I haven’t had a good history with ovens.
I think it all started when a seven year old me watched my dad (a trained mechanical engineer by profession) toss his phone inside the microwave, convinced this was the best way to dry it after it fell into a pond. I vividly remember the sounds- the hissing, the sparks, the incredulous diatribe of my mother.
It didn’t get much better in JC, when the cookies I baked for the girl I had a crush on ended up giving her food poisoning. She later told me her rejection was not because of the explosive diarrhoea, but rather my general awkwardness and all-round poor grooming. It was sweet of her to invent a story to protect my feelings, but I knew deep down it was really because of the cookies.
So as I surveyed the assortment of food I was expected to pop into the oven and not destroy, I had a sinking feeling I might be on the verge of ruining a $608 home delivery.
COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the airline industry. Borders are closed, tourists shunned, travel shaming is now a thing, and legacy carriers are filing for bankruptcy protection at an astonishing rate. IATA reports that in July 2020, global airlines carried 80% fewer passengers than they did a year ago.
During this period, airlines have had to resort to some unconventional ways of staying afloat. Qantas has sold fully stocked bar carts, complete with Australian wines, champagne, and of course Tim Tams. THAI Airways set up an airplane-themed cafe, and lets you experience life as a cabin crew for a day. EVA Air took passengers on a moon-gazing flight to nowhere during Mid-Autumn Festival.
At first, there was no sign that Singapore Airlines intended to join in these festivities- somewhat unsurprising for a company that has long considered itself to be above such frivolity (even passing on a chance to be featured in Crazy Rich Asians).
But as the months went by and it became increasingly clear that COVID-19 wasn’t just going to go away, there was increased pressure to start getting creative with alternative income streams. And when you burn through $4.4 billion in less than 3 months, your compunctions about not treating the brand as sacrosanct have a way of disappearing.
So it came to pass that last week, Singapore Airlines finally caved and launched Discover Your Singapore Airlines, a series of on-ground activities meant to engage the public, reinforce its brand, and raise some much-needed working capital.
Discover Your Singapore Airlines lets you dine on an A380 and visit the airline’s training facility, but it’s the home dining option that’s sparked the most intrigue (and in some quarters, ridicule). It didn’t help that a premature price leak showed the meals costing up to $498 before GST, a frightfully expensive figure for airline food.
While the Straits Times comments section is generally to be avoided (researchers classify it as Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans), the response was illuminating, a mix of sympathy, incredulity, derision, and good ol’ fashioned trolling.
But perhaps Singapore Airlines will have the last laugh. The Straits Times reports that in the first 12 hours, 32 first class and 25 business class meals were sold, plus add-ons. Based on list prices, that’s at least $20,000 of cash, roughly enough to operate an Airbus A350-900 for an hour and fifteen minutes.
It’s a start.
“This is not a home delivery service,” says SIA’s Vice President for In-flight Services and Design during the media preview. “This is about an experience at home, with the wines, satay and garlic bread that people miss.”
“Not…a….home…delivery….service” every journo dutifully jots down, before filling their reports.
But let’s call a spade a spade. You order the food online. It gets couriered over by a deliveryman. You warm it up and plate it. You eat the food. It’s basically Food Panda, with extra steps.
SIA@Home went live at midnight on 5 October, and despite my best efforts to stay up, I fall asleep and wake up in a cold sweat at 5 a.m, worried that all the meals were gone. Would I now have to buy one from a scalper on Carousell, and if so would I get a discount if I said my beloved pet fish just died and I had to travel by e-scooter from Pulau Ubin where we were performing a Viking funeral so fast deal bro?
I dash to my computer and log on to the KrisShop site. OK good, they still had a few options left.
But which one to buy? There are 31 different permutations, ranging from $258 to $888. I could cheap out with the vegetarian option, or spend close to a grand (keep in mind, all these prices don’t include GST) on a culinary extravaganza including Wedgwood bone china and Lalique crystalware. I’ve never tried Wedgwood bone china before, but I hear it’s delicious.
There are no options for vegans, but fortunately, we’re all full-blooded carnivores in the Milelion’s den (Joke: How do you know if someone’s vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll keep telling you). I eventually decide on the Matt Moran menu and pay a $120 top-up for the champagne package, because $120 for a bottle of Dom Pérignon 2008 is quite possibly the best deal since the Louisiana Purchase (although my mind also wonders if $448 for a reheated meal may well be the worst deal since Eric Djemba-Djemba).
|I later found out that those who opt for the Champagne and Dine package do not receive the red or white wine, so in retrospect it’s not that great a deal. They could do a much better job of making this clear though, because the KrisShop website says you get the First Class menu + champagne, and listed on the First Class menu is a choice of red or white wine|
After GST, the damage was a grand total of $608.
