A Food Tour of New York (With Bonus Snow)

One of my favourite columns to read is Grub Street’s New York Diet, notwithstanding that I don’t actually live in New York. It’s the combination of hilarious odd diets, jealousy-generating lifestyles, and celebrities-are-just-like-us-or-worse bad habit affirmation. And, of course, restaurant suggestions for New York visits.

My trip to New York last week allowed me to do the actual New York Diet and even though I was there on business, that didn’t actually influence my eating. Well, not beyond the possibility of “awful conference chicken”, but obviously the idea was to avoid that. And instead to indulge everything New York, high, low, late, early and in between. Not to mention put on a few (happy) kilos.

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So here we go with an expanded version of the New York Diet: my most recent week in New York City, following the food around.

Friday 1 Feb

I started in the Qantas Club at LAX at breakfast time in LA, with no idea what time it was at home and a vague sense it was lunchtime in New York. Breakfast on this very short stop-over was a diet coke and Sudafed: breakfast of (traveling) champions.  On the plane to NYC I had a very mediocre chicken salad thing, and a Bloody Mary.  It used to be my travelling drink, but became my regular drink, and in this case I really just felt like one, time zones be damned. The chicken did the job as I was starving, but I later learned that a number of my colleagues who were on the same plane got awfully sick. Thankfully I did not, especially as I had some significant dining plans over the weekend.

I was staying on the Lower East Side for the first few days in NYC, and after I got to my hotel – around 6.30pm – I decided to go for a walk and find some food before showering and crashing. I ended up wandering into the Bowery Diner and ordered exactly what I was craving: burger and fries. Burger was great, fries were a bit overdone. I had a couple of Red Stripe beers, and then crashed at the hotel.

Saturday 2 Feb

I woke up at 5am which, all things jet-laggy considered, I thought was pretty good. I had a massage booked at 10am and my original intention had been not to eat before, but I woke up too early and was starving. Thankfully there were plenty of 24 hour places around the hotel, so I bundled up and walked half a block to get a latte – not bad considering how bad the coffee is in New York – and a bagel with cream cheese. I was quickly reminded that half a bagel is my limit.

After the best massage ever – 2 hours of a perfect balance between therapeutic and relaxing, costing approximately the same as one night’s hotel accommodation and worth every cent – I left the hotel about 12.30 and headed straight to one of my favourite places, Fanelli’s in Soho. I always go there for a Bloody Mary when I’m in New York because I’m nostalgic about an accidental visit there on my first business trip to the city over 10 years ago, but also because it’s a cool place. I had a Bloody Mary and a pesto chicken sandwich with a salad (yes, I felt very virtuous not ordering the fries).

During the day I’m sure I also had a couple of diet cokes. Because I always do. Just take that as read for the rest of this.

After an afternoon of aimless wandering around Soho and appreciating that at this time of the year it is not hideously overrun with slow-moving tourists, even on a Saturday, I had an early booking at one of my other favourite New York places, Torrisi Italian Specialties. Their fixed menu – bot not as and more fixed than it used to be – is just great, and sitting in the window watching the people wander past on Mulberry St is quite entertaining. The current menu has the antipasti made up of their usual hand-pulled mozzarella with olive oil, grilled arancini with fermented broccoli rabe, surf and turf carpaccio and a boar’s head sandwich with pickles. That was followed by the special,  squid ink pasta with lobster, a main of veal, and a lemon cake.

I also had a couple of glasses of local Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling, which was really good and also turned me all wine-knowledgeable later in the week.

Sunday 3 Feb

Again with the 5am wake-up.  Bugger.  I went around the corner to Katz’s Deli for a bagel with lox and cream cheese and a coffee. I forgot my half-bagel rule was going to be significantly exacerbated by the Katz’s standard gigantic portion size and ate the whole thing. And regretted it for hours later.

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In between wandering all over lower Manhattan in the light covering of snow, and, I confess, a nap or two, I went to Mission Chinese for lunch. I’d heard great things about it, and great it was. Usually I go for the spicy, but I was still feeling a little overdone by too much bagel – and the ribs and beef tenderloins were both off the menu – so I went with the crushed cucumber with sesame and chilli, and the salt cod fried rice. And a Brooklyn Lager.

This was Super Bowl Sunday, and I watched the game with a colleague at the Old Castle on 54th Street. Burger, fries, many beers. The cab back to my hotel turned down 7th towards Times Square and I was about to yell at him for being crazy when I discovered that Times Square on the night of Superbowl Sunday is as close to deserted as you’ll ever see Times Square.

Monday 4 Feb

Breakfast was a small, bad latte. Because lunch was Eleven Madison Park, 17 courses, matched wines (including more of the Wiemer Riesling which allowed me to have a relatively informed conversation with the sommelier having had it over the weekend), a visit to the kitchen which was exceeding calm and well organised. Lunch was fabulous, but they could do without the attempts at whimsy, which don’t match the food or the room, and just are unnecessary. The rib eye entrée was amazing. And for 17 courses it was close to perfectly balanced in terms of amount. Only the last course was too much for me.

There was a cocktail party in the evening to commence the conference I was attending, but I stuck with mineral water and, obviously, did not eat dinner. I bailed early because I needed to do some work, and had a beer in my hotel room later.

Tuesday 5 Feb

I then moved into Conference World, shifting hotels to Midtown, and starting, appropriately, with a bad coffee. Cool Downtown boutique hotel to gigantic Midtown Conference Hotel – seriously it took 8 minutes one morning for a lift to arrive on my floor there are so many people staying there – was enough of a shock without the caffeine immediately deteriorating so badly.

At my first meeting neither of us had eaten so we decided to conduct the meet-up over the last of the hotel breakfast buffet. While the food itself was serviceable, the $77 price tag for a bagel, some scrambled eggs and a few sides, a tea and a coffee became somewhat legendary over the rest of the conference: “oh, you were at the $77 breakfast!”

It was then meetings all morning and into lunch. In the end I ducked across the road to a deli/supermarket and grabbed a lemon chicken and salad sandwich, which was actually pretty good and not at all over-the-top.

As tends to happen at these things, a random group gathered for dinner and we headed to the Redeye Grill for a seafood feast. There were nine of us and we shared a seafood platter for appetizers; crab claws, salmon tartar, clams, oysters, prawns, lobster. Amazing. For main I then had the jumbo crab cake with grilled prawns and it was so, so good. Add to that a glass of Veuve to celebrate a colleague’s engagement, and a couple of glasses of a decent cab sav.

