Chef Julien Royer’s restaurant in the sky

The lobster, says chef Julien Royer of Michelin-starred restaurant Odette, was a "disaster".

It was the French chef's first attempt at designing an inflight meal, which produced lobster that was too chewy and herbs that were too bitter.

After tackling the challenges of serving meals at 35,000 feet up, such as dealing with unfamiliar aircraft convection ovens and tight spaces, Royer has created 12 main dishes for First and Business class passengers on Air France flights from Singapore to Paris.

His creations - such as salmon back in basil crust with black olive vinaigrette, cherry tomatoes and creamy smoked potatoes; and braised beef cheek in a red wine sauce, celeriax mousseline and wholegrain mustard - will be available till March next year.

"I want to try to make airline food taste good," says Royer, chef and co-founder of two-Michelin-starred Odette, a French fine-dining eatery at the National Gallery Singapore.

  • GETTING THERE
    Air France flies daily from Singapore to Paris. To connect to Bordeaux city from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, take any of six Air France flights departing daily.

    TRAVEL TIPS
    • Take a walk along the city's Garonne River, where there are plenty of sights and sounds from morning to night. Catch a glimpse of children on scooters and skateboards at skate parks, and farmers' markets selling cheeses, fresh produce and seafood, as well as game like rabbit with its entrails neatly packed alongside. At night, stop by Les Halles de Bacalan, a gourmet food market which has the buzz of a nightspot. When monuments like the Pont de Pierre bridge (Stone Bridge) are lit up, the river looks strewn with fairy lights.

    • Take a selfie at Le Miroir d'Eau (the Water Mirror), billed as the world's largest reflecting pool, which lies across from the beautiful 18th-century square, La Place de la Bourse. The Water Mirror, measuring 3,450 sq m and 2cm deep, is a favourite with shutterbugs seeking the perfect symmetrical shot, as well as kids who run and splash in it.

    • Get the most out of your shopping by browsing the many pharmacies in Bordeaux. Channel French chic with their reasonably priced local toiletries and cosmetics.

Odette was named the top restaurant in Asia in March, when it clinched the No. 1 spot on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2019 list.

When Air France approached him for this collaboration, the first between the carrier and a Singapore-based chef, Royer felt jubilant, like he had been selected for the "national team", he says.

The airline has a long history of working with chefs such as Michel Roth of Geneva's Bayview restaurant. Air France serves dishes created in homage to the late Joel Robuchon in First Class flights from Paris.

Royer need not worry about matching up against other inflight top chefs.

Flying Business class from Singapore to Paris, where I take a connecting flight to Bordeaux for a river cruise, I dine on Royer's sea bass with a confit onion jam, ratatouille and squid with confit lemons.

The fish looks, frankly, like a bronzed god. It is sporting a healthy tan, with toasty brown grilled bits on top, complementing its snowy flesh.

On other long-haul flights, I have had white fish that tasted like sodden tissue. In Royer's hands, however, generally agreeable sea bass revs up to buttery-tasting, meaty chunks of toothsomeness.

The best that can be said for many a squid dish is how it is not rubbery. But here, the squid is mildly sweet and tender.

The savoury confit onion jam pairs well with the delicate seafood, though the sour, salty pieces of confit lemon strike an alien note.

The ratatouille makes me rethink airplane vegetables, which look limp and tired in the usual Economy class meals. This ratatouille tastes bright and full of zip.

I scarf down the meal in unseemly haste. My only regret is that I cannot visit Royer's restaurant in the sky again.


•The writer was hosted by Air France.