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June 15, 2014 / oneworld82

JAL New First Class NRT-LAX and a gourmet Kaiseki Dinner

Flight JL62 NRT-LAX, May 4th, 2014

First Class, Seat 1D

B77w, 5:20p – 11:30a

Flying First Class is always a special occasion – no matter how many times you’ve done it before. In my mind it’s like staying at a Four Seasons Hotel – something to savor and cherish. Granted, there is a huge variation among airlines in terms of service quality, hard product, food, and beverages; just like among luxury hotels you have “winners” (Fours Seasons, Ritz-Carlton), excellent “runner-ups” (Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La), “wannabes” (St. Regis, Conrad), and “failures” (W, Sandals); in the airline world you have Five Stars airlines (ANA, Cathay Pacific), Four Stars (British Airways, Qantas), and so on. JAL – according to Skytrax – features a 4-stars First Class cabin.  I was very eager to see for myself whether this assessment was true.

I left the Sakura lounge about 45 minutes before departure time. Sure enough, by the time I got to the gate boarding was about to start. JAL had a separate line for premium and economy passengers; once in line, agents started checking customer passports and, as soon as they realized I was a first class passenger, they put me in front of the line. A very nice touch that Cathay Pacific didn’t do in Hong Kong.

Anyways, once I entered the plane (a brand new Boeing 777-300ER), I was escorted to my seat, 1K. Unfortunately, when I made my booking all window seats had already been taken. Oh well, no big deal. The first impression of the cabin and of my open suite was very positive. It looks as nice as ANA but, overall, it feels a bit less claustrophobic. Seats are made of dark-brown leather – something I had never seen before and that conveyed the cabin a very luxurious (and executive) look. The screen dividing my seat from the other seat on the opposite aisle was down when I got in; if traveling with a companion, the two suites would certainly connect well and allow for privacy and intimacy at the same time.

 

First Class Cabin

First Class Cabin

My suite, 1K

My suite, 1K

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Screen divider

Screen divider

One of the things that pleased me was the good amount of storage space. My weekender Bally bag perfectly fit under the ottoman, and on the side there was plenty of room to store my glasses, books, and camera. In my opinion, a first class cabin should allow you to have all of your necessary items within easy reach (with no need to use the overhead bins frequently), and JAL absolutely delivered here.

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The TV screen was another good feature of the JAL suite (again, it resembled ANA’s): wide and of great quality. The remote next to the armrest was very intuitive and allowed for easy control of the in-flight entertainment system.

Nice TV screen

Nice TV screen

A pajama was offered to me before departure: it was a great quality, with nice slippers and eye-mask enclosed. It came on a cool sleeve that makes it easy to pack the pj and carry it around. A stylish touch by JAL here. Yet, no amenity kits were provided – and no headphones either. I had to ask for a set of Bose after take off (the purser promptly apologized and distributed the item to the entire cabin). It was a minor flaw, but something I had not experienced before and that puzzled me a little. The amenity kit, instead, was offered after dinner. Again, quite strange (but worth the wait: a Loewe kit – pretty spacious – was handed out, together with a set of Shiseido products. One of the best amenity kits I have seen so far!).

Loewe Shiseido

A pre-departure drink was offered, and I just got some water. Take off happened on time, and as soon as at cruising altitude the meal service began. A first round of drinks was offered; I opted for the Salon – of course – given the exceptional vintage that JAL serves. I must say: all the good things about this wine that you hear are well deserved. It is a smooth, delicately-bubbly, fulfilling champagne that matches (and in my opinion exceeds) Krugs and Dom Perignons usually served aboard other airlines. Together with the drink, an assortment of nuts and Japanese snacks were offered. I found it, to be totally honest, cheap that JAL offered snacks out of a package; while I could still accept that in business class, I don’t think it’s very classy for first class.