From there we went to Bowlmor at Union Square for bowling with a group from the conference, and I had a couple of Brooklyn Lagers. The evening (morning) finished in the hotel bar with a final beer.

Wednesday 6 Feb

I gave up on coffee and switched to tea.

After a morning of meetings I met a colleague for a working lunch and we escaped the hotel to a deli/lunch place on 7th that did a whole lot of food made to order, we both got chicken teriyaki, made fresh in front of us with a whole lot of vegetables, and rice. It was great, but we both spent the rest of the day smelling like stir fry.

I had a couple of Bloody Marys in the hotel bar at post-meeting drinks with colleagues old and new. The first one came, as they often do in the US, with giant olives which I really do not like and do not understand. The bartender earned his tips though, as having picked up on me ditching the olives with the first drink, he served the second without them.

I decided to skip the gathering dinner that night, still a bit tired from the previous night. After doing a little shopping for my niece and nephew at the giant Toys R Us in Times Square – again, mercifully easy to get around in February as compared to the rest of the year – I realised it was almost 9.30 and I hadn’t eaten dinner. I wasn’t that hungry, so I just grabbed a couple of steak tacos at Chipotle. I know.

Thursday 7 Feb

Toasted bagel with scallion cream cheese from the deli next to the hotel for breakfast. I love scallion cream cheese.

‘Lunch’ was a Pret-a-Manger chicken sandwich purchased at around 2.30 and consumed over about 45 minutes by grabbing bites between meetings.

For dinner I met some friends visiting town at the same time and we went Ammos, a Greek seafood place near Grand Central. I had the bass with potato in a  tomato sauce broth/sauce thing. Happily warming in the lead-up to storm Nemo. I also had a beer.

I then walked the several blocks back to the hotel in the wind, on the way returning the work phone calls I’d missed during dinner.

Friday 8 Feb

Again, a bagel from the deli next to the hotel. They were out of scallion cream cheese, unfortunately, so I had to have plain. Not the same.

This was the day the snowstorm started, so my shopping adventures in NYC were somewhat colder, snowier and more curtailed than would otherwise have been the case. After a couple of hours braving the wind and sleet, I ducked into what has now accidentally become one of my go-to wet weather lunch places, Bill’s Bar and Burger on 51st street at Rockefeller Center. They have free wifi and decent burgers which are, importantly, a manageable size so you don’t feel like you need to roll out of there. I had a Classic with Cheese, fries (which were really wedges) and a Heineken. I have now ducked in there to get out of the rain on successive trips to the city.

I was having dinner with a friend on Friday night which was originally intended to be at Morimoto in the Meatpacking district, but with the storm hitting we didn’t feel confident about being able to get back, so we changed our plans and met at The Living Room at the W Times Square for a couple of Raspberry Martinis. My friend is Ukrainian via Australia so she decided we should go to the Russian Samovar on 52nd St for dinner. They have a band and the super kitsch entertainment, including the participating guests, was well worth it. The food was great too. I let my friend order – in Russian – and we had pomegranate and then apple and cinnamon vodka, potato salad three ways, great little dumplings, a classic beef stroganoff and then split a honey cake for dessert. It was great fun and we stayed late.

When we came out of the restaurant the snow was thick on the ground and still coming down. It was very cool. (And cold).

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(Note the boots paying for themselves.)

Back in the hotel bar we met up with a couple of colleagues and I had a couple of Bloody Marys before going to bed way too late.

Saturday 9 Feb

Woke up to a winter wonderland and sunny skies in New York. I walked up to Central Park to experience the park in the snow, which was glorious, and then met a friend at Rockefeller Center for an early lunch sitting along the windows at the Rock Center Café watching them shovel snow off the ice rink, with snow piled up against the windows of the restaurant. I had a coffee – my first in days – and roast cauliflower soup with bacon bits and croutons, which was great and just the right amount.

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Then time to head to the airport, with the roads cleared enough for a not too much delayed flight home.

I think we’re going to need a bigger…coat

I pride myself on being able to pack for any 2-3 day business trip or any holiday within the length of a television ad break. Two if it’s an overseas trip and I need to give consideration to both carry-on and checked baggage. This usually takes place the night before the trip.

Today, however, I’m giving serious thought to packing for my next trip almost a week out.

This unusual level of planning is due to a combination of needing to pack for (a) 5 days of meetings and work-related events where I’ll be seeing the same people repeatedly and therefore need multiple outfits; and (b) the opposite season when at any moment it could turn super hot here and I will not be able to even look at a pair of tights or a jumper, which will make it hard to pack them.

Really, though, it’s the season I’m heading into that requires most thought.

I’m heading to New York, a place I have been to many many times for work and pleasure, a place where packing shouldn’t matter because I can get anything I could possibly need when I get there. Except I’ve never been in February before. The first week of December is the closest to ‘not summer’ I’ve ever been in the city. The top temperature there yesterday was -6. This requires thought before I leave, not after I get there and can’t feel my feet, or my hands, or my head.

Not only have I never been to New York in winter, I’ve never really spent any time in genuinely cold climates. I went to England to see family in February when I was 14 or 15, and remember cold clear days and melting snow, but nothing in adult life. I haven’t even been into the local snow fields since I was a teenager.

I don’t hike or camp or trek. I’ve never lived in a cold climate. So while I like winter here, I have no proper cold weather gear beyond a decent pair of gloves. I have a great parka that I bought from Witchery of all places about 15 years ago that is nice and warm, but is patched and short in the waist and doesn’t have a high collar and is bulky to pack. I have some nice coats. But they’re only Melbourne coats. They’re not ‘it’s actually properly cold’ coats.

Yes, I’m going to be spending a lot of time inside at meetings and I’m staying at the same hotel as the conference, but it’s New York, so of course I’m also taking a couple of days off to do some shopping and see some friends and visit good restaurants, and I want to see New York in the winter. I’m quite looking forward to the cold given we don’t really have it here. I just want to be prepared. And have a proper jacket that can stand the cold, maybe a little snow, and cover my bum.

Which is where being in the complete opposite season is great. Sales. Major sales of winter gear. So a visit to Little Bourke Street this afternoon, into the wilds of the camping and hiking and back-packing stores in which I usually have no place or interest, delivered me a great, warm, light-weight, properly hooded men’s parka for $50.00 (down from $200.00) and two pairs of actually warm socks for the price of one, i.e. $14.99. And the best thing is that the parka folds up to the size of its hood, unlike everything else coat-like I own. See:

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So it makes packing easier. Especially when I need to fit these in too:

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Certainly, the forecast for next week is not as cold as it is right now. You know, maximum temperatures of -1 on the day I arrive. But at least now I’m prepared. And will possibly be looking to take many future trips into cold climates. And a beanie when I arrive.

