NH006 Tokyo NRT – Los Angeles LAX
Friday 22 Feb 2012
STD-STA: 17:05 – 09:45
Actual: 17:36 – 09:20
Boeing 777-300ER JA735A
Boarding started with First Class passengers and there was a family of 3 who boarded before me. As I entered the first class cabin, I was impressed with the design. The family of 3 occupied the other side of the cabin and I proceeded to my seat at 2A. I stowed my luggage on the overhead compartment after taking out my camera, iPad and headphones. As I took off my jacket, the purser for the flight introduced herself and apologized for not coming sooner to help me out as she took my jacket from me. She proceeded to ask if I would like to head to the washroom to change into my pyjamas, but I declined. Instead, I chose to take a seat and explore the functions first as I thought of changing after the meal. Passengers in First Class should also take note the closet space beside the suite, complete with a clothes hanger.
ANA’s first class is not exactly a suite, though the 777 was configured with 8 seats in first class in a 1-2-1 setting on every row. As others have pointed out, they felt like office cubicles, but in reality, they were nicer. I also found the seats to be more comfortable than Asiana’s new first suites, which I tried on the way out, even if it was a bit narrower. What was lacking from a true first class experience was the way the ‘square’ panels block the view out of 2 of the windows, meaning instead of 3 windows one is entitled to, they can only get a view out of one of them.
Boarding of the plane took a while and the purser came back again and said they cannot serve alcohol on the ground, though offered something else to drink. I got myself some Yuzu drink (ANA Original Aromatic Kabosu) which I really enjoyed on my flights with Japanese-based airliners. After getting me the drink, the purser came back with a choice of magazines, and returned a second time with amenities from the tray that First Class passengers can select. On the tray were also US immigration forms. Knowing I was a foreign passport holder who required a US Visa, she came back with the white form. The attention to detail by the purser was outstanding and truly one of the most professional flight crew member I have met. I got about to filling the forms while waiting on the ground, and even with this I still had time to spare so I thought of heading to the lavatory to change to pyjamas. Though it turns out the other passenger occupying seat 1A was using the lavatory. The passenger on seat 1A was an elderly Japanese gentleman, and I surmise he is somewhat important the way the crew paid attention to him. He and his companion was also in a hurry and met with an escort from ANA to meet with their connecting flight once on arrival at LAX.
Since the lavatory was occupied, I fell back to my original plan of changing to my pyjamas after the meal. Aside from the pyjamas which only comes in one size, there was also a pair of slippers, a blanket, and a cardigan for passengers afraid of the cold. There was also a pair of Sony Noise Cancelling headphones. Thus I spent the rest of my time taking photos of the cabin while the plane was waiting for pullback. I also explored all the nooks and crannies of the seat, and discovered a lot of oddly-sized storage compartments that had a lot of vanity mirrors. Well they do expect First Class passengers to remain presentable after the flight right? Another incident was the initiation of a conversation with the purser as she noticed my Doraemon (a beloved Japanese comic character) trinket hanging from my Bose headphone cover. Apparently she was not the only flight stewardess to be awed by it as another crew member did spot it as well! This Doraemon trinket was especially unique as it was for sale only in Sapporo’s Chitose Airport and featured the character on a plane!
During the time on the ground, I also took a look at the amenity kit for First Class passengers, which was in a Samsonite branded toiletry bag. The bag was pretty impressive and would be useful for travelling. Inside were some packs of ANA original amenities, including some of which were presented on the tray. There was also a toothbrush and toothpaste, a shoe horn, some lotions and a lip balm by Thann just like their shower amenities. Apparently the amenity tray is an addition and includes some very unique amenities to ANA which was wonderful. The pyjamas and later the comforter and pillow case are made by Phiten, a Japanese sportswear company. According to the purser the pyjamas is made of a special material that is supposed to aid sleeping.
