By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
It’s no secret that airport dining has never been saluted with any real positive acclaim. A number of benefactors contribute to the less than superb reputation, though the most prominent is, perhaps, the often necessary rush throughout the period of time between passing through customs and boarding the plane. Increasingly strict security regulations (no liquids over 100ml, no shoes, no smiling, etc.) that are as time consuming as they are intrusive are partially to blame, but there’s also the sheer fact that eating properly would encroach on valuable pre-flight drinking time. Why spend an hour within a restaurant when that time can be spent guzzling pints and pints of ‘Woo Woo’ or ‘Blue Lagoon’ that looks and tastes of screen-wash: especially when there’s an on-board option to buy an overpriced toasted sandwich that smells just as offensive as it tastes?
Fortunately, the fifth restaurant from Heston Blumenthal – The Perfectionists’ Café opened at Heathrow Terminal Two (on the other side of security) two years ago, attempting to remedy the reputation of airport dining. Heavily inspired by his ‘In Search of Perfection’ television series, the restaurant offers a relatively quick dining experience, thanks to efficient service as well as a range of reasonably-priced takes on classic dishes that have meticulously prepared to very exacting standards. British favourites prepared to the absolute best of the chefs’ abilities, in fact, using techniques, ingredients, and equipment that showcase Blumenthal’s obsession with both nostalgia and with culinary history.
Inside, the restaurant’s design is very much a paean to the 1960s association of air-travel with glamour, with a Nitro Ice Cream Parlour and Heathrow’s only wood-burning oven also on hand. As a result, the kitchen is provided with the opportunity to prepare delicious Neopolitan-style pizzas that taste gratifyingly traditional, with slender, sloppy bases and toppings that are warmed gently without being incinerated. The ‘Salsiccia’ (£14.50), for instance, involved a base of both smoked provola and caciocavallo cheeses without the need for any tomato, topped with spinach and salacious hunks of sausage laced with chilli and fennel – a delightful pre-flight treat. Alongside the pizzas, a selection of “three-finger burgers” are also on offer, especially designed to be squashed down to a height of no more than an average size of our first three fingers when pressed together, as is the most that can be devoured comfortably. And thanks to the ‘three-finger’ rule, the burgers here can be eaten without inducing lockjaw, and without any deconstruction, juxtaposed to the all-too-often outrageous gourmet burgers served at many other TV chefs’ restaurant ventures. Alas, our waitress insists that all patties are cooked to medium-well, at the absolute least, due to a Food Standards Agency regulation. However, given all of the detail that has gone into The Perfectionists’ Café, this does seem odd given that various criteria can be met in order for restaurants to serve medium-rare, or even rare, burgers without so much risk of E-coli. Combining a 5oz Angus beef burger with shredded duck, cucumber, and hoisin sauce, into a brioche bun, the Chinese-inspired ‘Crispy Hoisin Duck Burger’ (£12) could have been practically perfect, if only the beef could have spent a little less time on the griddle, thus resulting in greater succulence and less toughness.
Using specially siphoned batter in order to deliver a lasting crunch, the ‘Extraordinary Fish and Chips’ (£14.75) showcased a tranche of unspecified white fish (haddock, I believe), with chips – fluffy inside with an external crunch, minted mushy peas and a tartar sauce with a little more punch than that of your local chip shop. What’s more, the dish also arrived with a small atomiser, which when sprayed over the plate dispenses a specially crafted combination of malt vinegar and pickled onion aromas, reminiscent of a typical British chip shop.
Finally, for dessert there’s a strong focus on ice cream, with the Nitro Ice Cream Parlour showcasing Heston’s famous use of liquid nitrogen. Two steel cylinders are employed to hold liquid nitrogen that’s pumped into the restaurant’s ice cream maker, with the nitrogen’s temperature of -196° Celsius freezing the flavoured custard virtually instantly. This allows an unparalleled smoothness that’s just as important as the depth of flavour of the scoops served within a wafer boat, providing one last finishing touch of nostalgic bliss to complete The Perfectionists’ Café’s thoroughly enjoyable pre-flight experience.
The Perfectionists’ Café can be found at Terminal 2, The Queens Building, London Heathrow Airport, Hounslow, TW6 1EW.
Header photo: Afroditi Krassa