I arrive at the airport for my flight to Japan. I am traveling on Japan Airlines (JAL) today and its my first time traveling with them, so there is a sense of excitement about the experience ahead. I head through to London Heathrow Terminal 3 and BA and JAL have a joint check-in arrangement here, so I head for their counters to get my boarding pass.
JAL certainly roll out the red carpet for you… well maybe its kinda of a maroon carpet!
Pretty soon I am checked-in and head to the British Airways First Lounge. The lounge is nothing to write home about. It has been neglected ever since British Airways moved the majority of their operations to Terminal 5. The only shining light is the Johnny Walker Blue self pour which goes some way to placating my disappointment.
Finally the boarding call chimes and I head for the gate leaving the lounge behind… Tokyo here I come!
The JAL First Suite is just amazing.. the wood grained surface exudes a sense of understated luxury and the seats are enclosed as they get without a sliding door. The seat itself has a plush, soft brown leather finish and the broader suite is very well designed. It is the perfect way to spend the next few hours. I am actually quite impressed with this suite. I am certainly going to be at home!
The suite has a belts and braces remote control, a large 23 inch screen, there are the most plush and comfy headphones, an amazing amenity kit from Loewe (a Spanish luxury company) in a cute little brown bag and cute zip top pyjamas which are oh so stylish; I almost feel like doing the catwalk thingy down the aisle… In addition to the Loewe bag is a box of cosmetics and amenities from Shiseido, Japan’s largest cosmetics company and one of the world’s oldest.
The Salon (2004) Cuvee ‘S’ Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs
JAL have the best champagne of all the first class services I have tried; Salon, Cuvee ‘S’ Le Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs. Salon is only produced in years when the harvest is considered to be of sufficient quality for release and even then it is only released for consumption once it has reached full maturity (typically 10+ years). Between 1900 to 2000 only 37 vintages were released by Salon. The first vintage in 1905 was only used by founder, Eugene-Aimé Salon for his friends and special guests at dinner parties. In 1920, under the pressure from his friends in high French society, the founder agreed for the 1911 vintage to be sold to the public. It is a Champagne house shrouded in secrecy with the allure created by its exclusiveness. It has survived two world wars (well almost, Hitler actually stole a number of bottles of the 1928 vintage), a great depression, the transition from the third French republic to the fifth, two champagne wars, a global financial crisis and the technological revolution but its reputation and style remains unchanged. Salon was the first Champagne house to exclusively use Chardonnay (blanc de blanc style) without the customary blending of Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. All Chardonnay grapes are sourced from the town of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger from the same vineyards (sans one which was sold to Krug) as the first vintage for consistency and quality.
There is a sense of eagerness that creeps into my composure as the my host asks me if I would like a drink before take-off. With limited hesitation, I nominate the Salon as my drink of choice. It is brought out and shown to me and I feel a rush of blood through each of veins… a little tingle in my nerves as I see the glass being filled with the glowing light yellow liquid which is the Salon…. it is truly an amazing experience to see a wine steeped in history and perfection flow out of a bottle with the signature of its trademark charm.
Is it ideal to drink the 2004 vintage today? No, as it does mature to peak later in life and I would rather sample this in an open air environment than the recycled air of an airplane cabin for optimal tasting… nonetheless the wine does not disappoint.
I gaze at it for what seems like an age… I have anticipated what this experience would be like a thousand times before I had boarded, but eventually I place the glass next to my mouth and the waft of its purity and cleanness with its fresh minerality, refreshing mint and the touch of fresh herbs is seductive. On the tongue the burst of every individual bubble stings the taste buds into action. The purity of fresh salinity (in a sense like the experience of an oyster shell on the tropical beach) along with the touch of brioche and fruit leaves a sweet, salty sensuous impression on the palate. There is good dose of acid for a crisp and flourishing finish. It is the simplicity of perfection.
It is such an amazing experience for one to enjoy…
Eventually I move on from the Salon experience, oh I probably should state it a bit differently, no one ever fully moves on from the Salon experience… it leaves a distinctive impression on your life. We eventually have lift-off and I have to say bye to London for the moment. Soon after lift-off we have dinner; there is a choice between a Western Menu and a Japanese Menu. I opt for the Japanese Menu.