Eventually we departed more than half an hour late behind schedule, though the captain did make an announcement of a short flight time which was as confirmed by the purser who attended to me for most of the flight to LAX. Once we were at cruising altitude, the purser came back, passing me menus for the flight and asking me for my beverage choices. With all First Class flights, one should never forget to order champagne, and ANA serves Krug just like Cathay Pacific. The purser once again showed me the bottle and even let me pose it for a picture. Another reason why I like ANA’s First Square cabin was the tray table which was easy to retract. Unlike most tray tables which are stowed inside the side armrests, ANA’s was stowed underneath the TV screen, and just needed a light push for it to come out. Stowing it back requires a light push as well and the mechanism really felt very well made!
With the glass of champagne I sat back and relax on my seat and planned to use my Bose headphones but I realized the audio input jack inside the cabin was configured to fit only with the headphones supplied, and they had no adaptor whatsoever. Thus I had to use the supplied headphones, and the purser did apologize profusely because of this. I also had the time to peruse the first class menu which was in a quality folder that would not look out of place in a Michelin-starred restaurant. For those keen to know more about ANA’s first class dining, they may take a look at the menu which is posted on ANA’s website.
A couple of minutes later, the purser came back with a serving of amuse bouche, explaining to me each of the components. Then she asked me for my choice of meal. I chose the Kaiseki meal and also requested for the caviar from the Western meal. With that I set my spoon on the amuse which consisted foie gras in red wine jelly, smoked oyster and salmon, and persimmon layered with butter, all served with cheese breadsticks. The highlight was the foie gras in red wine jelly and persimmon layered with butter, both of which gave a very nice mixture of flavours that marked the start of a tantalizing meal!
At this point I also switched on the entertainment system and started perusing for movies and TV shows to watch. From what I noticed, the selection provided by ANA was average at best and definitely loses out to other premium carriers like Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific. However the TV screen has a very good resolution and has excellent clarity so I started watching the movie ‘The Cold Light of Day’, another action drama that was better than I expected.
The purser then came back and set up the table for my meal. As I also asked for the caviar service, I was served this first before the kaiseki course. Caviar has long been synonymous with First Class service, and I would even go to the extent of saying no airline should call its service ‘First’ if it doesn’t serve caviar and champagne, along with the national cuisine that the carrier is based from. The caviar service onboard ANA was a bit lacklustre compared to those on Asiana and Cathay Pacific. Asiana serves it best with the widest choices of condiments, while the one in Cathay tasted good. Somehow the blinis that came along with the caviar in ANA was thick. The caviar was also a bit too salty such that it did not have the flavour of the caviar. It was still tasty enough with the right amount of condiments but I was looking forward to the Kaiseki meal more after the caviar service.
In Japan, a Kaiseki meal is a multi-course cuisine that is served in high-end restaurants and ryokans. What is unique of Kaiseki cuisine is that it revolves around seasonal ingredients and has a mixture of flavours that blends to create a memorable meal. The meal served by All Nippon Airways in First Class is one that is close to a full Kaiseki meal and that was impressive considering all the dishes are presentable and tastes wonderful, though for a foreigner like me, there are some dishes in the Kaiseki that will taste really weird in the first mouthful, so beware as this is something for the adventurous.
The first dish served started with a sakizuke, or more like a second amuse bouche. The sakizuke served tasted refreshing even though it is made of herring roe, with a layer of seaweed sandwiched in between. The dish was also served with kombu kelp which added some texture to the whole dish.
The next dish served was the zensai or a starter platter comprising of salted entrails of trepang, simmered prawn, simmered abalone, grated chicken topped with poppy seed, grilled caviar of mullet roe, steamed black beans and chestnuts ball, aspic of crabmeat, sushi roll of halfbeak and salmon, grilled scallop with sea urchin and mayonnaise sauce. The zensai is essentially a cold dish starter and the flavours of this particular platter varied extensively. The most adventurous dish would probably be the salted entrails of trepang (a form of sea cucumber), which is probably not for the faint hearted. It tasted even more slimy than uni (sea urchin). The purser who served me the dish did warn me that it is not common for non-Japanese people to like the dish. My favourite in the dish would have to be the simmered abalone and the steamed black beans and chestnut ball due to the chewy texture of the former and the sweet taste of the latter.