Now, I have a dirty little secret to confess. Although I’ve stated multiple times that you shouldn’t use your KrisFlyer miles for this because KrisShop gives you a paltry value of 0.8 cents per mile (you could get 2-5 cents when redeeming flights), I did in fact ignore my own advice.
To be fair, I also said that the only case for using your miles was if you had a really big stockpile on your hands, which I do thanks to COVID-19. So I spent 75,970 miles (roughly the cost of a round-trip Business Class ticket to Shanghai) for the sake of a review, and I apologise to anyone who has been disillusioned by this profligacy. Let us never speak of this again.
The KrisShop concierge calls to confirm my order (perhaps in disbelief that someone actually bought it), and informs me that for a further $321, I can hire a private chef for three hours to heat and plate the meals.
“A chef?” I ask. “Does he keep a little rat in his hair that teaches him the secrets of cooking and in doing so helps him discover newfound meaning and purpose in life?”
“I’ll have to check,” she says, and never gets back to me.
KrisShop quotes a period of 72 hours between ordering and delivery, and although I place my order bright and early on a Monday morning, the earliest delivery slot is only on Friday. This gives me a whole week to browse through various reviews from the press junket. One calls it a “world-class wining and dining experience”. Another suggests that it’s “only right to give back to an entity that has given us numerous bragging rights over the years”. Fortunately there was no review by Mothership, or we’d have to read a whole post of social media screenshots of what other people were saying about the meals.
But all the reviews so far have been based on a tasting in a carefully controlled environment, with the meals prepared and plated by chefs who know what they’re doing. What happens when you put the food in the hands of a culinary buffoon?
I’m about to find out.
The doorbell rings bright and early on Friday morning, just after 10. So serious am I about cosplay that I’d slept the night before in a pair of Lalique pyjamas from a previous Singapore Airlines flight.
Now, if you’re expecting an entire complement of SIA cabin crew to materialize at your door with a song and dance routine, you may want to adjust your expectations accordingly. For all the pomp and circumstance, SIA@Home is delivered in rather mundane circumstances. A third-party courier is dispatched with your order, and it arrives like any other package would. Greetings, signature, have a nice day.
My order comes in a big cooler bag containing several boxes, each labelled with an instructional card. If you order wine, note that it doesn’t arrive chilled, so budget time for that as well.
The other bag has the champagne and a couple of Lalique First Class amenities kits, and I briefly wonder if I could eat these and sue the company for not telling me they’re inedible. Sadly, we’re not in ‘Murica, or I’d be gnawing on my second one by now.
Singapore Airlines has prepared an entire suite of multimedia materials to accompany your meal, from an introduction by the chef, to heating and plating guides for each course, even videos of the cabin because why not.
I’m no expert, but I daresay these prep videos aren’t going to win any awards for cinematography.
First of all, the chef on screen never speaks a word. He merely follows the disembodied commands of an offscreen narrator, making it feel more like a corporate training video than a cook-along at home.
Second, there’s no background music, which means long periods of awkward silence between an instruction being issued and then carried out.
Third, where on earth are they shooting these videos? It looks like some makeshift conference room where someone plugged in a hot plate, microwave and oven into the nearest outlet.
I mean, we can’t all have the production values and manic energy of Gordon Ramsay (who always looks like he needs to pee), but letting the chef talk and shooting in a nicer setting wouldn’t go amiss. After all, the vibe we’re going for is “cooking at home”, not “reheating at catering facility”.
But that’s just nitpicking. If I wanted food porn, I’d watch Chef’s Table on Netflix. Besides, I have a bounty to prepare.
Now, ever since SIA@Home first launched I’ve been referring to the food as “microwave meals”. That’s technically incorrect.
You could use a microwave to make these, in the same way you could draw the Mona Lisa in crayon. However, the recommended method is to use a conventional oven, and in fact, Singapore Airlines has been careful to avoid the “m” word anywhere in its comms- a sensible move, given its association with convenience store fare.
