Category Archives: Airlines
Smoked salmon seems to pop up everywhere these days, in all sorts of guises, but it wasn’t always the case. I had to reach the grand old age of twelve before relishing my first taste of this fine fish-lover’s fare. My mother and I had been upgraded to First Class (!!) on a transatlantic Pan Am flight, in the good ole days of winged Clippers. The front of the plane was a new experience for my young self and I knew it wasn’t to be taken for granted, so I sat up straight and was on my absolutely best behaviour when the purser approached our row, what little there was of it. Before us she placed plates of cold fish in concertinas of tangerine, stark against the white crockery. I looked at my mother for guidance and she gave me a quick explanation of what we were about to eat. “It’s smoked salmon,” she explained, “and these are the condiments that go with it,” I looked down at the array set on the tray between us. Never had I seen fish served like this before.
Little triangles of perfect Melba toast accompanied the spread, golden and warm from the galley. Just as I popped the first bite into my mouth, having had a quick lesson in what to do with the caviar and dollop of sour cream, the capers and tiny diced onions and morsels of hard-boiled egg, the purser returned. “Would the young lady care for vodka with that?” she asked my mother with a cheeky wink, “Vodka? ME?” I was confused by the offer, “but I’m only twelve years old!” I already knew that the American airlines were super-strict about the serving of alcohol to only those over twenty-one, not that I’d started hitting the hard stuff yet, so I thought we must have a real renegade in charge of our cabin. The purser continued to jest. “Twelve years old, huh? Funny. You look so grown up. I could swear you were at least twenty-one!” She knew just how to charm a shy adolescent.
We returned home to New Zealand a couple of weeks later, my palate craving a food that would remain, for some time at least, reserved for special occasions. Following that landmark flight I had a new answer for people who asked what my favourite foods were: “Smoked salmon and caviar,” I’d reply, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
Picture the scene: it’s late morning at Sardinia’s Cagliari Elmas airport. Monsieur and I have been awake since dawn but haven’t had time for breakfast. The low-cost airline has high-cost sandwiches which we avoid, mostly because they already look curled and cardboardy, and the coffee looks like something that might spurt out of a long-disused farmhouse tap. Monsieur and I are not the types to eat for the sake of it so we wave the snacks trolley past. Besides, we figure that abstinence now will soon enough be rewarded when we lunch on some fine Italian food.
As the aircraft doors opened to a rush of warm, Sardinian air, Monsieur and I were raring to go. That morning, we’d left the spring morning chill of Luton to fly into the deep blue hanging above this craggy isle. We decided to forget hotels for now; they’re for sleeping. Our feet had different priorities: they were itching to reach sand and saltwater.
First, we picked up the hire car, which wasn’t the convertible Monsieur had booked - the previous renter had decided to abscond with it for an extra day and there weren’t any others available. We might have been miffed, but for two things: 1. only the most unreasonable of folk wouldn’t get the temptation to Just Stay One More Day - Sardinian weather in May is glorious; and 2. the alternative on offer was a brand new Fiat 500. Personally, I preferred it to the convertible; it had iconic value and would protect me from being flattened by wind and bugs as Monsieur zoomed along the autostrade.
We sped away from the airport, past mud flats studded with the pale pink of flamingo, to the southern Sardinian coast. There, the road led us to a small town near the beach – formed of clusters of small, stuccoed buildings radiating out from a modern piazza. Everything testified to sensitive yet sensible town-planning, the shops and eateries all freshly painted in the sort of ice cream pastels that made me long for a gelato to drip down my hand. For that, however, I would have to wait a little longer.
On opening the doors of our little ‘bambino’, the heat rushed at us like a blast from the oven. It was more than just warm – you could easily have fried a couple of eggs in less than a minute on the scorching asphalt street. Feeling the sting of the sun on our winter-bleached skin, we sought out somewhere shady to lunch, settling on a buffet restaurant called Su Nuraghe. The restaurant is named after the strange megalithic buildings (nuraghe) that look like stone beehives, marking the Sardinian landscape and now quite the unofficial symbol of Sardinia itself. We found a table in the shade, then ventured inside to order. The interior was cool and practical -sparkling laminate floor, glass and chrome counters, simple tables and chairs. There were no grubby fingernails here.