Great Bad Service

Despite being made of approximately 64% Lazy, I’m actually not very good at doing nothing for long stretches of time. I get restless easily. Sometimes all it takes is a walk around the block, but pure sloth doesn’t really work for me.

Thus, a beach or poolside holiday is not all that appealing to me unless there are also other things to do. I think that’s why I love Hawaii so much, I can spend one day sipping cocktails by the pool and the next day hiking across an active volcano, one day by the pool, the next day wandering through the rainforest.

Something similar was the plan for Goa, but in the end I confess that I spent 4 days by the pool/beach/on the massage table and only 1 day doing other things. Certainly by the last day I was quite restless, but not enough to actually be bothered getting organised and doing something else. I devoted my energy on that day to trying to appreciate that I actually had another day where I could just lie by the pool reading and that this would be the last of them for some time.

The day I did actually get genuinely out and about – as opposed to just to the beach and the many cafes and restaurants in the general environs of the hotel – I went into Panaji, the capital of Goa, and Old Goa, the former capital.

Panaji is a small bustling city on the river with lots of brightly coloured colonial buildings – from what I saw there are brightly coloured buildings and houses all over Goa, blue, yellow, purple, green – and motorbikes everywhere.

I wandered around for a couple of hours, and then went to a restaurant that had been recommended by a friend for lunch. It was one of the most deliciously frustrating eating experiences I’ve had in a long time. First, elected to drink my beer direct from the wiped down bottle as I wasn’t really convinced by the cleanliness of the glass. Second, although I was fairly early in the lunch service, the service itself was awful. I never got the second beer I ordered, and I had to order the bread three times. Of course, I was on holidays and in no hurry, and happy to sit in the shade under a fan and drink my beer without rushing. But still, annoying.

Then, however, the food came. Masala prawns and mushroom chili fry, and it was just so, so good. So good. And the triple ordered bread (Goan bread comes generally in roll form, not naan), was definitely required for the thick, fabulous sauce.

And the whole thing, including beer, cost $6. So who can then complain about the service? Delicious and frustrating.

In the afternoon I went over to Old Goa which gives a hint of what a Portuguese seat of power it used to be. All that remains now are the chapels and Cathedrals, and ruins of others, both active and turned into an Archaeological Museum with artaefacts going back to the 11th Century and a parade of portraits of centuries of Portuguese governors.

It was interesting to wander around for a couple of hours and get a real feel for the history of the place. And now I have to find some books that speak more to the history of India as a whole, and Goa in particular, because on this trip I realised how little of it I actually knew. Some general ideas, certainly, but no idea of any of the specifics.

The second to last day I then spent mainly at the beach, where I had another example of perfectly bad service. Arriving at early lunch at one of the beach shacks I was served my (large) beer, and provided a menu, and settled in to read my book. The staff were watching a soap or something on a tiny portable TV and did not return to take my food order. But I didn’t care. I wasn’t hungry yet, and it was just so peaceful drinking my beer and reading my book and enjoying the breeze and not being hassled or hurried along or disturbed.

When the beer was eventually done, I was able to attract their attention – a few more people were eating at this point – and get another beer and order some food. My order came with recommendations from the waiter that turned out to be valuable, and I could then eat in peace. I was there, in the end, for probably 3+ hours. The food was, again, fantastic.

I discovered that there was actually no way to get sick of prawns masala and bread because every version of the masala was so, so different, and generally the bread was different too. Of course masala is a term that refers to almost infinite possible combinations, but I still didn’t quite expect so many variations of flavour and texture within one type of dish in one very small local area.

And a word about the naan: extremely good and really quite different to what we get here. We all noticed it from the first meal we had at the hotel in Mumbai and it remained as such even in the beach shacks of Goa. Where the naan I’ve experienced in Australia tends to be quite soft and often oily, in India it was never oily and frequently quite crisp. And much lighter than here. Really, really good.

While I was trying not to eat at the same place twice, I did go back to that beach shack on the last evening, hoping to catch the sunset over the water. Unfortunately it got to hazy for the sunset, but when I sat down at the café the waiter bought me a beer without me even asking.

Great bad service turned out to be one of the most relaxing parts of the trip.

By the Sea(food)

India – Days 11 and 12

I am, as I expect is entirely apparent, neither a hippie nor a back-packer.

I did pack-back across the US once when I was a student. Staying in hostels and the like. My one and only foray. And I didn’t actually have a back-pack.

As such, Goa, by general reputation, would perhaps not seem a natural destination for me. However, it will hardly be surprising to hear, there’s a lot more to it than that.

I am also not a beach person. The odd stroll, certainly. A nice view, appreciated. But lying on the sand, diving in and out of the ocean. No thanks. Sand, sand, sand.

Goa, however, could make me a beach person.

Due to the aforementioned lack of hippiedom, the desire for a peaceful holiday, and the most perfunctory Google search, I am staying at a resort in the south of Goa. The back-packers and package holidayers, not to mention the beach-harassers, are apparently crowded into the north. As are most of the parties, in which I have even less interest. I gather the beaches there are beautiful, but down here they are both that, and peaceful.

My resort, apparently popular with the Russian set (one of the receptionists is Olga, and it’s the language I hear most around me, though there is also German, French, Spanish, and English from a number of origins, including a decent proportion from other parts of India. But the Russians are the loudest), is not on the beach, but a mere 6 minute walk (or 2 minute shuttle ride).

The beach itself is wide, the waters of the Arabian Sea are warm, the waves are decent but not overwhelming and the sand, once you get on to the beach proper, is clean. There’s also a lovely sea breeze, which also reaches you poolside back at the resort.

(So lovely that as I write this I’m still sitting poolside even though it’s after 8pm and completely dark aside from a few lights from the bar (lucky I can touch type) and the breeze is just so pleasant I cannot move. Me and the Russians.)

Plus, the Arabian Sea. It just sounds romantic in and of itself.

And there’s no need to sit or lie in that sand. The hotels, and many of the restaurants, put out lounges and umbrellas, so you can lie in comfort and with a little less sand. That said, I did make the mistake of taking my regular bag with me when I first when to check it out and I’ll still be cleaning sand out of the pockets three years from now.

The beach is then lined with shacks serving food and drinks. Sometimes stand alones, sometimes linked to restaurants back in the villages and towns, you can sit drinking beer and eating seafood away from the sun, watching the ocean, with your feet in the sand. The view from lunch:

Lunch, with view:

There are also these holes, big and small, all over the sand, into which these small, almost transparent crabs scurry. Not sure you can see him in this photo.

