Top chefs are starting to use airports for new ventures
Breweries, like Airbräu in Munich, have been successful offering a 'sense of place' in the airport
In Germany's Stuttgart Airport, Michelin-starred Top Air offers seven-course menu for €132 ($183)
From boxed sandwiches and salads in plastic tubs to fine dining.
The world’s gastronomic masters are now using airports for their new restaurant openings.
Heston Blumenthal is the latest big name chef to open an air hub establishment.
The Perfectionist’s Café will open at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2 on June 4.
While Blumenthal is best known for molecular gastronomy, his new diner with a wood-fired oven makes it the first British airport kitchen with an open flame.
Fire safety and security are just two major hurdles for the potential airport restaurateur.
Gas can’t be used in the kitchens in most airports, food suppliers have to go through security clearance and perhaps most daunting of all, customers sometimes have as little 15 minutes to spend on the meal.
Blumenthal isn’t the first culinary superstar to take on the challenge.
Gordon Ramsay opened Plane Food at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 in 2008, Spain’s Carles Gaig has a modern Catalan joint at Barcelona-El Prat and in North America, Los Angeles International and Toronto Pearson International are just two restaurants that have attracted restaurants from local celebrity cooks.
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More people, more stomachs
Air travel has roughly doubled since 2003, with the International Civil Aviation Authority reporting that airlines served 3.1 billion passengers in 2013 compared with 1.6 billion a decade ago.
Airports are an integral part of that experience now, moving away from being mere gateways.
“It’s what the airport environment does to you,” says Heathrow Airport’s head of food and beverage Ben Crowley.
“Eighty percent of our flights are long haul, which means the bulk of the passengers are on a big trip and therefore in the mood for an indulgence.”
Advances in kitchen technology mean the no-gas policy is not the obstacle it once was.
“Electric heat is far better than what it used to be 10 years ago,” says Sophie Michell, executive chef of London’s Pont St restaurant and one of the four British celebrity chefs who have collaborated to open The Gorgeous Kitchen, an upmarket restaurant at Heathrow’s Terminal 2.
“You just have to think about different ways to add flavor and cook quickly. For example, you can get good caramelization with a heavy-bottomed saucepan on induction hobs, which now have quick reactions and reach high temperatures.”
A greater range of food suppliers are now authorized by airports, too.
“We’re able to use ingredients from artisanal suppliers – previously only the big suppliers were able to get through,” Michell says.
Still, there are additional expenses – airport restaurants pay higher staff wages to persuade employees away from central locales.
They also tend to serve smaller parties than city restaurants and diners typically spend less.
“Though individual table checks are lower than on the high street, an airport restaurant gets much more exposure, with millions of people passing by every year,” says Sebastian Rotteveel, creator of The Gorgeous Kitchen concept and senior director of marketing at hospitality company HMSHost International.
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Thousands of servings
Take Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food.
Around 20,000 diners are served every month.
The restaurant receives hundreds of visitors a day, serving dishes such as braised pork belly and cod ceviche.
“Travelers have become a lot more demanding,” Heathrow’s Crowley says. “They eat out more and expect more when they come through the airport.”
These days, the greatest limitation of the airport restaurant is security, says Anthony Russell, restaurant manager at Ramsay’s Plane Food.
Kitchen knives need to be kept under strict eye, and suppliers and staff must pass through security clearance.
“Produce delivery becomes a challenge,” Russell says.
“You have to be organized and resourceful, but there is [still] no calling a supplier for an emergency delivery if you run out after lunch.”
Of course, quality airport dining isn’t the exclusive domain of celebrity chefs.
At Munich Airport, voted the world’s best airport for dining in the 2013 Skytrax Awards, travelers can find Europe’s only airport brewery, Airbräu.
Airbräu is a success because, like Hung’s Delicacies in Hong Kong International Airport (voted second in the Skytrax awards), it’s an authentic piece of its home culture, giving travelers a unique sense of place in the airport land-between-lands.
“A Bavarian restaurant serving local beer from its own brewery differentiates Munich Airport from other European airports,” says Gerhard Halamoda, head of Munich Airport’s hospitality operator Allresto.
“Twenty years ago, customers would use an airport once or twice a year, and restaurateurs could get away with an expensive, mediocre experience.