Some canapés are brought out to start.
The rich oily salmon with the burst of the distinctive saline caviar is a perfect to dance with the Salon. A pure sensuous delight in tasting which I cannot quite describe. The lovely acid in the champagne proves sufficient to cut through the richness of the foie gras too in what turns out to be a versatile pairing. The third canapé (the wrapped prosciutto) probably doesn’t quite match the Salon, but having said that, the rich minerally salt in the ham does tango with the fresh saline touch of the Salon. A very enjoyable start to the flight.
Roasted Chestnut Taro & Shimeji Mushroom dressed with Tofu Sauce
Crabmeat & Salmon Roe
Dried Dates dressed with grated radish garnished with sweet black bean
Marinated Radish, Carrot, Kelp Julienne and Yuzu in Sweet Vinegar
Simmered Turnip with Miso Sauce
The crabmeat and salmon roe its soft sweet silky texture and taste with the burst salinity from the Salmon roe works well with the Salon. The turnip is nice for the palate, but not quite as flavoursome as I would have hoped. I do find the radish, carrot and kelp dish to be an exciting experience with some beautiful sea salt flavours and wonderful textures. The dried dates have a candy like taste which dominate that particular dish. The roast chestnut taro is all about textures but overall it does not distract me from the Salon at hand.
Japanese Clear Soup with Shrimp Mousse Green Beans and Radish
The mousse has a fluffy soft texture with the rich shellfish flavours one would expect which flow into the soup with a graceful hearty streak. I love this and it does provide a nice touch of Japanese simplicity with an emphasis on the natural flavours of the produce. There is the textural crunch of the green beans and a softer radish to round out what is a very nice dish indeed.
Mukozuke and Azukebachi
Salmon Camellia & Squid Camellia with the Egg Tofu with Shrimp & Caviar with Bonito Soy Jelly
The salmon and squid are about quality produce just doing their thing – I loved each mouthful, fresh bursts of natural oily salmon and the rich shellfish flavours make the palate leap with a sense of satisfaction.
The shrimp (below) is a masterpiece and is my favourite dish. The soft silky tofu, the beautiful succulent shrimp, the rich salinity of the caviar and the beautiful smooth seductive bonito soy jelly intermingle harmoniously for a beautiful taste sensation. The dish is a pure fusion of wonderful flavours and it is a fine pairing with the Salon.
Dainomono, Hanmono & Tomewan
Simmered Cobia with Sweet Soy Sauce with Steamed Rice with Scallop and Miso Soup & Japanese Pickles
The sweet tender cobia with its oily rich fatty skin is a treat to consume. The cobia just falls apart on your tongue and the beautiful silky smooth soy sauce proves to be the perfect delight. A traditional simple Japanese dish executed to perfection. The Japanese pickles offer a refreshing palate cleanser, while the rice with scallops is a nice touch and a filler for the dish. The miso soup was to the usual standard and enjoyable.
I decide to pair this dish with a lovely Louis Latour Puligny Montrachet. I am dreaming of buttery rich Montrachet to pair with this dish. However my host tells me that they do not have that wine on board. I politely ask if she could check again and she obliges me. I wait for what seems an age for her to return, every nerve in my body is on edge, I had my heart set on that wine to pair with the dish when I read the menu and it would be heartbreaking if it was absent onboard. She returns to confirm my worst fears that the wine was not stocked. It proves to be a shattering moment and I do pause to regain my composure and review the wine list for a suitable alternative. She suggests that a Japanese wine, although very different could do the trick. I peruse the menu and pass on an Australian Riesling which looks to acidic, and another Bordeaux wine (Clos Foridene blanc) doesn’t quite meet the touch of charm I am looking for. So I turn to the unknown Japanese wine.
So here it is, the reluctant companion to my dinner:
Tomi no Oka Winery, Koshu, (2013)
The wine releases a floral perfumed waft as an introduction. It proves winner with its light and gentle citrus notes which pair well with the fish without being too strong and overpowering. In the finish there light touches of stone fruit hints. It is not particularly complex and finishes with a little flourish. It does work quite well with Cobia, so I feel a little better.
