The days of breezing through an airport safe in the knowledge you can eat something during the journey are long gone for many, with in-flight meals now often a thing of the past.
Cost-cutting means many business travellers must put up with cabin, and catering, downgrades, while airline food in economy is often the exception, rather than the norm. No wonder airports have really raised their game when it comes to feeding passengers before they fly.
Heathrow is perhaps the best example of this, with a selection that often feels more central London than airport terminal. Time is often of the essence when travelling, especially if understaffing means a lengthy wait at security, so a welcome concept is the 15-minute menu option offered by many Heathrow eateries, which means your food is delivered within a quarter of an hour of ordering. Many of these establishments also have a pre-order option via the Heathrow app to speed things up even more.
For those in yet more of a rush, there’s the in-flight picnic, which, like the 15-minute menu and pre-ordering, is detailed on heathrow.com. Picnic options range from Pret a Manger to Fortnum & Mason via Gordon Ramsay and Wagamama, depending on which terminal you’re in.
Over in Terminal 2 is a venture from a celebrity chef who at Heathrow at least, doesn’t make his name so prominent as Gordon Ramsay. Heston Blumenthal’s The Perfectionists’ Café is inspired by his In Search of Perfection TV series. Heston’s restaurant is a crowd pleaser in every way, with a mantra of ‘fantastic food, fast’. It looks like a top-notch bistro but serves burgers, pizzas, and fish and chips the Heston way at prices that aren’t extortionate. The restaurant has two USPs; it boasts the world’s first liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour and Heathrow’s only wood-fired pizza oven.
Terminal 3, meanwhile, houses Spuntino, an Italian/American diner that also has a USP in the shape of roller-skating staff and a donut machine. Spuntino marries sourdough pizza with burgers and comfort food classics like mac & cheese.
Terminal 4 brings more of a challenge, with half the eight options there being coffee shops. There is a Caviar House & Prunier Seafood Bar, but again, that might excite the expenses people. A good compromise would be trusty Carluccio’s, whose fresh pasta dishes are quick to prepare and consistently reliable.
At Heathrow, Gordon Ramsay wins the branding prize for his Plane Food picnic bag, with three courses plus a bottle of water for £18.50. Mains are a choice of teriyaki salmon, broccoli and goat’s cheese tart or poached chicken breast. Like Ramsay’s, Fortnum & Mason’s takeaway option will provide you with a fancy branded ‘hamperling’ bag for around the same price. In it will be either a smoked salmon-based main or chicken salad or mozzarella and tomato salad plus dessert.
If you do have time to linger, these two are both found in Terminal 5, with Fortnum’s having the edge in terms of menu and opulence. Fortnum’s even does its classic afternoon tea, and its island bar is a great place to ponder how you’ll get this one through expenses.
If you have more time – perhaps an unexpected stopover or very long delay – and you are not yet airside, there are a couple of wildcard options if you fancy getting out of the airport. Firstly, there are the hotels along Bath Road, which provide a more relaxing lunch atmosphere than the terminals and can be easily reached from Heathrow’s Central Bus Station.
Secondly, the new Elizabeth Line now provides a direct link from Heathrow to Southall. It is home to dozens of Indian and Pakistani restaurants, including the famous Madhu’s, which specialises in Punjabi cuisine. Don’t worry though if Southall seems a stretch too far because Madhu’s also has an offshoot at Heathrow’s Sheraton Skyline.
Airside or landside, there is really no reason to go hungry at Heathrow.