Ding ding! Britain’s most famous cheffy franchises are going head to head at Britain’s two largest airports. In the Heathrow corner: Gordon Ramsay Plane Food, established in 2008 at Terminal 5. In the Gatwick corner, just opened: a three-part “restaurant area” from Jamie Oliver, including Jamie’s Italian Bakery, a Union Jacks Bar, and a full-blown branch of Jamie’s Italian. Come out frying, and may the best man win.
You go to an airport for one reason: to leave. Your only desire, once there, is to get the hell out as quickly as possible. So why would you be thinking about eating a good meal in this unremittingly grim setting? There are several reasons, and they’re pretty good ones. Planes occasionally get delayed. Aeroplane food is statutorily revolting despite sporadic efforts to improve it. Cautious travellers arrive early and have time on their hands; those who left the house for an early-bird flight won’t have had time for breakfast.
So first Mr Ramsay and now Mr Oliver have addressed the needs of those hapless travellers very cannily. In Oliver’s case, this involves variants on his standard Union Jack and Italian offerings that cater specifically for those who are short of time. The bakery offers everything from cookies to pizzas, to eat in or take on to the plane. Union Jacks Bar too concentrates on speedy stuff – small plates, sandwiches and rolls. Jamie’s Italian offers full meals, including a new breakfast menu (on which the only Italian item is prosecco). This is the option to ponder when you learn that the plane carrying you to Los Angeles is still in Dubai.
These restaurants pose formidable logistical challenges. They’re open from first flight of the day at 3am till the last departure at midnight, and everyone and everything has to go through airport security. Jamie’s bakery has someone baking all night, and flour being dangerous stuff they had to build a secure room to store it.
Ramsay Plane Food is smaller and less diverse than the Oliver extravaganza, and the food is all recognisably in the Gordon Ramsay mode of modern European cooking. But he too touches all the meal-occasion bases: breakfast to dinner, quick bite or full meal, eat in or take away.
Incidentally: the new Oliver operation prides itself on using gas in the kitchen, while Ramsay has to make do with electric. Don’t fall too quickly for this line. Gas may have the edge as fuel for the hob, but electric will perform perfectly well under the control of a good chef.
You might say that these airport operations have it easy, because they have a captive audience, but don’t be too sure. Travellers also have access to less exalted airport food, and the attractions of a Pret à Manger should never be underestimated. (I confess to a guilty liking for Boots sandwiches, too, especially as they’re cheap.) Or you can nibble a little of the aeroplane food you’ve already paid for, putting off any serious eating until you hit your destination. A BLT in Manhattan? Pizza in Naples? Curry-wurst in Berlin? No offence meant, Messrs Oliver and Ramsay, but I know where I’d spend my money.
But plenty of people disagree with me. Gatwick Airport speaks of a YouGov poll finding that nearly a quarter of passengers wanted to see better dining in the departures lounge – and since they get 34 million people a year passing through, that’s a lot of demand. Jamie Oliver has proved his ability to “roll out” moderately priced restaurant franchises on a large scale, and that makes him particularly well suited to a highly commercial environment such as Gatwick. And I’d love to think that some travellers will choose a Unions Jacks Pulled Pork Roll () over a burger from one of the famous fast food places that also lurk on the premises. Union Jacks champions British food and British producers, and for that alone they’re to be applauded.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.