As we are generally required to check in for our flights two hours before departure, business travellers spend a lot of time waiting around at airports. For premium cabin passengers, the obvious thing to do is, of course, head to the VIP lounge. For those flying on economy, the two choices are shop and eat.
In recent years, airports have beefed up their selections of restaurants, which means that dining before your flight does not have to be just for necessity but a cultural experience as well. And in some cases, the options are even worth getting out of the lounge for. UNIGLOBE Experts review restaurants in five major air hubs.
Location: There are two branches in the international departures terminal, but the one close to gates A, B and C has better décor, is more spacious and is much quieter. For reservations, call +662 134 1360
Opening hours: All day, except 0300-0500 when the restaurant is closed for cleaning There are surprisingly few restaurants at Suvarnabhumi Airport’s International Departures Terminal that specialise in Thai food, but Mango Tree, a branch of an international chain of Thai restaurants, does a good job of offering a wide range of local dishes, and in attractive surroundings. One wall of the curving space is floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of the departure gates below, while the pretty Thai-style dangling lanterns emit a soft amber glow, lighting up the ebony-tiled floors and dark-wood furnishings. Diners can perch at the semicircular bar or take a seat in one of the comfortable chairs at the dining tables.
The food: A long menu features classics such as som tum (papaya salad), spring rolls, red and green curries, and pad thai, as well as signature dishes such as ped sam rod (fried duck breast with spicy sweet and sour sauce) and ba mee Sukothai (spicy dry noodle with fish ball). The tom yum goong (spicy soup with prawns) was enjoyable, fiery and thick with prawns, mushrooms and rings of lemongrass, while the grilled pork neck was tender and nicely salty if a little too fatty. The sticky rice with mango and coconut for dessert made the perfect sweet and refreshing finish to a full-flavoured and spicy meal. There are also a few western options for breakfast served 2200-1100, including cinnamon buns, continental breakfasts, and ham, steak and egg. The menu is in English and Thai, and there are colour photos at the back of the menu of most dishes.
Drinks: Cocktails such as cosmopolitans, martinis and Long Island iced teas are served, as well as the very enjoyable signature cocktail known as tom yum delight – comprising vodka, triple sec, fresh lemon juice, lemongrass juice, kaffir lime leaf and fresh chilli. There is also a house white and red wine available by the bottle and glass, plus spirits, liqueurs and beer. Soft drinks such as teas, coffee and mocktails are also served.
Service: Expect plenty of friendly smiles, good English and a willingness to offer good recommendations.
Prices: Starting from about THB600 (US$20) for a meal for two without drinks – not the cheapest dining option around, especially in Thailand.
Verdict: Don’t expect Royal Thai cuisine, but Mango Tree makes an ideal spot for a final taste of Thailand. The attractive décor, quiet atmosphere, chatty service and enjoyable food all combine to make it an enjoyable dining experience.
Maxim’s chinese restaurant
Hong Kong International Airport
Location: Departure Hall of Terminal 1 near the bag-checking area, not accessible after travellers have gone through passport control. For reservations, call +852 2186 6068
Opening hours: 0630-2300
Maxim’s Chinese Restaurant occupies surely the most prestigious location in Hong Kong’s award-winning airport: resting serenely above the main departures hall of Terminal 1, the restaurant allows diners who have allowed plenty of time to check in to indulge in a glass of wine and a high-quality meal while, rather smugly, looking down their nose at the harried ants rushing to queue at the desks below. The mini groves of bamboo, modern, simple décor and open view make the restaurant feel a world away from the busy food court on the other side of passport control.
The food: Authentic Cantonese dishes which the Maxim’s Chinese chain is known for, ranging from crab and corn or shrimp wonton noodle soup, spring rolls, fried rice and noodles, and roast duck to premium dishes using sought-after ingredients such as abalone and shark’s fin. Recommended dishes include the roast goose which is cooked to perfection with a crispy skin and flavoursome, succulent meat, and the fried French beans with supreme sauce which comes with crisp, sweet beans and just the right amount of rich XO sauce. The deep-fried shrimp balls with almonds is a signature dish and makes an ideal and impressive appetizer, the flaked nuts in a thick crust on the outside of the shrimp ball. Vegetarian dishes with bean curd, bamboo pith, mushrooms and vegetarian chicken are also available, as are limited desserts such as the favourite mango sago and sweet red bean soup.