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The menu of the day read as follows:

JAPANESE

We prepared the menu with the scent of spring

Zatsuki

Clam & Bamboo Shoots with Japanese Pepper Miso Sauce

Japenese Appetizer

Kobachi

Simmered Conger Eel & Eggplant

Steamed Chicken & Yam Julienne with Vinegar Jelly

Steamed Abalone dressed with Liver Simmered Spring Vegetables

Choko

Broad Bean & “Udo” Vegetable dressed with Sesame Cream

Shiizakana

Simmered Prawn Smoked Mullet Roe Grilled Chicken Cake topped with Sea Urchin Skewered Braised Duck

Mukouzuke

Sea-bream & Squid “Sashimi” style

Dainomono

Grilled “Wagyu” Beef Fillet with Green Miso

Steamed Rockfish with “Sakura” Leaf

Soup

Japanese Clear Soup with Prawn Mousse Ball

Hanmono

Steamed Rice with Bamboo Shoots

Or

Steamed Rice

(We are pleased to offer freshly steamed Koshihikari rice)

Japanese Pickles

Sweets

Japanese Wafers with

Soybean Flour Cake, Green Tea Ice Cream & Sesame Sable’

 

WESTERN

The menu is created by prominent Chef Seiji Yamamoto of “Nihon-ryori Ryugin”

Roppongi Tokyo

Amuse Bouche

Rich Onion Gratin Soup Flan topped with Fresh “Uni” Sea Urchin

Stir to mix “Chilly” & “Warm”

Spring Bamboo Shoots & Bigfin Reef Squid, coated with Spicy Japanese Pepper Sprout Sauce

Foie Gras Mousse Tarte with Framboise Saue

Garnished with Cherry Blossoms

Hors-d’oevre (Choice)

“The Luxury of Caviar”

Indulge in Caviar

Tarte of Favorite

Caviar Condiments topped with Crystal Chips, Cauliflower Bavarois with Consomme Gelee

Warm Tarte – Kaleidoscope of Spring Shellfish “Hamaguri” & Littleneck Clams, Scallops…

Aroma of Dried Sakura Shrimp…

Snifter of “Hamaguri” Soup

“Spring Greens Fair”

Medley of Fresh Spring Vegetables, Fava Bean Cream, Ginger & Orange gelee

Dotted with Vibrant Flower Petals of Every Hue

Main Dish (Choice)

“Kuroge-Wagyu Fillet Consomme’ Style served with Nagaimo Potato Poelee

Beef Cheeks stewed until Tender in Red Wine accompanied by Apple Puree

Poelee of Salmon, Lightly Smoked to be Savored together with Fresh Seasonal Vegetables mingled with Pine Nuts

Assortment of Artisanal Breads

Lemon Grass & Mint

Cherry Blossom

Ginger

Rice Powder

Dessert

Fresh-from-the-oven Warm, Fizzy Strawberry Tarte with an Indulging Scoop of Pistachio Nut Ice Cream

 

The Snack menu looked as follows:

JAL Menu 1 JAL Menu 2

 

I had a couple of glasses of Salon 2002 champagne before the main meal. The champagne – chosen among the best champagne vintages in the last 50 years or so – is definitely good: round, smooth, lightly bubbly, not overpowering. A great wine.

Amouse bouche

Amouse bouche

I won’t go into too many details regarding dinner, given the big amount of dishes I was offered. I will let the photos speak for themselves. Suffice to say that the food was excellent, although I found it to be a notch below ANA’s. I really enjoyed the Abalone and the Dainomono, as well as the Japanese cheeses (all of which were of high quality). For those of you who don’t know, both JAL and ANA serve a Kaiseki dinner in their first class cabin. That’s the quintessential Japanese high-cuisine dinner, closely associated with tea ceremony and consisting of rare, exclusive, and creative ingredients. If you ever go to Japan, it’s something that you have to try, as it is food at its best.

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The main dish was very good: a combination of real Wagyu beef and rockfish is probably something not many Westerners would think of; but that’s where the strenght of Kaiseki cuisine is: great ingredients, creative pairings.

