The crew were all eagerly waiting to greet F passengers aboard. I was directed to my suite and asked if I would require PJs.
My first impression sitting in the suite was that everything looked clean, elegant and all mechanisms had a heavy feel, indicative of quality engineering. I particularly like how there is a Japanese feel to the cabin. The lines running along the sides of the suites are reminiscent of the paper screen walls in traditional Japanese houses.
The suites have a huge amount of features, with any possible storage necessity taken care of.
In the image above you can see the zip up cardigan provided in addition to the PJs. It is short sleeved and not too thick, which I guess works if you find the cabin too hot for the regular PJ top.
I went to the bathroom to change. I like the fact that there is a flap on the wall which can be pulled down to provide a clean surface to walk on, in your socks. Not that there was any real need for this. All surfaces throughout the cabin were immaculately clean at all times.
As soon as I took the PJs out of the packaging I could see that they were going to be way too big for me. I asked one of the FAs for a smaller size and she quickly brought another set over for me. She said I should keep the large set "just in case". Given the amount of eating I was planning on doing, having a contingency pair of large trousers was probably not a bad idea.
As I headed back to my suite one of the FAs took my clothes from me and carefully folded and stored them.
At this stage I was beginning to get a little thirsty, as if on cue another FA appeared to offer me a drink. I asked for champagne. It wasn't Krug, not sure what it was but it tasted like passable J champagne.
With a few minutes left until take off, I took some time to explore the contents of the amenity kit, which was bolstered by additional offerings from the FAs including lip balm and leg-refreshing sheets. Which are exactly what you think they are.
The contents of the kit is mostly The Ginza branded. I'm not familiar with this brand but given the quality of the packaging I'd say this stuff isn't cheap. The moisturiser for instance, comes with a pump action mechanism rather than just being in a squeezy tube like on most other airlines.
The headphones used by ANA are made by SONY and come in a sealed leather case. They feel and look like pretty much like everything else in the F cabin, very solid and polished to a piano gloss finish. The active noise cancellation worked perfectly. I'm not a big headphone user on the ground - I prefer my DALI speakers and have pretty good sound proofing in my flat However, I couldn't really find fault with their performance during this flight, although I've noticed that people on FT are more keen on Bose.
The final amenity provided with the suite was a grey herringbone, organic cashmere blanket. It felt amazing.
Shortly after all the fun of exploring and photographing everything around me, we were ready to take-off.
As soon as we reached cruising altitude the crew came around with hot towels and menus.
To say that the catering on board is extensive, is a massive understatement. The tome delivered by the FA was something similar in magnitude to War and Peace.
Along with the menus the FA asked if I'd like a drink.
Moments later the FA returned with a bottle of Krug.
"The king of champagnes" she said, as she presented the bottle.
"I couldn't agree more"
"You know it?"
"A little too well perhaps"
And so it began.
Interestingly, not only was the champagne different after take off, so was the flute. The PDB featured a typical J flute, short and ill proportioned (although arguably more practical for the air). Conversely, the Krug came in a flute similar to the ones used by OZ in F, short stem but full sized bowl.
Shortly after pouring the glass another FA came along with the amuse bouche.
Impossibly crunchy yet flaky gruyere sticks, duck ham? what appeared to be a sphere of foie gras and something coated in aspic jelly?
Unreal, next level. Restaurant quality. In fact I'd say that I can't remember the last time I got such a diverse and well executed selection of pre-meal offerings at a restaurant on the ground.
My expectations were set high, ANA was already smashing through them.
I already had a pretty good idea of my meal strategy, before boarding this flight. I'd start with the caviar and the Western foie gras starter then take the full Kaiseki option.
I think ANA has great presentation for their F caviar, although I'm undecided on whether I'd prefer the caviar to appear in a sealed tin or whether I'd prefer it served directly onto the plate. Certainly when served from the tin it conveys freshness, perhaps the tin could be opened in front of you and spooned by the FA, much like the way champagne is presented and poured. A minor detail in any case.
A less minor detail is the fact ANA serve the caviar with a non-metal spoon. Given that plastic is cheaper than metal I'm unsure why other airlines don't do this.
The Western starter was beautiful. The presentation both in terms of plating and the tableware was fantastic.
I was particularly impressed by the peeled tomatoes, playfully adorned with parsley leaves.
The marriage of acidity from the vinegar and tomatoes, the sweetness from the sauce and the fatty richness of the foie grass? Flawless. A julienned carrot framed the foie and added a textural crunch to a dish otherwise dominated by smoothness.
After a spectacular showing from ANA in terms of Western food, I was relishing the prospect of the kaiseki meal.
I asked the FA to pair the first course with a Sake, she chose the excellent Yamamoto Junmaiginjo. I don't know why I was surprised with the taste of this. My life experience of sake thusfar was akin to a person who had only ever drunk Johnnie Walker Red suddenly being given a Lagavulin. When ordering sake in a Japanese restaurant in England the only thought I put into it is whether it is hot or cold.
This is another level. A really good, other level,
The first Kaiseki course:
Next, the soup. Very delicate, a refreshing savoury flavour barely perceptible, allowing the bright freshness of the other ingredients to shine through.