Not sure how big the guy that belongs to this hole is, or what time he comes out.

Seafood is, of course, big here. But so is the colonial Portuguese influence in the food, so there are a lot of spicy pork sausages and the like. Every time I’ve ordered something spicy here – be it the Goan sausages or the mushroom chilli chilly fry (a fantastic mix of mushrooms, capsicums, whole green chillies and onions that were basically caramelised) I get a warning from the waiter that it’s spicy. A warning no doubt born of many a horrified tourist reaction. But really, unnecessary. I like spicy food, I grew up with it – my Grandmere was from Mauritius where the creole food is hugely influenced by Indian food – and I eat it regularly. More importantly, none of the food I’ve been warned about has been head-blowingly hot. Just enough to, combined with the not at all unpleasant 31 degree days, create a nice sheen of sweat on the upper lip.

At the well reviewed local place I went to for lunch yesterday, apparently made famous years ago because Sachin Tendulkar deemed their chilli crab his favourite, I suspect that the fantastic fried fish dish, topped with a mix of fried onions and baby shrimp, which I was bought as an extra from the chef may have been a reward for me happily polishing off the spicy (and really, mainly smoky, in a good way) starter of sausages.

With that, on top of the local prawn specialty I’d actually ordered, I really shouldn’t have had dinner. I did, of course.

Lunch:

The resort has three restaurants. A large 24-hour buffet place that does breakfast – vast but somewhat disappointing the morning I tried it, and with the rest of the good food, I really do not need breakfast here – lunch, dinner and everything in between (none of which I’ve sampled), the bar by the pool that does an odd mix of dishes from Indian to Thai to generic, and the high end restaurant specialising in the local cuisine. A couple of nights ago I tried that out, and discovered that for me who loves crab but is so, so bad at cracking them and gathering the flesh, doing so in an outdoor darkened restaurant is both a blessing and a curse. It’s rather hard to see what you’re doing, but also no one can see you plunging in with your fingers and covered in mess. Delightful tasting mess.

And the small fried fish (giant) starter crumbed in a mild spicy mix, were equally good, if not better.

When we were in Mumbai we commented many times that outside our conference-centric hotel, we saw hardly any western tourists. Many, many Indian tourists, but hardly any white people. The Sunday we did our tourist tour there was a cruise ship in town and we were asked many times if we were from the ship, and the retirees from that cruise were the only other western tourists we saw. And not many of them at that. I guess we just expected more, in the tourist heart of a major world city. But no. It was both pleasant and disappointing.

Down here there are more, although when I went into the city today – I’ll get to that in the next post – I still saw maybe only a dozen other white people in the whole day. So it does not, unlike what I noticed in Italy in particular, feel like Theme Park India. At all.

But in the restaurants in the villages around the hotel and the beach shacks, that there are more tourists from Europe and other places is evident in the menus. In addition to the Indian food, the Goan food and the Chinese food – which seems very common in India – the menus are peppered with incongruous English and American and Italian and other generic dishes. Sometimes all mixed in together in the same part of the menu. Listening to the English couple next to me in the café across the road from the hotel order pork chops and steamed vegetables was just depressing. They’d been there the night before and ordered the baked potatoes (not that I was eavesdropping or anything).

The Russian family across from me, the German couple next to me, the Indian family a bit further down ordered local food, thankfully. While I am not above the odd room service hamburger – and we all ordered them in the restaurant at our Mumbai hotel on the last night thanks to one of my colleague’s stories about trying to order a hamburger, which is clearly on the menu, the day before and winding up with three different variations on a ham and cheese sandwich, the last of which was ham and cheese on a hamburger bun – I really don’t understand coming to another country and only eating what you can get at home.

Certainly I may struggle tomorrow with facing one more prawn dish, but there are so many other interesting options. Plus, I’m pretty sure the Caesar salad isn’t going to be any good, and might actually be dangerous.

Traffic! Oh, the Traffic!

India 2012 – Days 3-5 and 9

Before heading to India I heard the same comments repeatedly: you’ll find it confronting; oh, the smell; that will be “interesting”.

As it turned out, however: I didn’t; it doesn’t; and it is, but without the air quotes.

This was a conversation I had many times last week with my companions on the work part of my trip – about 16 of us, all up – and we all came away with the same feeling. Perhaps it was simply that we had been so over-prepared for culture shock that nothing could possibly shock as much as we had been built up to expect.

It’s not to say that things aren’t very different here. They certainly are.

There is widespread poverty of a practically incomprehensible level. The contrast between the vibrant commercial city that is part of Mumbai and the reality of the slums and then the truly poor, like those living openly under the freeways, is made all the more stark by the close proximity of each to the other. The poor are not hidden here, their homes, such as they are, are everywhere, and unavoidable. Everyone, rich, poor, or in between is right on top of each other.

Witness the view from the Executive Lounge on the top floor of my hotel in the outer suburbs. Modern buildings, slums, fading buildings, next the 5 star compound on the lake.

Leaving that aside, the two most obvious differences in Mumbai are the traffic and the dust. The whole of India – I assume, it’s certainly the same in Goa where I am at the time of writing this – gets very dusty in the dry season which lasts 9 months of the year, and then is washed clean in the monsoon. Very, very dusty. Everything in Mumbai is caked in dust including, most noticeably, the leaves on the trees. It makes everything look more dirty and decayed than it actually is. Though it’s certainly also dirty and decaying in a lot of places.

Then there’s the traffic. I will never complain about LA traffic again, and certainly not about Melbourne traffic. In Mumbai when you’re asked to a meeting or event the first question asked is ‘where is it?’ because it might, very easily, take 2 hours or more to drive there. You can certainly never do more than 3 meetings in a day, as you just can’t get to them. Weekends are slightly better, but still, basically insane.

And, of course, speed limits and especially lane markers are mere guides to be largely ignored. Occasionally traffic lights too. It’s all cars, trucks, taxis, motorbikes, rickshaws, bikes and people mixed up together all ignoring the rules. That being said, we only saw 1 accident the whole time we were there, and we spent a lot of time in cars and buses during the trip.

The grand irony of the traffic was that on Saturday afternoon, returning from a day doing tourist stuff in the city with 4 colleagues, we saw an actual elephant being ridden down the freeway. The problem was, however, that it was basically the only time ever that the traffic was moving fast enough that none of us could get a photo. Dammit. Elephant being ridden down the freeway in central Mumbai. I kid you not.

