Dining to Nowhere: What we found aboard Singapore Airlines’ jet-restaurant (Photos)

Carolyn Teo
·5-min read

The grounding of its planes hasn’t stopped Singapore Airlines from offering luxury dining experiences aboard a parked Airbus A380.

Restaurant A380 was one of the national carrier’s new experiences offered in a bid to staunch hemorrhaging losses due to pandemic travel restrictions. The pop-up restaurant idea opened two weeks ago to a positive response, with the airline quickly bragging that it had sold all seats, leading it to add another weekend of dining.

Coconuts Singapore was invited to Saturday’s launch and got a first-hand experience of what it’s like to get that air cabin travel experience without the traveling. While there was no flight turbulence or impressive seat views, the experience did come with a flight delay, familiar captain addresses, and sub-par airline food – just like the pre-COVID days.

The pandemic pop-up restaurant runs for two weekends and we got a business class seat, which costs S$321 (about US$236).

Pre-dinner: Tour of A380, cockpit

The crew dressed in the airline’s traditional costumes. Photo: Coconuts
The crew dressed in the airline’s traditional costumes. Photo: Coconuts

Families and couples were already scattered around Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 waiting area when we arrived in the late afternoon. Some even took the experience seriously enough to lug baggage along and dress their children in the airline’s trademark kebaya uniforms.

Boarding time was set at 7pm, and each passenger was handed something that looked like a dining invitation with names, seat numbers, and flight destinations like “Delhi” and “Bangkok” printed on them.

The boarding card. Photo: Coconuts
The boarding card. Photo: Coconuts

Airplane staff kept us busy with cabin crew photo ops, caricature sketches, and a 15-minute tour of the Airbus A380, including its cockpit. The crew also took us to see all 471 seats on the plane and its suites. Taking photos was allowed in the cockpit, but the control panels were off limits for security reasons.

The boarding entrance for the pre-dining tour of the A380. Photo: Coconuts
The boarding entrance for the pre-dining tour of the A380. Photo: Coconuts
The A380 suites. Photo: Coconuts
The A380 suites. Photo: Coconuts

Pre-dining activities ended more quickly than we had anticipated and left us with an hour of nothing to do before dinner. There was also an unexpected 20-minute flight delay to board the plane, despite it not being scheduled to go anywhere. But hey, we’ve all experienced that part of travel life, including finding someone sitting in your seat and awkwardly asking them to scoot.

The business class pod was spacious and had plenty of legroom. We could stretch our legs fully without playing accidental footsie with the person next to us.

One of the middle row business class seats. Photo: Coconuts
One of the middle row business class seats. Photo: Coconuts
One of the single business class seats on the side. Photo: Coconuts
One of the single business class seats on the side. Photo: Coconuts
The Business Class seats. Photo: Coconuts
The Business Class seats. Photo: Coconuts

Once everyone was seated, the cabin crew took us through the whole shebang of pointing out the emergency exits and introducing the cabin crew members. The captain also thanked us for coming onboard the pop-up restaurant and told us how happy he was to be “flying” with people again, saying: “You can feel me smiling right now.”

The pre-flight formalities were shorter than usual with no flight attendants demonstrating life vests. The in-flight safety video was replaced with a short clip of crew members welcoming passengers who weren’t going anywhere. Making that sad reality more apparent were the screens showing the flight departing Singapore for Singapore.

The television showing the destinations as Singapore to Singapore. Photo: Coconuts
The television showing the destinations as Singapore to Singapore. Photo: Coconuts

Dining

It didn’t take long for dinner to be served. We chose the Peranakan three-course meal spread prepared by Singaporean chef Shermay Lee.

The airline’s signature satay. Photo: Coconuts
The airline’s signature satay. Photo: Coconuts

For starters, we were served chicken satay with cucumber, onion and peanut sauce. The meat was juicy and slid off the stick nicely but the peanut sauce was slightly greasy. It looked appetizing unlike the vegan version made with Impossible’s fake meat, which drew flak earlier this month for looking, well, like crap.

The chicken salad was fresh and crisp, and was served with shredded chicken, prawn and jellyfish on a bed of lettuce with coleslaw dressing. The cold dish was paired nicely with a warm and crispy garlic bread that was picked from a bread basket.

The chicken, prawn and jellyfish salad. Photo: Coconuts
The chicken, prawn and jellyfish salad. Photo: Coconuts

For the mains, we were served with Nonya Grandma’s Nasi Lemak that came with coconut-infused rice, chili prawns and fried anchovies, fish cooked in turmeric gravy and a side of pickled cucumbers. It was a strangely acidic meal with nearly everything leaning towards the sour side. We wished the rice had more coconut, the gravy was richer, and the spices spicier. As a Nasi Lemak fan, the main dish didn’t quite meet our expectations. Either that or reliably mediocre airline food was intended to be part of an authentic in-flight experience.

The coconut-infused rice with sambal prawns and ikan bilis. Photo: Coconuts
The coconut-infused rice with sambal prawns and ikan bilis. Photo: Coconuts
The fish in turmeric gravy with pickled cucumbers and chilli on the side. Photo: Coconuts
The fish in turmeric gravy with pickled cucumbers and chili on the side. Photo: Coconuts

For dessert, the gula melaka or palm sugar ice cream sandwiched in crispy wafers helped wash away all that sourness from our palate. It wasn’t too frozen either.

The Gula Melaka ice cream sandwich. Photo: Coconuts
The gula melaka ice cream sandwich. Photo: Coconuts

Singapore Airlines has successfully created a safe experience and probably the closest people can get to crossing borders freely. The next step is the actual flying.

Was the food worth over S$300? Most definitely not. It’s the exclusive experience that only came about because of the pandemic which you can enjoy for a portion of the price of a regular flight ticket.

It is suitable for those who have yet to fly with the airline or those who have bad travel withdrawals and are struggling to cope with being confined in the same country for almost a year. The dining experience might just trick you into thinking you’re about to take off for the three hours that it lasts. But as you alight the plane without any jet lag, you might just end up with a greater yearning to travel.

The A380. Photo: Coconuts
The A380. Photo: Coconuts

Other stories you should check out:

Singapore Airlines sells all seats aboard parked A380 for lunch dining
Singapore Airlines opens up more dates for jet restaurant
Singapore Airlines should go vegan to cut carbon before flying ‘nowhere,’ PETA says
In pictures: Journey to the new Apple’s core at Marina Bay Sands

This article, Dining to Nowhere: What we found aboard Singapore Airlines’ jet-restaurant (Photos), originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company.