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Like I said, the Japanese cheeses were outstanding, as was the chocolate offered after dinner.

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Anyways, I started watch the Lego movie during dinner (and Chennai Express before that). The service overall lasted above 1 hour, and was definitely leisurely paced. Never I felt rushed or had to wait too long for my next dish to come out. The flight attendants were very attentive and always ready/willing to help with a smile. Attitude makes all the difference in this World.

After dinner I asked the flight attendant to make up my bed while I went to brush my teeth. The bathrooms were a bit disappointing. Just as British Airways’, JAL First Class lavatories are simply standard lavatories with no particular amenities. I wish they had Aesop products like Cathay Pacific!

In any case, when I came back the bed was ready. The mattress pad used was of superior quality and so were the comforter and pillow. I was rather tired, and I fell asleep within minutes. The cabin wasn’t too cold/hot, and I managed to sleep 5 hours. I must say: it was the best rest on a plane I’ve got so far, and the bedding is definitely a winning factor for JAL.

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I woke up about 2 hours before landing, and the flight attendant came by asking me if I wanted breakfast. To vary a bit, I opted for the FUMIKO’s Western Set Plate, consisting of Pistachio Curry with Prawn & Zucchini, Orange & Carrot Mousseline and a dessert made of Blanc-manger of Fromage Blanc & Fresh Herb with Acacia Honey Syrup. The cury was decent, but it lacked in flavor a bit. The dessert was very good.

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I washed everything down with a couple of glass of 2004 Dom Perignon, which compares pretty well to Salon 2002. After my meal, I asked for some more Japanese cheese. SO good!

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After breakfast I went to change back into my clothes and packed up my stuff. We landed in LAX on time and so my short vacation to Taiwan ended. It was a great trip! I had a lot of fun both in the air and on the ground. Hawaii comes next. Hope you’ll still follow my adventures! 🙂

———————–

So, how does CX First and JL First compare? Well, I must say that, once again, Skytrax rating is spot on. Cathay Pacific is clearly a 5 stars product both on the ground and in the air; JL is more of a 4 stars in both categories.

Lounge-wise, CX wins. The Wing lounge in Hong Kong is not only stunning but also boasts great service. The food was superb (Do&Co level), and the shower rooms were big and well-appointed. JL’s Sakura lounge was nice, but a bit disappointing in terms of service and food offerings. The complimentary massage was a nice perk, but it was definitely too short. Make it 30 minutes (like Qantas does) and you have a winner (that is, an offering that distinguish JL from the competition). I wish I had the chance to try CX cabanas, which were unfortunately all taken. Perhaps next time.

In the air, CX wins on all fronts but the bed. Cathay Pacific offers tastier food; presentation-wise, JAL wins, but I would pick Cathay’s food any day over JAL’s. Both airlines offer great wines, so no complains there. Pajamas were outstanding on both airlines – the bestI have found so far – but amenity-wise CX wins. Aesop products are simply unbeatable and truly luxurious; plus, CX has nicer bathrooms in First. Bed-wise, JAL wins: I had never slept so well before on a plane! From a IFE standpoint, Studio CX ofered by CX is superior to JAL’s system in terms of quality and variety of offerings, but I liked JAL’s TV screens better.

Overall, while CX wins, I think JL has a solid first class product and I wouldn’t certainly turn it down if it were the only option to cross the Pacific. It is certainly better than any US carrier out there and it is close enough to NH and CX to make the trip fun and very enjoyable.

A little bit off-topic, but this is now my overall ranking of First Class cabins (that I tried):

1. Etihad Airways

2. Cathay Pacific

3. ANA

4. Lufthansa

5. Qantas

6. British Airways

7. American Airlines

I am incredibly fortunate to have flown so many different airlines in First Class, but I hope to add more in the coming future as I realize there are so many products worth trying out there that I haven’t flown yet. So: stay tuned!

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