Mumbai’s also a hazy polluted city, on par with Hong Kong in my experience, but apparently it used to be a lot worse. Until a few years ago all the rickshaws ran on diesel and it was awful. Now they don’t and it’s still bad, but not horrific.

I made my first foray into South Bombay – our hotel was in the north, away from much – on the day after my last post. My work colleagues were arriving during the course of that day, and I decided to head out and get my bearings a bit. And I succeeded in that, and bought a few gifts, but the some of the main sites like the Gateway of India were closed off for some event or other.

It was nevertheless lovely to wander around and look at all the beautiful old colonial buildings and art deco apartment blocks along the seafront. Needless to say you cannot go in the water.

Then this past Saturday, with 4 of my business trip companions – 2 of whom I knew well before this trip and 2 who became friends during it – we hired a car and driver from the hotel and he took us on the wholly touristy one day trip around Mumbai we wanted given we only had one day.

We went to, and through, the massive central laundry where they do the washing from any number of hotels, restaurants, stores and individuals, in this quite intricate system, between the slums, the train line and the downtown buildings.

We wandered through Gandhi’s house, and bought scarves and resisted rugs (though only due to luggage limits, some were beautiful), and visited the Gateway of India. We then took a highly civilised lunch in the Middle Eastern restaurant on the top floor of the Taj Palace Hotel, drinking Bombay Sapphire and Tonic and wondering what it must have been like to be there during the early days of the hotel, or during the more recent terrorist attack.

Running out of time to visit Juhu beach and the surrounds, we spent a small about of time in a street market in Bandra, but it was really just like the clothing section of the Vic Market, only busier and on the actual street.

In addition, I’d spent 2 days at the beginning of the week going all over town in buses and cars on business, site visits, meetings, networking functions at which you had to chase down the waiter for a glass of wine, but they were offering scotch – ‘hard liquor’ – on trays every 3 minutes. That lead to a couple of controversial speeches, I must say.

We ate all variety of food. A massive Indian banquet in one of the hotel restaurants on the Sunday night that was wonderful but had everyone at the table groaning when the waiters cleared out plates to bring out new ones ‘for mains’. This was followed by lunch the next day at a pan-Asian restaurant in Bandra that would only be described as yum cha on steroids.

The restaurant had a sushi buffet, a steamed dumplings station, a fired dumplings station, a soup station, a fried other things station, a hot food buffet (above) and a dessert station. We were given the tour and told to help ourselves. Which we did. And it would have been fine except once we’d sat down and started to eat they then began bringing dish after dish after dish to the table. It was insane.

The next day, when I was with one other colleague at a lunch meeting, I held my breath when it came time for lunch to be served. A six inch vegetarian Subway sandwich appeared, and frankly, I could have kissed it for being so minimalist.

Days 4-8 were spent in the alternative universe known as Conference World. I did get out of the Compound for dinner one evening, taking a rickshaw around the lake to a small, relaxed Indian place with great food. And there were definitely a few adventures in Conference World, but they were all work-related in some form or another.

Oh, and yes, I have not had even a hint of illness. Touch wood. And hand sanitiser. But not water.

And then, off to Goa.

Coming, coming

Never fear (as I’m sure you were concerned even paid a second’s attention), I have not – touch wood – been ill. My next India posts are coming soon.

I have been taking notes and photos and video. I have also been working from 6am until 11pm every day in some form or another (yes, another form does include free cocktails in the Executive Lounge).

I have also been into and all around the city, to a Bollywood studio, to several great restaurants, and spent hours upon hours upon hours in Mumbai traffic in good buses, no-suspension buses, good cars, dodgy cars and a tuk tuk. But I’ve also spent a lot of time being compound bound.

What day is it again?

In Which I Was, Momentarily, One of Those People

India 2012 – Day Two

My first meal in India was Vegemite toast.

But!

Wait!

Let me explain:

Like any regular traveller, I’m sure, I have my little routines. When I have a morning flight I like to get to the airport in reasonable time and get checked-in and then head to the Qantas Club and make myself some Vegemite toast and have a few glasses of orange juice (and maybe a Diet Coke) and take my pre-flight Sudafed and just take a few minutes of downtime before the flight.

However, yesterday morning I was thwarted. I checked in and went up to the Business Lounge which was mysteriously populated with small birds who had somehow made it inside, upstairs and through several doors to be happily perched in the rafters, but was completely Vegemite-free. There were four kinds of artisan jam, and honey, but the Vegemite bowl was empty. So I was left with stupid honey on stupid toast and an unsatisfied craving for Vegemite and routine.

Then, this morning, when I walked into the Executive Lounge in this giant hotel at which I am staying, located on a lake north of Mumbai, and found to my great surprise amidst all the Indian delicacies and offers of eggs and six types of cheese, a toaster and jars of Vegemite, I felt I needed to deal with my unsatisfied craving. I only had one slice, but that was all that was required. And I’ve got another week to try every other thing on the buffet breakfast menu.

Don’t worry though, I moved on the dahl and naan and some nicely spiced grilled fish for lunch.

If that sounds bland it really wasn’t, it was light and tasty. But being here at the hotel really doesn’t feel very particularly Indian. More generic 5 star hotel. Therefore pleasant, civilised and not particularly interesting.

*

Once you’re inside, that is.

The getting inside was a stark reminder of some of the realities here. There is some major security here. It’s a compound. There is barbed wire along the lake-front.

I don’t get the impression that the security is principally about keeping the masses out (or the water buffalo I can see from here), though I’m sure there’s an element of that. I think it’s more a product of the overall security issues, and I assume heightened after what happened at the Taj a couple of years ago. There are full vehicle sweeps before cars can enter the hotel property. There are high walls and gates and inside them bollards that rise up and down to let cars enter and exit, or prevent them from doing so. Then there is full airport-style security with bag x-rays and metal detectors at the front entrance, and a little cubicle into which they take female arrivals so that a security woman – dressed in sari – can wave the metal detector wand over you without the indignity of holding your arms out from your sides in front of the men.

Once you get past that though, you’re in 5 star hotel land. Greeted with a traditional Indian blessing and a glass of juice, lead to a lounge to wait while they scan your passport and credit card rather than having to, heaven forbid, stand at the reception desk. Personally escorted to your room while your bags are delivered separately. The service is impeccable.

As a place to relax a little and do business, it’s perfect. The surroundings are lovely and the fast wi-fi is highly appreciated. And I am here for work, the hotel chosen (not by me) because it’s the venue for a conference I’m attending in the second half of next week.

