from Buenos Aires Polo Club (Argentinian), Maison Libanaise (Lebanese), Associazione Chianti and Osteria Marzia (Italian).
‘Working with this renowned dining group to elevate our Economy Class food gives us a broad range of culinary influences to tap into, which reflects our global network,’ says Mills.
For Black Sheep Restaurants founders Syed Asim Hussain and Christopher Mark, it’s a chance to bring something special to the air. ’Through this partnership we are excited to bring our brand of thoughtful storytelling through food in these carefully considered dishes, and hopefully offer Cathay Pacific customers a little inspiration – whether their journeys are just beginning or coming to an end’, says Hussain.
Mark agrees. ‘We have approached these recipes in the same way we would create a new dish for any of the restaurants, with flavours that evoke memories or transport diners to another place,’ he says. ‘The hope is that Cathay Pacific customers will feel spoiled for choice when they see the new menus.’
What kind of choice? ‘One of the dishes I really love is inspired by a dish served at Maison Libanaise,’ says Bernard Mills. ‘It’s za’atar-rubbed chicken with harissa cauliflower and brown rice. Even the description sounds different and intriguing: it’s not something you’d normally expect to find on our menu. Each dish has been carefully considered with a focus on flavour and ingredients.’
Mills adds: ‘How do we make this the best dish it can possibly be? Of course it can be simple, but it should also be bursting with flavour. With our tarragon chicken, the peas are mashed with mint to maximise the flavour. The pumpkin gnocchi has Brussels sprouts roasted with balsamic vinegar for sweetness.’
The new airplane food offerings have launched on Cathay Pacific’s long-haul flights from this month, to be followed by regional routes and Cathay Dragon in the coming year.
This collaboration builds on the launch of the Hong Kong Flavours range that celebrates authentic Cantonese classics. On long-haul flights, Black Sheep Restaurants have created the appetiser and two of the main course choices, including the vegetarian option.
‘With wellness and sustainability trends on the rise, people are increasingly looking for vegetarian options and this is something we’re focusing on,’ says Mills.
‘Again, with the new appetisers, it’s about drawing on more international influences,’ he says. ‘They’re fresher and lighter, and I think customers will see a real lift here, too.
‘Partnerships and collaborations tend to be exclusively reserved for First and Business customers. But we wanted to challenge that and bring the same care and creativity to the Economy experience.’
Cathay Pacific’s Inflight Dining: A Tasting Menu
Shredded chicken and cabbage salad with nuoc cham dressing
A classic Vietnamese salad with a nuoc cham dressing made of lime, fish sauce and chilli, with the cabbage and carrot adding texture and crunch to the soft shredded chicken. Based on a dish from Black Sheep Restaurants’ Vietnamese bia hoi kitchen and bar, Chôm Chôm.
Middle Eastern grain salad with squid, lemon carrots and tahini dressing
Inspired by Black Sheep Restaurants’ Lebanese canteen, Maison Libanaise. Carrots are roasted with fennel seeds, cumin, turmeric and lemon juice before being tossed with couscous and lentils, herbs, almonds, pumpkin seeds and squid. Sesame seed-based tahini dressing is drizzled on top for the ultimate culmination of flavours.
Chicken satay with coconut rice and charred gai lan (Chinese kale)
Taking its influence from neighbourhood Thai kitchen Soul Food Thai, this classic regional dish and ubiquitous crowd-favourite is revamped with coconut rice and charred gai lan.
Pumpkin gnocchi with balsamic Brussels sprouts, toasted almonds and parmesan
This rich vegetarian dish is inspired by Osteria Marzia, the group’s coastal Italian restaurant. The gnocchi is tossed with roasted pumpkin, nutmeg-infused pumpkin puree and balsamic vinegar-roasted Brussels sprouts for added sweetness. It’s then finished with toasted almonds and parmesan.
Tarragon chicken with smashed peas and potato mash
For a journey into comfort food that challenges your expectations, roasted chicken is paired with tarragon sauce and accompanied by smashed minted green peas and creamy mashed potato. An iconic dish in French bistros.
There’s more good news for passengers with the return of Betsy beer – which will accompany the new airplane food offerings in all cabins on long-haul flights – and the introduction of premium Fook Ming Tong teas.
The original Betsy beer caused quite a sensation when it was introduced on certain routes in 2017. Now, with a new recipe and a new tie-up with Hong Kong craft-brewer Gweilo, it is available on long-haul Cathay Pacific flights and in the Hong Kong airport lounges.
‘The original Betsy beer was very popular and something we wanted to bring back,’ says Bernard Mills. ‘We needed to create a beer that was universally appealing, whether you’re a craft beer fan or trying it for the first time.
‘The new Betsy beer is a pale ale with a little bit of citrus flavour from the hops, and we’ve adjusted the CO2 levels to suit the inflight environment. The packaging nods back to the history of Cathay Pacific and the craftsmanship that dates back to our very first aircraft, Betsy.’