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The Best Meals in First Class, Ranked

Todd Bliwise has been flying around the world for years, and knows the airline industry in and out. He’ll be sharing his tips and tricks with us in this column, Speed of Flight. Today: The best meals in first class.

There are some serious perks in premium cabins: the flat-bed seats, the big TV screens, all that space. But sometimes, I’m most impressed with the food. From caviar service to full-blown cheese courses, it can be the ultimate luxurious experience. Even still, some brands do it better than others. I’ve tasted a huge variety of meals in first class—here’s what it’s like to be dining in the plane’s most premium cabin, and the airlines that do it the best.

1. Singapore Airlines
Singapore pioneered the idea of luxury dining on demand years ago with the implementation of their “book the cook” program, which allows guests to choose their main entrée up to 24 hours before the flight. Choices are based on regional specialties, and range from a full traditional Japanese meal on Tokyo flights to their famous lobster thermidor (note: they offer this in Business Class too; but, humorously, the lobster is actually much smaller). The hardest dishes to do well on an airplane are fish dishes—and when an airline can nail seafood, like Singapore has, it’s doing something right. As is standard in first class, the meal is served on fine china with opulent silverware and crystal glassware, and stands alongside an impressive wine list. Plus, they greet you with one of my favorites: Dom Perignon 2004.

2. Swiss Air
Swiss Air’s first-class dining  is a substantial margin above their business-class dining experience, and has one of the greatest selection of cheeses (paired with proper wines and port, pictured above) that I have ever experienced. All my flights with Swiss Air First have been exceptional and very few service flaws to speak of over the years. The beef, which is cooked perfectly to order, is among the best I have ever had in the sky. All meals also come partnered with an impressive wine list.

3. Emirates
Lobster, Arabic mezze, lentil soup—Emirates’ delicious menu has an emphasis on Middle Eastern dishes. While their Western meal options are good, they’re not spectacular—certainly not as good as their regional specialties. The meal is served upon your request inside your private suite (yes—Emirates has private suites for first-class customers). Being able to close the door and dine at your own pace adds to the luxury of this delicious meal. The selection of wine and aperitifs is quite impressive, too. Oh, and you can’t forget that welcome service with Arabic coffee and dates poured from the traditional dallah (filled to 1/3 of the cup, per tradition). To top it off, the in-suite mini bar allows for top-offs, even with that door closed.

Cathay Pacific_First Class_Caviar_Darren Foreman

The Champagne and caviar service on Cathay Pacific.

4. Etihad
One of the things I really like about Etihad first class is that they let you build your own main course. You can choose the main, the preparation, the sides—everything. They have a wide selection of starters, too. This ability to choose what you want and how you want it cooked is especially good for those of us (you know who you are) who have trickier and more specific palates. For those who spend forever ordering at a restaurant—this is the meal service for you! The food, similar to Emirates, is great, but again with special emphasis on their regional delicacies. The selection of fruit juice and mixes adds an interesting touch. Try one of the lime-infused drinks.

5. Cathay Pacific
Cathay Pacific’s first class meal service used to a be a little higher on my list. Their iconic Krug Champagne and Caviar starter used to include a bit of salmon and other bites, but has since been scaled back slightly. Still, the meal service continues to be one of the finest, presentation-wise, in the sky. The Cathay Pacific team is always warm, welcoming, and serve with a smile, which can often make all the difference. Also worth noting: Their garlic bread is killer. Please, just be sure to brush your teeth after eating it.

Todd Bliwise is the founder of An Avenue Apart.

Photo courtesy Swiss Airlines/Darren Foreman