We ordered lots of good, sparkling Sardinian water and plates of seafood salad to start.
Mussels and crabsticks made an appearance in this simple dish, but fortunately for this lover of octopodes, there was a surfeit of eight-legged sea creature before me. I do so relish the cool, fresh flesh of an octopus, served in the merest drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice.
Next came plates of one of Italy’s simplest seaside pasta dishes – spaghetti tossed with olive oil and fresh sea urchin. The precious orange roe had a delightfully slippery texture and tasted like Neptune’s version of marshmallow – capturing all at once the taste of sea air on the tongue and combining it with a unique, briney sweetness. This was exactly the sort of food Monsieur and I had anticipated. Our morning’s patience had certainly been rewarded.
Before heading off to the beach, we stopped at a gelateria for a refreshing treat. I was interested to note the existence of soya milk-based gelato on their menu, which is a boon for anyone with lactose intolerance! Tempted though I was to taste-test it, today I stuck to my favourite flavours: cocco, stracciatella e banana. I’ll never be size zero at this rate and, in this world of superficiality, I admit that such a thing doesn’t even approach making it onto my bucket list. Truth be told, I’m probably not the norm in this respect. I’d much rather meet my Maker with a stomachful of flavour and the memory of a good old slap-up lunch than arrive at the Pearly Gates regretting the fact that diet coke and a lettuce leaf (hold the dressing) had been my death row meal. As Fellini once put it: “Life is a combination of magic and pasta,” and if you could add the freshest seafood salad and quality gelato to that combination, you’d have a lunch that I’d be happy to enjoy as my last.
Went to see Gordon Gecko’s latest incarnation in Wall Street 2 recently and just about spat out my water in giggles at this ad in the cinema. Don’t worry – Monsieur didn’t get too wet, he’d brought his brolly. In particular I really dig the pole dancers. It’s even funnier because it’s total fiction – Monsieur and I couldn’t begin to describe how frustrating our Virgin flight back from honeymoon was – crashed online check-in so Monsieur could get a seat but not me (computer said I didn’t exist)… had to forego bag drop because of that. Stood in line FOREVER thanks to understaffing only to be told that we couldn’t sit together (on our way back from honeymoon???) thanks to a cruise liner that had deposited its UK passengers on this flight, which was now overbooked. Try to swap your seats at the gate? Not blooming likely. The flight’s full to bursting with cruise ship lovers. That means that most of them are COUPLES. Even the nicest person in the world wouldn’t want to swap away from their partner so I could be with My New Hubby on a 10 hour flight. We tried regardless. All the couples around us said sorry but no. Big Fat FAIL.
Monsieur and I weren’t the only ones with seat allocation troubles. People behind me (Monsieur was on the other side of the plane in a completely different cabin) bickered all ten hours of the way home. They hadn’t been seated next to their bridge partners from the cruise, one woman had issue with the man in front of her reclining his seat, and because we were in the back of the plane and one of the meal options had run out by the time the dinner trolley reaches us, there was a near revolt. Little wonder why the crew were grumpy and not the perfectly coiffed divas and gods of this ad.
NB Don’t you think that if Virgin Atlantic crews really looked like they do in this ad, they wouldn’t be trolley dollies? Like, maybe Calvin Klein models or XXX movie stars? Hmm. Moi aussi.
Last point: having a vague idea of how much per-second TV or cinema ads cost to make and show, this one replete with special effects must have cost a blinding amount, possibly even the GDP of a tiny third world country. And whatever my recent issues with Virgin Atlantic, I’ve also enjoyed fantastic flights with them, love their in-flight ice-cream and red-hot (or should I say ‘hot red’?) sleeping socks and this ad certainly makes me giggle.