If I weren’t here for that I wouldn’t have stayed this far out of the city centre, as to go out you really do need to hire a cab and drive for quite some time. As a visitor to a new place I prefer to be able to walk somewhere to get my bearings and then figure things out from there. The idea of having to get into a cab with a destination in mind is more annoying; it requires more pre-planning and thought. Neither of which I was up to today. So I just hung out in the hotel, got some reading done, got some sleep, and recharged a little. Which was  the original plan for the day when I elected to fly in a day early. Tomorrow there will be some more of that, and concerted work planning, and then initial meetings with my colleagues before the onslaught of the week ahead.

Monday and Tuesday though, all our meetings are out around the city. So I feel like I’ll get my bearings a bit more, get a feel for the place, get some of the culture shock I’ve been promised – the drive in from the airport on absolutely packed streets with crazy traffic at 11pm last night gave a hint of that – and then find it easier to go out and explore on my own later in the week once my meeting schedule is done and before I go down to Goa. I am certain I will be sick of the hotel by then.

And, or course, I will eat only local food every meal. Although all that cheese for breakfast will be quite tempting.

* The view from my room, taken through glass with the iPhone. All photos this trip will be from the phone as my camera died this morning.

Notes from the Air

India 2012 – Day One

– Dear Airlines of the World, Coke Zero is NOT the same as, nor an acceptable substitute for, Diet Coke. So if you could stock both on the planes, like you did until very recently, those of us who once gave it up for a whole year but are really quite shamelessly addicted to Diet Coke and actively dislike Coke/Coke Zero would really appreciate it. Especially when we’re on a plane with rotten sinuses and a lot of work that we didn’t quite finish before leaving the office and would like to get done by the time it’s socially acceptable to order a cocktail instead. Thanks, Uli.

– I eat ridiculous amounts when I fly. Yesterday I had 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches (one of which was 3 courses), a couple of snacks, and dinner.

I think it’s the thankfully usually dormant I Don’t Know Where My Next Meal Is Coming From instinct kicking in. Combined with the fact my sinuses are always extra-dodgy when I fly and I find eating at regular intervals helps with the associated headaches and vague-to-crippling nausea, not to mention lining the stomach for the vast quantities of Sudafed I take.

So yesterday there was stupid honey on stupid toast before the flight (see the next post for the explanation of the likely currently unfathomable grumpiness in that description. Unless you hate honey, in which case ignore this diversion), because on an 8.30am flight you probably will get breakfast, but what if you don’t? Then, of course, I did in fact get a substantial breakfast on the plane. Flying Business, a choice of 3 actually, and who is going to say no to that?

I flew via Perth, which aside from the utterly hopeless inter-terminal transport at that airport, was a great decision. It meant that my trip was 3 short legs of between 3.5 and 4.5 hours, and I found that to work pretty well. When I got to Perth the aforementioned transfer between the terminals was spectacularly inefficient, so by the time I got to the Qantas Club in the international terminal I was nursing a now frustration-enhanced sinus headache, and had a desperate need for something to eat notwithstanding the two breakfasts. Also a stiff drink. I knew there would be lunch on the next flight, but my snack of cheese and biscuits was, really, more than enough for a meal. It was basically half a packet of water crackers and a slab of cheese. Oh, and dip. But it simply wouldn’t have made the right impression to sit there with just a giant glass of wine and 2 actual Diet Cokes at 11am local time would it?

On the next leg there was a three course lunch with wine, pre-lunch cocktails, pre-flight champagne and repeated offers of post-lunch chocolate which I didn’t take up, because even I draw the line somewhere.

On the final leg I was on a different carrier and back to Economy, and dinner was not as spectacular, but still perfectly serviceable, and required to tide me over during the 45 minutes of waiting at 10.30pm for the bags to arrive off the plane. Because that’s the thing, on the flights themselves you can almost always get something to eat if you really need to, but not if you’re stuck in immigration or customs queues or waiting for bags, and that’s when I tend to start to really feel the travel. I’m usually ok on the planes themselves, but once I’m in the airport and waiting for the next flight or the bags, that’s when I start to feel grotty heading fast towards rat-shit. And if I haven’t eaten then it’s only likely to be worse. Thus all the eating on the planes themselves.

– In case it didn’t quite come through amidst all the mentions of food, the transfer system between the domestic and international airports in Perth sucks big time. I know that while they are multiple kilometres apart, the two terminals are on the same piece of land and I’m 99% certain that my bags and the crew, both of which also transferred from my domestic flight to my international one, didn’t have to take a bus which only runs once every 50 minutes, was running 45 minutes late, and drove on the regular roads which included major roadworks and, for a period of five minutes, a mysterious hold up that meant no traffic was going in either direction. Just what you want when trying to make a flight. Or in my case, when I’d been planning on sitting the lounge for an hour to finish up some work instead of inhaling cheese and making hurried and probably over-loud phone calls to the office in the 20 minutes I wound up actually having. I’m sure the crew and the baggage were just driven across the tarmac, rather than around the airport, just as happens everywhere else in the bloody world if they don’t have an efficient train system or terminals that are walking distance apart. Neither of which Perth has. So why that can’t happen for transiting passengers as well, I have no idea. I’d actually have been perfectly happy to sit on my luggage on the back of an open baggage cart trundling across the tarmac inhaling avgas. It would have been faster and less frustrating. Or, at the very least, they could run the stupid bus more often.

– I was amused to see I was not alone in my plans for the Perth-Singapore afternoon leg of the trip. My plans involved the abovementioned 3 course meal, wine, cocktail, a bit of reading and a nap. As it turned out, that was everyone’s plan for the flight. It’s a comfortable 4.5 hour trip starting at lunchtime. Everyone in the under-populated Business class cabin, the guys in suits who clearly do this trip regularly, the little old lady behind me heading for London, the hip-hop wannabe (I assume, from his outfit), and me, on business but looking like I’m on holiday – I do not see the point of dressing up for a flight, ever – ate, drank, and then slept through the last couple of hours of the flight. The afternoon nap is for everyone given the opportunity.

– That under-populated Perth-Singapore leg was so relatively empty that we were boarded and the doors were closed ready to leave 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time. In fact, in what must have been something of an aviation miracle, all three flights I took yesterday arrived early. That’s right, you heard me. Left on time. Arrived early. Due to tail winds, mainly. Of course all those efficiencies were lost upon landing because none of the airports were actually prepared for early arrivals. In Perth we lost the 15 minutes we’d gained while flying sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate to open up. In Mumbai we lost the 20 minutes we’d gained waiting for the staircar to actually arrive at the plane.