“Now, people fly frequently and if they have a good time at our airport, next time they’re more likely to transfer through Munich rather than, say, Amsterdam or Frankfurt.”
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14 top airport restaurants
Airbräu Brauhaus (Munich Airport)
The hook: Europe’s only airport restaurant to boast its own on-site brewery.
The cuisine: The beer garden is attached to a Bavarian restaurant that serves roast duck, pig knuckle and cold cured meats.
The beer is brewed in accordance with the Purity Decree of 1513, using local hops from the Hallertau region.
The bar organizes brewery tours.
Airbräu Brauhaus, Level 3, Terminal 1, Munich Airport; +49 89 9759 3111
Altitude (Geneva International Airport)
The hook: Created by chefs Gilles Dupont and Thomas Byrne, whose joint restaurants include the Michelin-starred Dupont & Byrne.
The cuisine: Classic French food in an elegant space with a glass wall onto the runway. The business lunch menu changes bi-weekly while the a la carte menu is updated every season.
On the menu: green apple and ginger crème brulée, foie gras and morel mushrooms stuffed raviolis, Brittany sole meunière style and beef carpaccio.
You can get two courses ($55-62) or the full three ($75) with dessert or cheese, though travelers with less time can grab smaller plates, burgers or sandwiches for around $27.
Altitude, Geneva Airport; +41 22 817 46 09
Asian Kitchen by Susur Lee (Toronto Pearson International Airport)
Opens early 2015
The hook: To be opened by fine-dining celebrity chef and restaurateur Susur Lee, whose face you may have caught on “Top Chef Canada” or “Iron Chef America.”
The cuisine: Lee is known for his twist on fine dining using fusion flavors and techniques.
Toronto Airport’s outpost will be a bistro-style eatery showing off Lee’s French and Chinese influences.
Asian Kitchen by Susur Lee, Terminal 1 International departures, Toronto Pearson International Airport
Boccone Trattoria (Toronto Pearson International Airport)
The hook: Opened by Canadian celebrity chef and restaurateur Massimo Capra, the chef/co-owner of Mistura and Sopra in Toronto.
The cuisine: A full-service Italian trattoria-style restaurant offering pastas, pizza and a wine list.
Capra, who is often at the restaurant, guarantees every item can be served within 10 minutes, and passengers can be on their way within 30 minutes of sitting down.
Main dishes hover around $16.
Boccone Trattoria, Level 2 gates, Terminal 1, Toronto Pearson International Airport; +1 416 776 0492
Cat Cora’s Kitchen (San Francisco International Airport)
The hook: Opened by TV chef and restaurateur Cat Cora, whose empire includes branches at Salt Lake City and Houston Airports.
The cuisine: Innovative Californian cuisine using organic, seasonal ingredients, with small plates such as salt roasted beets, lobster mac and cheese or a seafood slider trio of oyster, shrimp and crab cake.
A raw bar dishes up oysters, while the cocktail menu gets creative with chili-infused tequila and antioxidant-crammed juices.
Prices hover at about $14 a plate or $15 a cocktail.
Cat Cora’s Kitchen, Terminal 2, San Francisco International Airport; +1 650 821 9288
Dani Garcia DeliBar (Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport, Spain)
The hook: A classic tapas bar from Spanish chef Dani Garcia.
The cuisine: Modern tapas with classic Andalusian flavors given Garcia’s trademark twist – cherry gazpacho, crab ravioli, as well as the chef’s famous oxtail burger.
It’s all served in as casual a setting as many downtown bars, with tapas on display.
Up to 60 can sit around the bar, while travelers can grab dishes to go.
Dani Garcia DeliBar, Terminal 3, Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport, Spain
Hung’s Delicacies (Hong Kong International Airport)
The hook: An offshoot of the Michelin-starred Hung’s Delicacies in North Point, a tiny shop that specializes in marinated meats.
The cuisine: Chiu Chow food with a focus on braised meat in a particular style called “lou seoi,” in which a complex master stock is used to marinate goose meat, tofu and other less usual parts, such as duck’s tongue and pig’s intestine in aspic.
The stir-fried egg noodles are named after Hong Kong food critic and TV personality Chua Lam, who was apparently one of the restaurant’s earliest fans.