Drinks: A short wine list with two Champagnes, eight white wines and 11 reds from France, Australia, California and Chile ranging in price from HK$250 (US$32) to HK$750 (US$96), with options available by the half bottle. There is also Chinese liquor and rice wine including Mou Tai Chew at HK$1,400 (US$180) as well as spirits, and creative cocktails at HK$55 (US$7). Teas and juices are also available.
Service: The Maxim’s Group opened its first Maxim’s Chinese Restaurant with the concept “Chinese food, Western service” in the 1970s, and this branch of the successful chain retains the same values; while there may not be a smile in sight, staff speak fluent English and are efficient.
Prices: As with most Chinese restaurants, cost varies wildly depending on what you order – anything from around HK$40 (US$5) for a bowl of hot and sour soup to HK$360 (US$46) for an abalone and dried seafood casserole – and how many are sharing the dishes. As a general guide, a meal for two without drinks starts from around HK$250 (US$32).
Verdict: A fine choice for a good quality meal away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the airport. The food is of a high standard, with prices to match.
Bobby Van’s Steakhouse
John F Kennedy International Airport
Location: Within Terminal 8, through security. For reservations, call +1 718 553 2100
If you missed the authentic New York steakhouse experience during your visit to the city, fear not: you may get one last chance at the airport. With several locations in New York and beyond, this venerable Yankee steakhouse celebrated its 40th anniversary by opening a stylish 140-seat outpost within JFK airport. Located just beyond security, the restaurant is the antithesis of what passes for the standard American terminal restaurant. A sleek bar elevated from the busy concourse is the first sign that this is not your typical dine and dash eatery. The main dining room, which lies behind the front bar, is a surprising refuge featuring wainscoted timber walls, plush banquettes and elaborate lighting fixtures. The only indication you’re in an airport at all is a large recessed flat-screen television silently advising real-time flight announcements.
The food: Positioned as an upscale American chophouse, the menu touches on all of the East Coast steakhouse staples from shrimp cocktail starters to gargantuan slabs of meat. But the place isn’t just for carnivores: the extensive menu will appeal to everyone from executives on expense accounts to leisure travellers in celebration mode (Malpeque oysters and Champagne anyone?).
During a recent visit, I tried to keep it light and stuck with the classics, starting with the plump crab cake made with sweet New England crabmeat, lightly breaded crust and a spicy sweet mayonnaise. Not wanting to commit to an entire steak before my transatlantic flight, I followed it up with the restaurant’s popular steak wrap, a toothsome combination of prime rib, Swiss cheese, onions & jalapeño mayonnaise. A requisite side of fries was delivered piping hot and perfectly seasoned.
Drinks: Beef and booze have always made a fine team and the restaurant’s alcohol options are exhaustive. Local draft beers, French Champagne (Veuve Clicquot), single malt whiskeys and classic cocktails are popular choices at the full service bar. The wine list, overseen by the group’s award-winning sommelier, has several by-the-glass choices and full bottles to appeal to serious oenophiles – from vintage Bordeaux to rambunctious Californian cabernets.
Service: Friendly with a touch of New York swagger, our waiter would make a fine extra on a Sinatra biopic. During busy times, waiters will ask you your flight time to expedite orders and give you (and the kitchen) enough time to enjoy your meal.
Prices: Though not as exorbitant as its inner-city counterparts, the steakhouse is certainly expensive by airline terminal standards. A cheque could easily run over US$100 for two people. That said, you get what you pay for, with generous portions, top-flight ingredients and a true fine dining, starched tablecloth atmosphere.
Verdict: Exuding old-school cool, this atypical airport restaurant is a great way to savour a last slice of New York before you leave the empire state.
Anthony’s Restaurant and Fish Bar Seattle Tacoma International Airport
Location: Sea-Tac’s Central Departure Terminal
Opening hours: 0500 to 2330
This city’s seafood is known second only to its coffee and is almost as easy to uncover. While places for caffeine kicks are scattered across the region like spilled beans, plentiful culls from Lake Washington, Puget Sound and downtown attraction Pike Place, with its hollering, fish-throwing fishmongers, mean that seafood is often in focus and is a real menu staple.