But as an aside, the microwave isn’t the implement of the devil that reality cooking shows would have you believe. Professional chefs use it all the time, just for things that it was meant to be used for (like making clarified butter). At the end of the day, the microwave is just a tool, and like every tool, can be used in the right way or the wrong way.
In any case, I have a conventional oven, which I preheat to 160°C in preparation for greatness.
There’s minimal prep work involved. Remember, these meals were designed to be prepared for an entire cabin of hungry premium passengers, in a narrow window after take-off and/or before landing. You’re not exactly going for MasterChef here. In fact, you probably spend more time plating than heating.
The only drama came with the beef consommé, which had inexplicably not been packaged properly and sprung a leak upon reheating, spilling beefy goodness everywhere.
Bit by bit, the meal comes together.
“Can we eat now?” asks The Milelioness (who, for the record, was very patient the whole afternoon).
“No!” I say. “We must lay out the food in an elaborate manner and photograph it from every angle for the visual enjoyment of others!”
Before we can dig in, it’s time to put on the music.
To complete the experience, Singapore Airlines has compiled a special atmospheric playlist to recreate the onboard ambiance. While that should technically be the drone of white noise and the occasional whoosh of a vacuum flush, I suppose we can grant some artistic license here.
Besides, the playlist they’ve chosen is absolute genius. The moment I saw the first track (Glass of Delight, performed by Restaurant Background Music Academy, on the album Steakhouse Music), I knew this was going to be legendary.
I’m not making this up. Look at the playlist and tell me this is not the most awesome collection of songs ever curated. The aural cues come from such luminaries as:
- Steakhouse Music
- Restaurant Lounge Background Music, Vol 21
- Music for Hip Coffee Houses
- Home & Office Cafe Background Music (Finest Lounge, Smooth Jazz & Chill Instrumental Music for Wor… (I have no idea how this title ends, it’s so long that even Spotify cuts it off)
There’s one track called Garlic Soup, which sounds like something from a Weird Al parody album. There’s another called Sounds Like It Tastes Good, which reads like a transcript from the Clinton impeachment trial.
I am briefly reminded of the opening scene of Twelfth Night, wherein the lovesick Orsino says “If music be the food of love, play Restaurant Lounge Background Music, Vol 21.” So to whoever assembled this mixtape, I doff my hat to you. You had me at Sounds for Luxurious Meals.
The menu for today reads:
The meal begins with chicken satay. Singapore Airlines calls this their “signature” dish, although Malaysia Airlines might have something to say about that. I’m not going to get drawn into a cross-causeway food fight, suffice to say that SIA’s home delivery satay tastes exactly like it does at 30,000 feet- passable. It’s never going to give the Makansutra masters a run for the money, but anyone coming into this expecting life-changing food is going to be sorely disappointed.
Accompanying the satay is the famous garlic bread, which despite its reputation, tends to be hit and miss. I’ve been on flights where the garlic bread is wonderfully soft and warm in the centre. I’ve been on others where it’s so hard King Arthur couldn’t yank Excalibur from it. Perhaps there’s a certain technique to heating it, but I end up with the latter.
The next course is that old staple of First Class, caviar. It’s hard to imagine, but at some point in human history, one guy must have said to another “That fish? Let’s open it up and eat the eggs inside”. And of course the other said “No Bruce, we won’t do that” (because people with weird ideas are always named Bruce) but Bruce still did it anyway and here we are.
SIA provides a 30g portion of Russian Oscietra Caviar from Gourmet House (with a mother-of-pearl spoon too!), and for those keeping score at home, this retails at £46 ($81). They’re probably not paying that much on their end, but between this and the champagne ($229), that’s more than half the cost of the meal right there already.
It’s nice that the caviar is fairly recent stock, and SIA isn’t using this as an opportunity to flog off the expiring stuff. This particular jar was produced exactly a month ago.
You of course need to have caviar with champagne, and if anyone has anything bad to say about Dom Pérignon, I don’t want to hear it. “Pass me more of those bread thingies,” I say to the Milelioness, as my motor skills rapidly degenerate.
The first appetizer is a beef consommé. This is a winner, with broth so flavorful it’s like they squeezed the cow (note to self: do not pivot to food blogging). Unfortunately, due to the packaging fiasco earlier, there was but a small amount to savor.
A generous portion of balik-style smoked salmon comes next, with avocado that they’ve amazingly managed to keep green. You know what they say about millennials; we can’t afford housing because we’re too busy buying airline delivery avocados.