Dishes run from around $6.50 for small plates to $20 for the star attraction – slices of marinated goose.
Hung’s Delicacies, Terminal 2, Hong Kong International Airport; +852 3197 9332
ink.sack (Los Angeles International Airport)
The hook: A second branch of the sandwich bar by Michael Voltaggio, “Top Chef” winner, Food & Wine’s Best New Chef and the chef/owner of the fine dining ink on Melrose Avenue.
The cuisine: On “Top Chef,” Voltaggio was known for inventive plating and a love of liquid nitrogen, but ink sack is a sandwich bar classic.
Tiny crusty baguettes are stuffed to the brim with fillings like cold fried chicken, Spanish cured meats or a Viet-style banh mi with pork, from about $7 – not bad for a pre-boarding snack.
It’s open 9:30 a.m.-2 a.m.
ink.sack (website is for the city branch), Great Hall, Tom Bradley International Terminal, 380 World Way, Los Angeles Airport; +1 (310) 258-9587
Perfectionists’ Cafe (Heathrow Airport, London)
Opens June 2014
The hook: The king of inventive cooking, Heston Blumenthal applies his science to making British classics quick.
Cuisine: English diner food with a twist and some serious physics – imagine a burger designed with an oral physiologist to determine the optimal bun size and texture.
Fans of Blumenthal’s multi-sensory approach to cooking can sit at the bar where aromas will enhance the dining experience.
Prices for main dishes from £11 ($18).
Perfectionists’ Cafe, Terminal 2 departures, Heathrow Airport, London
Porta Gaig (Barcelona-El Prat Airport)
The hook: Opened by one of Barcelona’s most celebrated chefs, Carles Gaig, who runs the city’s Michelin-starred Gaig.
The cuisine: Modern Catalan food, such as slow-braised beef cheeks or poached eggs over potatoes, enjoyed in peaceful, airy surrounds with plate-glass windows through which diners can watch aircraft land and take off.
Travelers in a rush can have quick tapas such as Iberico ham and pa amb tomaquet, a Catalan classic of bread rubbed with tomato.
Open noon-5 p.m., weekdays only, with main dishes from €10.70 ($15).
Porta Gaig, El Prat Airport Terminal 1 departures , Barcelona; +34 93 259 6210
Prime Tavern (LaGuardia Airport, New York)
The hook: Created with chef and TV personality Michael Lomonaco of NYC steakhouse Porterhouse.
The cuisine: Steakhouse diner with prime cuts of dry-aged steak and hearty burgers.
Vegetarians can go for the heirloom tomato salad or chilled cucumber soup.
Lobster rolls round off a menu of diner favorites, all buttressed by a beer list chosen by Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster, Garrett Oliver.
Prime Tavern, Delta Terminal, LaGuardia Airport, New York; +1 866 508 3558
The Gorgeous Kitchen (Heathrow Airport, London)
Opens in June 2014
The hook: Menu designed by four UK celebrity chefs including Sophie Michell of London’s Pont St restaurant, and cookbook author Jo Pratt (“In the Mood for Food”).
The cuisine: Light, wholesome fare prepared from British-grown ingredients.
Signature dishes include a chorizo toad-in-the-hole and sweet corn and coriander fritters with king prawns.
An express section of the menu can be ordered and served within 15 minutes.
The Gorgeous Kitchen, Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2 departures, London
Top Air (Stuttgart Airport, Germany)
The hook: Europe’s only Michelin-starred airport restaurant, it’s headed by chef Marco Akuzun.
The cuisine: Gourmet European, complete with artistic presentation, flavorsome foams and an amuse bouche at the start of the meal.
For travelers with time, there’s a seven-course menu for €132 ($183).
Top Air, Stuttgart Airport, Terminal 1, Stuttgart, Germany; +49 711 948 2137
Twist (Toronto Pearson International Airport)
Opens August 2014
The hook: To be launched by Canadian celebrity chef and cookbook author Roger Mooking, who also hosts cooking shows “Heat Seekers” and “Man Fire Food.”
The cuisine: Locally sourced North American comfort food with the eponymous “twist” – scones with lavender honey and peameal bacon and roast Cornish hen made with Moroccan spice rub, charred lemon and served with arugula.
Twist, Toronto Pearson International Airport