– I really don’t have a problem with small kids on planes talking too loudly because they can’t hear themselves over the headphones and plane noises, but when the parent takes up even louder tuneless singing that has everyone else turning around and looking at them, then I really, really appreciate my noise-cancelling headphones. I mean, I could still hear him over them, but he was muffled considerably.

– The last leg of my trip was on the Indian carrier, Jet Airways, and it was perfectly fine though I was amused that the background muzak they were playing while waiting for take-off and disembarkation was made up of Christmas Carols – Walking in a Winter Wonderland, etc – and Auld Lang Syne. Also, although the plane was a relatively new airbus, it was kitted out like it was 1982.

 

Trip Planning

I am currently Planning my trip to India.

I never Plan my trip anywhere, really. Certainly not to the point of, three weeks out – as I am now – contemplating what to put into a medical kit.

My usual pre-overseas trip routine goes like this:

Phase One – The 2-3 Days From Idea For Trip to Fully Booked Trip

– Have idea for trip, usually around 11.30am on a weekday when my To Do List is 65 items long and my stomach is rumbling for lunch

– Spend a couple of hours on airline websites comparing flights: book flight(s).

– Spend a couple of days looking around accommodation websites (I usually book through Tablet or Octopus) with an occasional glance at a guide book if it’s somewhere I’ve never been before: book hotel(s).

– Book rental car, if required.

– Buy travel insurance.

If, of course, it is a work-organised trip I just send the PA an email with preferred flight times and all of the above is done for me.

Phase Two – Week Before Trip

– Print out all the e-Tickets and Hotel Vouchers and Meeting Agendas and a Map from Airport to Hotel if driving.

– Take out the appropriate luggage, leave it lying open in 2nd bedroom to throw things at as I think of them.

Phase Three – Night Before Trip

– Pack.

Phase Four – On Plane

– Actually read the travel guide, maybe.

This routine comes, I suppose, from a combination of being a seasoned unfussy traveler, generally traveling to first world cities, and not wanting to take the spontaneity out of everything by over-planning. I’m not, however, completely devil-may-care. I do need a pre-booked hotel, for example.

Going to India, though, I feel like I need to give it a little more thought. All the above Phases still apply, but there’s a couple of new ones, Phases One-A and One-B. Plase One-A took place a couple of weeks ago with actually having to get a visa. Although the level of detailed required (it’s a business visa) was substantial, and it cost a small fortune (not being paid for by me), it was a pretty quick process and I can no longer complain about having virtually no stamps in my new-ish passport. The thing takes up a full page.

I’m now in Phase One-B, which has me, two-three weeks out, actually reading the guidebook, a bit. Checking for power adaptor types, and knowing I’ll need to pre-organise currency instead of just going to my Foreign Currency Drawer or the ATM at the airport.

And putting together an actual travel medical kit. My usual travel kit is Sudafed, Bandaids, and anti-inflamatories for my Old Lady Foot. Who really needs more than that if you’re in Paris or Singapore or New York? Now I’m buying Gastrolyte and Imodium and contemplating strengths of antiseptic cream.

Of course, I’m not exactly going into the wilds on this trip. I have 9 days at a 5-star conference hotel in Mumbai to begin with. Airport transfers provided by the hotel. And I imagine I will be able to get virtually anything I need in that city just as I could in Hong Kong or London. But that is the work section of the trip and I’m not sure exactly how much time I’ll have (not sure mainly because those organising that part of the trip are clearly working the way I normally do and I still don’t have a semblance of an itinerary or meeting list, but, ah well, not my problem).

Then I’m taking a flight down to Goa and having 6 days in a 5-star resort in the south (a quick Google was all that was required to know not to stay in the north), from which I will explore. Or possibly just lie by the pool reading and drinking cocktails such is my level of exhaustion. I vaguely contemplated, back in Phase One, going to a couple of different places – perhaps on a boat in Kerala etc – for the holiday part of this trip, but in the end concluded that if I had to face more than one internal flight and the accompanying bag-lugging, I would come home even more tired than I am now, and that’s really not a suitable outcome. So just Goa on this trip, and if I like it, I can, of course, always go back.

Perhaps when I go back India will just be like any other trip, with no need for extra Planning of any kind. And I can always be hopeful that the travel first aid kit will be completely unneeded on this trip and therefore available to just throw into my bag in Phase Two or Three next time. That’s not too much to ask for, right? Right?

 

The Business of Business Class

I unexpectedly got to try out the new Virgin domestic Business Class yesterday.

I rarely fly Business Class on domestic flights. It seems distinctly not worth the money or wasting the points on an upgrade for a flight of one or two hours. For a trip to Perth, sure, but otherwise not unless I get offered an upgrade. But I’ve certainly done it often enough on upgrades and back when half my family worked in the airlines so upgrades were the norm, to know what works and what doesn’t.

I fly most often either mid-week for work – sometimes going to Sydney or Brisbane and back in a day for meetings – or going away for the weekend, going straight from the office on a Friday night and coming back on Sunday afternoon.

Those Sunday afternoon flights are generally the only ones when I’m not pressed for time, coming from somewhere tired, needing to get to somewhere at a specific time. And the time on the flight is either the time to do meeting prep or work catch-up, or, most pleasantly, just take an hour out with a book.

I’ve usually got only carry-on luggage, and like to pass through airports like George Clooney in Up in the Air (a film that had substantial resonance with me, you will not be surprised to hear).

So, really, Business Class should be appealing in any number of ways.

The irony is therefore that I’ve never really had the need to fly Business Class on the only domestic airline that has offered it until recently, Qantas. To the common destinations of Sydney and Brisbane I usually fly with them. For a combination of reasons: (a) a family history with the airline, although none of the family still work there (so don’t blame me for groundings or lost luggage); (b) a high frequent flyer status; (c) a lot of points which I sometimes use for such interstate trips though mainly hold back for international upgrades; (d) membership to the Qantas Club which allows me to check-in easily without queues, even with checked baggage, and the opportunity to get a drink and something to eat and work in relative peace with free wifi before the flight, and a place to continue doing those things in the event of a delay; and (e) the knowledge that during the flight I will at the very least be able to get a snack and a drink without having to pay for it. Therefore I don’t actually need Business Class for the short flights.

The problem with that, though, is that the place I have flown on business more often than anywhere else in recent years is the Gold Coast. Where Qantas doesn’t fly. And where the airport is not remotely designed for business travellers.

I understand this. The Gold Coast and northern NSW are hardly prime business destinations, and there’s probably little value in running premium services there. But when I am passing through there going from office to airport to plane to airport to rental car to office and visa versa, the combination of low service airport and low cost airlines has begun to wear thin.

