In the last few years, in-flight food has gotten better. But celebrity and Michelin-star chefs have also been flocking to the terminal in a bid to transform airport-side dining; fantastic meals can be eaten while you wait to board.
The latest airport to join this trend is London’s
Gatwick, the second largest in the UK and the first in the world to have a restaurant
by chef Jamie Oliver, an Italian concept called Jaime’s, which opened in
early July. The smell of pizza from a wood-fired oven, freshly baked bread, homemade
jams and gourmet coffee now wafts around Gatwick’s North Terminal. There may be
a lack of proper cutlery (due to security constraints, only scaled down knives and
forks are allowed, but the food is certainly more sophisticated than the fast
food chains and grab-and-go outlets that currently
grace the terminal.
Earlier in 2012, the stylish Spanish tapas
Pulpo by MoVida opened in Melbourne Airport’s Terminal 2, helmed by
Australian celebrity chef Frank Camorra who runs the popular MoVida restaurant in Melbourne. Bar Pulpo follows
in the footsteps of another top notch eatery in Melbourne’s airport; Cafe Vue, by acclaimed chef
Shannon Bennett of Vue de Monde restaurant
fame, opened in early 2011 and offers Gallic-style cuisine.
“In recent times, there’s been a massive
shift towards healthier eating and snacking, with a focus on fresh food. That’s
been apparent on the high street and it is increasingly being mirrored in
airports,” said Dan Einzig, founder of Mystery, a UK-based restaurant branding
agency that has helped develop several restaurant groups, including the Giraffe restaurants that are found in many
Previous to Jamie Oliver’s foray into
terminal cuisine, there have been several attempts to revitalise airport meals.
Gordon Ramsay pioneered the concept when he opened Plane Food in 2008 in Heathrow’s
Terminal 5; Beatriz Sotelo, a Michelin-star chef from La Coruña presides over
the kitchen at El
Madroño in Madrid's Terminal 4; Porta
Gaig by veteran chef Carles Gaig brought traditional Catalan cuisine to Barcelona’s
Terminal 1 at the end of 2009; and New York’s JFK Airport is home to Aeronuova, an Italian
concept by celebrity chef Mark Ladner.
At Malaga Airport in southern Spain, two-Michelin-starred
Dani Garcia’s La
Moraga is even attracting local residents for dinner -- an unimaginable
concept a decade ago -- by serving Andalucían fare, including cold tapas made
of anchovies and oxtail, just outside the security gates.
Many airport operators have been encouraging
restaurateurs to build exceptional examples of their brand, since these spaces
guarantee large amounts of traffic. But as much as high-end airport dining
presents an opportunity for restaurateurs, it also poses some challenges.
Many open before the first flight takes off
at dawn and don’t close their doors until the last plane leaves at midnight. It’s
a busy environment, and everything -- from the chef to the balsamic vinegar -- has
to go through security. “Reassuring customers that they won’t have to wait long
for their gourmet food is also a big issue,” explained Einzig. “The way the
restaurant is built can influence how fast the service is delivered, so this
needs to be taken into account from the outset when the branding and interior
is being designed.”
Shonalee King Johnson, manager of
communications at the Nassau Airport Development Company in the Bahamas added, “Restaurant
servers are trained to ask the amount of time customers have before their
flight boards. Servers then make recommendations based on if there is a 20-minute
window or two hours.”