The third dish was a nimonowan which is a tender egg pudding topped with simmered icefish in seafood stock. This was a warm dish and light in flavour that perhaps serve as buffers between courses to refine the palate. The seafood stock while light in flavour, had a very nice sweet taste and was refreshing after the heavy flavours of the zensai.
The fourth dish was an otsukuri which was something like a seared sashimi, and today’s selection comprised of thinly sliced yellowtail, ponzu vinegar with sesame flavour. This is probably my favourite dish in the whole Kaiseki course, though it might be attributed to my love for yellowtail fish, while both the ponzu and sesame are my choice of dipping sauces even for Japanese hotpot. Thus the flavours and texture of the dish was perfect, with the ponzu giving it a sour yet refreshing taste, and the sesame contributing to a fragrant scent and sweet flavour that creates a burst of flavour with every slice of the fish!
The fifth and sixth dish was two small bowls served concurrently. Though by this time it could be either I was too full or the last dish was too good that it took me some time to finish both dishes and even then I did not finish the mushimono. The mushimono is made of steamed tilefish, snow crab and various ingredients with grated turnip sauce, and it was rich and sweet in flavour. Its texture tasted like mountain yam and thus was very filling. The kobachi served is sliced flatfish mixed with mashed liver of monkfish and miso sauce. It was savoury and mashed liver of monkfish tasted a bit like a lighter version of foie gras.
The seventh dish is the shusai, or the main course which was grilled tilefish with a sweet miso taste. Tilefish has a smooth texture just like cod and the dish was served with a bowl of miso soup, a bowl of rice (gohan), and some pickled vegetables to cleanse the palate. Even though I was quite full at this point, the tilefish was just too good to pass by. Probably this is my second favourite dish in the whole Kaiseki course. It was just delicious. I ended up eating only one-third of the rice though.
Throughout the Kaiseki dinner meal, my glass of Yuzu beverage and mineral water was constantly refilled without me asking and the service throughout the meal was flawless, with the courses coming out at the right time. Finally, the end of the Kaiseki meal is marked with the serving of wagashi which is a small bowl of three varieties of amanatto, which are basically sugar-glazed chestnuts, toroku beans and sweet potatoes. I never knew you could make sweets out of these healthy vegetables, so it was a nice end to the Kaiseki course, but there was something else in addition to this. Since my Japanese dessert is not substantial enough I asked if I could also have the western dessert, which is specially created through a collaboration with Pierre Hermé of Paris. The western meal dessert I picked was a combination of matcha green tea cream, chestnut cream, chestnuts pan-fried with pepper and vanilla, passion fruit jelly, passion fruit-flavoured “tuile” biscuit and the presentation was one of the most beautiful I have seen on an airplane. Definitely another highlight of the meal service!
As the purser came back to clear my table after the meal, she enquired if I would like any coffee or tea, and I responded by requesting for a cup of Iced Cafe Latte. Apparently it will be her first time making the beverage though it was perfect and would make any barista proud! The mixture of milk and coffee was balanced with adequate foam at the top, and it was served with a choice of white and brown sugar cubes. Since I wanted to savour this drink, I head to the washroom to change into my pyjamas. When I exited the washroom, the purser helped me to hang my clothes and when I returned to my seat, it has already been prepared into a bed. Turn-down service without being asked is a luxury that should be afforded in First Class.