The third kaiseki course:
The fourth kaiseki course:
I went for a change of sake before the fifth kaiseki course. I wasn't as keen on this one. It was more acidic and had that chemical veneer that I'm more familiar with in lesser quality sake. I willingly admit that this may be due to a lack of palate/ comprehension on my part though.
The fifth kasieki course - the main course. The rice in particular was excellent, ANA mention that they have a rice cooker onboard to freshly prepare the grains for F. In terms of flavour and texture this was immediately perceptible.
After all of that, I was ready for a small amount of cheese. I wasn't expecting the lavish display that arrived:
A magnificent combination of textures and flavours, the presentation - peerless. To accompany this? Graham's 30 year old tawny port. A seriously good drop. The dense, monolithic bottle alone probably weighs as much as the hand luggage allowance for a Y passenger. The taste? Like drinking a sweetened ghost. The flavour still haunts me
To cap all of this off I had an excellent double macchiatto served with a selection of mignardises... and a glass of Hibiki 21. You know how I went on about the Graham's 30 year? Well this was better. The fact that ANA serve drinks of this calibre and that this doesn't get mentioned more often is bizzare.
Seriously, given a choice between JWB or Hibiki 21 I'd take the Hibiki without giving it a second thought.
After all of that food and booze, it was time to try out the ANA bedding. Luckily there was a spare suite next to me, so the FA offered to preapre it for me. First though, she thought I might need this:
Yeah good call. Cool bottle too.
The bed had a memory foam style mattress topped by a really soft and silky duvet. I was also given a memory foam pillow and a couple of regular softer pillows. Perfect.
I'm not going to lie. A bottle of Krug, 3 glasses of sake, a glass of port and a glass of whisky with lunch, makes for some added 'turbulence'. I used the old one foot on the floor trick and loaded up 'All is lost', a film with zero dialogue starring a man who felt worse than me. This worked pretty well. I was soon sound asleep.
A couple of hours later I awoke, thirsty as hell. I asked for water and coffee. They were brought almost instantly. Eat, srink sleep repeat. A return to an infant state. The First Class lifestyle.
I couldn't and wouldn't want to live this way every day but damn, if I ever do I can't imagine having any complaints about having ANA curate the experience.
I had another couple of coffees whilst watching the highly cerebral Arnie and Sly film: Escape Plan. Seriously though, I had zero complaints about the ANA IFE. There was a huge selection of new releases plus a load of classics. The only things I missed versus a British carrier were the great documentaries that you usually get.
After the film was over - in a flash of inspiration, seeing these ageing hulks, I decided it was high time I 'packed on some mass'.
ANA doesn't serve a second meal per se but has such a huge number of extra dishes available, that something quite good can be assembled should one desire to eat a second time.
This in is stark contrast to other carriers which only cater a single meal plus a small selection of snacks and sandwiches.
To begin my second meal I ordered caviar. The FA apologised profusely when presenting it to me.
"I'm very sorry Mr Jermyn, we have no more garnishes"
"As long as you keep my glass garnished with Krug, I don't mind"
A request she very kindly complied with, much to my satisfaction.
After clearing the caviar the FA asked if I'd like any bread. I'm not usually big into carbs but couldn't resist one of the bright pink cherry blossom buns.
It was soft and chewy just like Chinese mantou. It had that great textural contrast where you can peel away the thicker outer 'skin' and then attack the soft inner dough.
I then went for a selection of 'sake snacks'. Salmon tartare and fried fish cakes.
This was followed by another delectable wheel of foie gras swimming in delicious sweet, acidic juices.
After this came the main course of stuffed quail. (aside from the fried fish and seasoned tartare the FAs didn't want to serve any fish at this late stage of the flight, for fear that it wouldn't be fresh enough).
As with all the other dishes, the quail was magnificent. Deboned and stuffed almost to bursting point, sitting in a rich sauce, with vegetables providing the requisite crunch and palate cleansing relief.
I had yet to sample a dessert on this flight, so I went for the most intriguing. Cheese and cassis ice cream with candied lemons and limes.
I can honestly say that this is one of the best desserts I've ever had.
I mean, look at it. It's beautiful.
I was particularly mesmerised by the shard of sugar glass, containing dried berry pieces, protruding from the centre of the cheese ice cream.
However great the presentation was, it paled in comparison to the taste. Sweet, savoury, rich, sharp, sour, creamy, soft and crunchy - a symphony of flavours and textures, all balanced supremely.
The fruit was a little underwhelming in contrast!
A couple of glasses of Krug later the dreaded announcement came over the PA. We were to begin our decent from this demi-paradise back to the bleak clutches of reality.
Touch down was smooth and uneventful. Given my propensity to be involved in go-arounds, this is always a plus.
Although, touching down at the end of a flight is always something of a melancholic affair, I do enjoy spotting aircraft which I have previously flown or know I am soon to fly.
This whale will feature in the TR after next.
To summarise, ANA F is the best experience I've ever had on a plane. The mixture of service, food and bedding is, in my mind, unbeatable.
On the ground the handling experience isn't as good as TG, the lounge isn't as good as the VS clubhouse and the service in OZ F blows every other airline away.
Despite all of this I wouldn't hesitate in picking NH F as the overall best experience.
I have a lot of F flights booked across a variety of different airlines and alliances so will have ample opportunity to test my theory but for now ANA is number one.
Until next time.