The food: The last place to catch a late haul at the Seattle airport is Anthony’s, with its bright-lit sign and blackboard specials. It dominates one side of the main concourse in Departures at Sea-Tac Airport and is hard to miss.
Start with house favourite Northwest oysters on the half-shell. Offerings are seasonal and feature molluscs plucked from the inlets of Puget Sound, famous for their earthy, intense flavour. The sweet Baron Point oysters we feasted on teased the tongue and came highly recommended. From there, Northwest Dungeness crab or Puget mussels made a good accompaniment, followed by seared Northwest rockfish or Pacific swordfish. For those on the run, Anthony’s encompasses a smaller grab’n’go fish and chippery. This is the last spot to pick up a cup of Seattle clam chowder. The creamy, heartening soup is fabulously addictive and this Northwest version gave its New England cousins a real run for their money.
Drinks: Washington State’s wines are said to be the “Next Big Thing” for the American wine industry. Sample some here: four options sold by the bottle celebrate Oregon’s reputation for pinots, and there are a handful of other reds and whites produced closer to home offered by the glass – Seattleites recommend a musky pinot gris to match the Sound’s rich, robust oysters. The Pacific Northwest contributes to America’s new dedication to craft beer, with several on offer. Pike Brewing’s “Naughty Nellie” Golden Ale raised a smile.
Service: Anthony’s can get crowded, so factor in some wait time. Our server was friendly, informative and more than willing to check with the chef on menu items.
Prices: A meal for two with appetizers and main courses, a glass of wine and a glass of beer starts around US$80.
Verdict: This fairly new addition to Sea-Tac has found some deserved fans.
Killiney Kopitiam Singapore Changi International Airport
Location: Departure/Transit Lounge North, #03-07 Mezzanine level, Terminal 3
Opening hours: 24 hours
This chain of kopitiam, Southeast Asian-style coffee shops, has branches throughout the airport, on both landside and airside. It is a unique characteristic of Singapore that’s worth savouring one last time before taking off. I experienced the café’s branch on the mezzanine level of T3’s departure/transit hall – reached by lift or escalator – around 2200 on a Sunday night before a long flight to Barcelona. The kaya toast of Killiney Road (off Orchard Road) has always been a byword in breakfast for generations of Singaporeans. The original shop, which opened in 1919, has been in the same location, but due to the vision of current owner, businessman T S Woon, is now found in various places throughout the city, thanks to a franchising scheme.
The food: The kaya toast continues to remain the bestseller. For the initiated, kaya is a green paste made from eggs, coconut and pandan (fragrant screwpine), usually served during breakfast or afternoon tea time and spread over charcoal-grilled toast. This legendary item is joined here by other Singapore favourites such as mee siam (thin rice noodles in spicy, sweet and sour light gravy), laksa and curry chicken with a French loaf. There are also soft-boiled eggs and French toast.
Drinks: Coffee is the second staple of the house, made from a blend of Colombian Arabica and Robusta (from Indonesia) beans, resulting in a very aromatic brew. Order it in a variety of ways: a thick kopi-gao, kopi-siu-dai (less sugar), kopi-ga-dai (more sugar) or kopi-c (with Carnation milk). Tea lovers are catered for with brews from Sri Lanka.
Service: The waitress, who was quick to hand out the menus when we arrived, did not listen carefully to our instructions of just two orders of kaya toast, which three of us intended to share, along with our drinks. She brought three of these, forcing our friend, who ordered a mee siam, to have some even if he insisted he couldn’t take anymore, having already had a heavy dinner earlier.
Prices: Kaya toast costs S$1.40 (US$1.12); coffee and tea are both S$1.20 (US$0.96).
Verdict: If you can’t get to the original outlet downtown, these franchise cafés are good enough. The kaya toast remains true to our memory of past servings, and the kopi-gao is enough to wake up the dead.
Places we have blogged about
- Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates
- Africa, Anywhere
- Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
- 84011 Amalfi Salerno, Italy
- Amsterdam, the Netherlands
- Apple Valley, Mn, United States
- Auburn, Ca, United States
- Auckland, New Zealand
- Austin, Tx, Usa
- Baja California, Mexico
- Bali, Indonesia
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Barcelona, Spain
- Beerwah, Qld, Australia
- Beijing, China
- Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
- Beverly Hills, Ca, Usa