Before I set about to sleep, I played around with the unoccupied seat as I wanted to stand and let the food digest. I took a peek into Business Class but because it was quite full, I did not want to walk around the whole plane especially since I have changed into my pyjamas. The business class on my flight has already been fitted with the new ‘Inspiration of Japan’ seats which are similar to those on their 787s servicing the international routes. They seem wider compared to Asiana’s staggered business class (which they call Quadra Smartium) but since I did not try them, I could not really say for sure. Again another inspiration on the cabin was the ambient lighting around the First Class mini-suite which works well and made the seat feels brighter though not glaring. Perfect for lounging!
The feature that truly gave ANA an edge was how comfortable the bed was for sleeping. In addition to just reclining it, the crew added a mattress pad with a Tempur-like material, and added a fluffy comforter, 2 pillows and laid out the blanket for me. The whole setting was much more comfortable. It was similar to Asiana, but the additional pillows meant I had one to sleep on, and one to hug, as I usually do at home. With the whole set-up I was asleep soon enough and had a very good night sleep, and most probably the best I have ever had on a plane. Though I was really awoken by a slightly warm cabin, which I attribute to the mattress pad and the pyjamas which are made of a slightly thick material. It was not warm as in hot and uncomfortable but warm and cosy in a ski-lodge kind of feeling. Maybe I am just used to sleeping in colder temperatures.
Since I did sleep pretty well, I decided to head to the next suite in 2D which was one of 2 unoccupied seats in the First Class cabin. I set it to a lounge mode and before long, one of the flight attendant came by and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I picked one of ANA’s original flavoured tea which is green tea infused with strawberry and orange essences, as well as an Umeshu (plum wine), and the selection that day was the Kakutama Plum Wine.
While enjoying the seat, I set to watch some TV shows, and halfway through the show, I felt the need to just snack, so I called for the attendant. Somehow both the purser and flight stewardess came by and I requested for some chips, rice crackers or some other snacks like ice cream. What I was served exceeded my imagination since it was plate of burger and chips with rice crackers and mixed nuts on another small plate. I actually mentioned to the stewardess I did not really want the burger but she just said it was specially prepared for me! Shortly afterwards, the purser came back with the ice cream and unlike in past occasions, these ice cream are usually hard as a rock or melted like cream. This time it was perfect and ready to eat. The timing was also just nice after I finished my chips and crackers. The attention to detail regarding the passengers’ well-being and comfort in this flight made the purser one of the best airline staff I have encountered!
It turns out that she thought being quite young and growing up in a western country (Canada), I might appreciate burgers with my chips. I got to know this from my later conversation with the purser after I ended my meal and changed back into my normal clothes. When I mentioned I love Japanese food, the purser actually asked me if I would like some udon before landing. Since I decided to skip on a full breakfast fare before landing, I took her up on the offer of the udon, which was served with mountain vegetables and chopped leek, with the light flavour making for a tasty meal before landing. Included in the tray was a bottle of shichimi (7-spice powder) for added flavour to the udon.
After the flight attendant cleared my tray, the purser came around and have a small conversation with me such as asking me how the flight was, my eventual destination and asked if there was anything else I would require. At this point, I requested for a bottle of water and she actually asked if I would also like more of ANA’s Original Aromatic Kabosu. Since I did like the Yuzu beverage, I had another glass of it while enjoying the descent. We were flying over Northern California at this time and the clear weather provided for great views. I even managed to get some beautiful shots of the urban sprawl of Los Angeles during the descent.
Eventually we ended up arriving earlier than expected in Los Angeles International Airport. Upon docking at the gate, the flight attendant actually withheld the business class passengers and waited for all First Class passengers to disembark first, just like what Cathay Pacific did. Fortunately the wait in immigration was not that long, though it still took me an hour before I reached the rental car shuttle area. The early arrival meant we managed to beat the crowds as the queue at immigration just expanded. All Nippon Airways definitely is one of the best Star Alliance airlines to fly with. Not only was the purser the most impressive flight crew I have ever flown with, I liked the quality of its meals, beverages, amenities and cabin fittings. In my opinion, they have the best hard product barring the inflight entertainment system which needs more choices. Personally I rank them amongst the best airlines in the world.