A typical flight for me out of the Gold Coast involves driving from the office in the mid-late afternoon, returning a rental car, and then finding myself in an airport that has been very nicely made-over in recent years but which is essentially a large, over-priced food court with no space to semi-quietly get some work done, no free wifi, and a lot of holiday-weary children running around the place. That is then followed by getting on a flight where I can’t even get a lemonade unless I pay for it.

I’ve flown both Virgin and Jetstar in and out of the Coast. I generally prefer Jetstar on the way up because then I can use the Qantas Club in Melbourne at least. These days I’m a member of the Velocity Lounge too, for all the reasons mentioned above. And while the two lounges are much of a muchness in terms of food, drink, space (or lack thereof) and facilities, in Melbourne at least the Q Club still wins because of the utterly stupid location of the Velocity Lounge (which I know is not the case in other places). I realise there are limitations, but seriously, what is the point of a club lounge which is located before the security checks? So you can’t just leave the lounge and go to the plane, you have to leave the lounge and go through security and then go to the plane. And while there is a dedicated premium queue at security, it doesn’t apply to all club members, only some (i.e. it doesn’t apply to me).

And that last point – that certain things only apply to some – is relevant to my amusement with my first experience of the new Virgin domestic Business Class yesterday.

Virgin has, in my view, always been great at running a low cost domestic airline. Sure, the seats were as uncomfortable as all get-out, but they’re slowly upgrading to the new 737-800s and Airbuses and those seats are far more comfortable. The staff have always been friendly and once they stopped trying to be stand-up comedians, bearable; the flights turn around quickly and their inflight entertainment – with Foxtel – was good. Though that’s been disappearing with the old planes.

They obviously felt, however, that they were missing out on the business traveller in particular. And they were. For all the reasons mentioned above, I flew them only when required because the full-service airline didn’t fly to my business destination. And I got very frustrated having to fly them on business trips when I was busy. Even though that had nothing to do with the existence of Business Class itself.

So they’ve started to introduce Business Class and a few other changes in an obvious attempt to compete with Qantas. Which might work out in the long term but in the short term is highly amusing. Because they haven’t quite figured it out yet.

I flew up to the Coast last week, on an early evening flight, on one of the new 737-800s, in economy. The seats were more comfortable, but the flight comes with no entertainment options at all. There was an announcement that as it was an after 4pm weekday flight – i.e. a prime business person flight – that in economy there would be free beer or wine. That is, the same thing Qantas has been doing for what, a decade or more? All good, until the dawning realisation that they haven’t thought things through. The beer and wine was free, but you still had to pay for soft drinks! I’d say that’s not only bad service, it might well be dangerous.

On the way home, lunchtime on Friday because I had to get back into the office in Melbourne in the afternoon, I was upgraded to the new Business Class. Nice. The weather had been awful, we’d been stuck in the food court airport longer than intended, but were grateful just to be getting away because several flights before us had been cancelled.

The flight was almost full and I imagine I scored the upgrade by virtue of travelling alone on a substantial corporate account with frequent flyer status and club membership. All of which is relevant to what followed.

New plane with roomy and comfortable seats and plenty of leg room. Though no inflight entertainment. Non-alcoholic beverages were offered before take-off. After take-off a pre-lunch snack was brought around. Though, like Qantas, Virgin still seems to be working on the presumption that a pack/bowl of nuts with no alternate is the best airline snack option. Which I – who cannot eat nuts – fail to understand given the proliferation of nut allergies.

Then, lunch. There were 7 of us in Business. Between us we got 3 different types of meals. Based on what type of ticket we had.

The two gentlemen on either side of me, travelling on Business Class tickets, received shepherd’s pie, a bread roll and butter (in a dish, not a packet, which is how you know it’s Business Class on any airline the world over), and a chocolate tart. Proper cutlery – including knife, interestingly – and china. Linen napkin. All good.

Then the flight attendant arrived with my lunch and advised that because I was travelling on a different fare, a flexi economy fare that had been upgraded, I got a different lunch. The shepherd’s pie, the bread roll, but I was denied butter, and instead of a chocolate tart my dessert was a large cookie and three triangles of Toblerone clearly broken off a normal sized block and served in a small dish clearly intended for … butter. The couple behind me had also been upgraded, but apparently off a sale economy fare. So they got the same butterless roll and dessert as me, but instead of the shepherd’s pie they received the regular meat pie that they sell in economy until they run out, usually 4 rows in.

The shepherd’s pie was, I must say, hot, delicious and very much appreciated. The roll was warm and also nice, however dry. I don’t really eat dessert so that was neither here nor there (aside from noting the nutty status of the Toblerone and my ongoing mirth at the way it was served).

You see what I mean, though, about the airline not having figured out how to do Business Class yet?

You have a (new or long-running, it doesn’t matter) premium service. You want people to use it. You have 8 seats, of which 2 have been purchased by full-fare paying passengers. You upgrade some who, like me, is the absolute prime demographic you are seeking as a passenger. The type of person who is more likely than anyone else to appreciate and find use for this service.

Then you go out of your way to point out that they’re only an upgrade and don’t get the same as the full fare paying people?

It seems completely obvious to me that if you want to encourage people to become full fare paying Business Class passengers, then treat them like that when you upgrade them. Give them the full service you’d like them to pay for next time.

And don’t make more work for your usually efficient staff by making them have to serve 3 different combinations of meals to 7 people, none of whom is vegetarian?

Speaking of more work, you may notice that I haven’t yet mentioned the drink service. That’s because drinks weren’t offered until after the meal was finished. Which I think was more about disorganisation rather than policy, but still. Fortunately I had a bottle of water in my bag because I’d thought I was flying Economy. A request for a glass of white wine was met with the option of Chardonnay or Riesling, but no mention of brands, and the Riesling that came, while perfectly quaffable, was warm. Ongoing refills were offered, but the flight was pretty much over by then, so you’d have had to be skulling in order to reasonably order a second glass (not that I would have, I was going straight from the plane to the office, after all).

I do think things will improve. Clearly there will be teething issues. And staff who aren’t used yet to this type of service, their jobs made more difficult by what seem to be some ridiculous policies.

And while I generally don’t feel the need for domestic Business Class, I’m more likely to consider paying for it having the company pay for it on the Gold Coast-Melbourne leg than any other, when otherwise I have the benefit of neither the club lounge or any airline service. So I will be interested in how it improves over time and whether it has any success on that and other routes.

But in the meantime, should you really be offering people a free beer but making them pay for lemonade? And does it really save you that much to deny the upgraded butter?