The first main is a Roasted Lobster with Spicy Bisque Sauce. Although lobster thermidor may be one of Singapore Airlines’ most popular dishes, I was never really a big fan. I love lobster as much as the guy who thought it was a good idea to eat what’s basically a sea cockroach (Bruce), but when you slather all that cheese on it, you can’t taste the lobster.
This version, thankfully, is a much more subtle rendition, and the natural sweetness of the lobster comes through. I had my reservations about this dish, but it could hold its own against some of the stuff I’ve had in restaurants.
I have great expectations for the Pork Belly with Spiced Apple Sauce, but in retrospect, hoping for crispy pork skin was wishful thinking. There’s a reason why no airline (except perhaps Etihad) has dared to try serving french fries onboard- getting crispiness on a reheat is beyond the means of mortal man.
The Apple Crumble with Seasonal Berries and Passionfruit Sauce is…disappointing. I can’t figure out why the instructions didn’t say to pop it in the oven for a few minutes (isn’t warm apple crumble the stuff of dreams?). Without the heat, it’s just eating a few cold slices of apple.
Thankfully, the Valrhona Chocolate Pave is a home run. The salted caramel gel and chocolate “popcorn” blend with the pave in a harmony of sweet, salty and crunchy. It’s transcendent.
Cheese and fruit are…cheese and fruit. It’s a course I often skip on the plane, unless I’m flying ANA (where the fruits are always amazing ex-Japan). I absent-mindedly put some cheese in my hair to try and attract a Remy of my own, and am roundly chastised by the Milelioness.
Are we satiated? Yes, very much so. There’s even enough baskets left over to rival the feeding of the 5,000. Although some of the portions (e.g the lobster) are on the small side, there’s enough courses that you won’t walk away hungry.
All that’s left to do is clean up, and do note that this meal generates a surprising amount of trash. “You know, in a pride the lionesses always do the washing up,” I say. The Milelioness shoots me a dangerous look, and I get scrubbing.
Is SIA@Home worth it?
This is a loaded question.
Shortly after the prices for SIA@Home were made public, the general sentiment online was “For that price I could go to [insert fancy restaurant name here] and have a nice meal”
That’s technically correct, but it’s fundamentally the wrong comparison.
We could do an accounting exercise by estimating the cost of every individual item here, but that’d be missing the point. You’re not so much paying for the food here as you are the novelty. For cooking novices, it’s a fun little activity that lets you feel like you created something beautiful. For couples, it makes an unusual date night. I was worried I’d burn my food so badly Jamus Lim would slap a carbon tax on it, but the meals were extremely easy to heat and plate. It was, dare I say it, entertaining.
Is that novelty worth $608? Only you can decide. There’ll always be people who have difficulty understanding why someone would spend so much on airline food (the CNA anchor nails the expression rather well).
It looks like something from r/nottheonion
Then again, many people can’t understand why anyone would enjoy a flight to nowhere, or spend hours at the Changi viewing galleries spotting planes, or buy a coffee table made from an A320 emergency exit door.
If you see an airplane solely as a means of getting from Point A to B, none of this is likely to appeal to you. This is heavily within the realm of Avgeek sub-culture, with a kitsch that not everyone will appreciate.
But if you feel the same visceral excitement I do peeling back the aluminum foil on a chilled, mass produced modular meal, this is going to be right up your alley.
And that’s who SIA@Home is for.
|🎁 Give away/Giveaway|
While it’s one thing to blow $608 on what’s basically a novelty meal, it’s sobering to remember there are households in Singapore who go to bed hungry every night.
If you enjoyed this article (or even if you think it’s the stupidest thing you ever read), would you consider joining me in supporting the work of The Food Bank Singapore? This approved IPC (2.5X tax deductions!) works to tackle food insecurity among the impoverished and vulnerable communities in Singapore. I’ve got the ball rolling by donating the cost of a First Class SIA@Home meal.
I’m going to sweeten the deal. Remember those two Lalique First Class amenities kits I mentioned? Make a donation of any amount (really), take a screenshot of the confirmation page (please redact your personal information), and send it to me via The Milelion’s Facebook page (use the “send message” feature).
I’ll draw two names at random when the fundraiser ends on 31 October and inform the winners accordingly.
And don’t worry, I’ll send you the unopened versions- the kit shown above is from one of my previous trips. Unless of course you want to live out your Belle Delphine fantasies, in which case I will gladly use each item exactly once on a body part of your choosing.