The sweet (pictured below) was a tad disappointing. It was doughy bun with a sweet paste inside. I really should have asked for the dessert on the Western menu.
Royal Blue Tea “Queen of Blue”
But the real treat is the Queen of Blue which JAL carry. It is a premium Japanese tea in a wine bottle. It is made from the finest hand-picked tea leaves at Shonan Cha Kobo and is produced one-by-one. These tea leaves are very rare as they are only picked once a year during the summer time. It then takes 3-7 days for them to be soaked and dripped into the bottle. I am not normally a huge tea drinker, but this is a classic. Every drop of the sweet smoky liquid with light fruity hints is a pure delight on the palate. I just lean back into my chair and relax in my seat with pure satisfaction at what has been a lovely dinner.
Eventually I keen for some rest and the lovely staff at JAL make-up the bed next to my suite (as the cabin was not full and they didn’t disturb me. I find the JAL staff oh so polite and courteous. The bed is just a dream. JAL use a airweave DUAL MODE bedding with one side being firm and the reverse side being soft to cater for people with different sleep preferences. It proves to be super comfortable and I stay up for a little while to watch a movie before drifting off to sleep as the plane hovers over Europe enroute to Japan.
Eventually the light pierces through the cabin and I sit-up and let the final grips slumber release me to embrace the day. I prepare myself for the day ahead I change out of my comfortable PJs and freshen-up a little. I return to my seat next door and wait for the meal service to recommence.
A LA Carte
JAL does not really do a full breakfast menu, but there is an A La Carte of different dishes to satisfy the palate.
Soy Marinated Herring Roe and Kelp (Dish on the Right Hand Side)
This dish is rich, salty and full of the herring roe’s pungent natural flavours and perfect to whet the appetite prior to the dinner. The salinity in the dish again proves a lovely combination with the Salon.
For the next course I have a more western style dish…
Japanese Style Hamburg Steak with Grated Radish Sauce
The beef is beautiful, juicy, full of natural flavours and is succulent. The fluffy moist mash and light soy sauce prove good accompaniments. It is more a comfort food dish than a fine dining experience. A very enjoyable experience indeed. It is also perfectly matched with the red wine below.
Chateau Langoa Barton, St Julien (2011), Bordeaux, France
The wine is just what one desires when they choose a wine from the Bordeaux. On the nose there are wonderful hints of cherry, dusty, earthy, black cherry notes, mild hints of tobacco and coffee. On the palate the wine unleashes its flow of rich fruit, with redcurrant, blackberry and the flow of sour cherry paired with dusty tannins to place the perfect signature on the drinking experience. The wine proves to be a lovely accompaniment, particularly the dusty tannins to the lovely juiciness of the Hamburg steak. A very nice pairing indeed.
The meal continues with some light desserts, as the sun shows its shy face above the clouds. The blue skies continue glow through the windows the plane just floats above the clouds… it is such a stunning view.
The crew kindly bring some chocolates as a pre-dessert…
I switch back to the Royal Blue for the Dessert, which I opt for a rather light dessert refreshment which is nutty style crumbly cake which is oh so satisfying. I can’t believe how amazing the Royal Blue is… I continue to sip it for an age as the plane continues to hover towards our destination with a little turbulence.
The JAL staff prove oh so friendly and bring out further refreshments of sweets and dried seafood which are all very exciting to taste but my focus remains on the Royal Blue.
Eventually my time in the sky draws to a close. The Flight Path shows we have are approaching Tokyo and I could not be sadder as I have truly enjoyed this flight.
The view as we approach Tokyo Haneda is so beautiful. The blue seas, the industrial sites which have come to define Tokyo, the arid regions which is quite something when you consider the small size of Japan’s land mass. It is such a beautiful view!
I leave the aircraft and thank the crew, who are just oh so polite…I just love them and I head out to embrace the day!
So here I am, first time ever in Tokyo! What adventures await….
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