Airports aren't usually reputed as culinary destinations in themselves. But Paris's hub Charles de Gaulle has become the
latest in Europe to try to change that with an upmarket eatery called “I Love Paris”.
The restaurant, which opened last week in Terminal 2E and is accessible only to passengers carrying tickets for Asia or the United States, is aiming high.
A three-star French chef, Guy Martin, has masterminded the menu while an Iranian-born, Paris-based architecture star, India Mahdavi, has designed the decoration.
“The aim is to try to make a Chinese traveller prefer to stop over in Paris rather than Heathrow or Dubai,” said Laure Baume, deputy director of the Aeroports de Paris airport agency.
In a nod to the varied palates of those eating in the I Love Paris restaurant, with its view of the runways, there is a range of fare to munch on, from classic French dishes such as a blanquette de veau (veal ragout), to hamburgers, as well as tapas, lobster, and vegetarian offerings. The cheapest menu combination is at €30 ($33).
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Heathrow, Stuttgart, Geneva as well
The outlet isn't the only one endeavouring to give long-haul passengers a choice beyond the inevitable clusters of fast-food joints common in airports.
Charles de Gaulle also has “Le Frenchy's Bistro” overseen by another reputed chef, Gilles Epie.
London's Heathrow airport has already trod the path to improving its culinary offer by hiring famous chefs Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal.
Ramsay is the name behind “Plane Food”, offering express menus from £17 (€23, $26).
Blumenthal is associated with a fish-and-chips and hamburger place known as “The Perfectionist's Cafe”.
Another eatery that opened in Heathrow's Terminal 2 last year is “The Gorgeous Kitchen”, run by four female chefs.
In Germany's airport serving Stuttgart, a one Michelin star restaurant, “Top Air”, is open to all in the public zone.
And in Geneva, in Switzerland, starred chefs Gilles Dupont and Thomas Byrne have created the dining room “Altitude”.
Gulf hubs driving competition
The hoisting of food quality in the airports is explained by the increasingly fierce competition for international travellers.
Upstart Gulf carriers such as Emirates and Qatar Airways are eating into profitable long-haul routes flown by European airlines Air France, British Airways and Lufthansa, and airports are seeking to lift their appeal.
Thus, restaurant options in hub airports are “becoming a major criteria,” Baume said.
The trend reflects what is already happening in the air, with several airlines putting prestigious chefs into their kitchens.
“The strategy today for all airports is to not only be a place you are made to pass through, but to become real lifestyle centres, where it's a pleasure to come to,” Baume said.
“The more the environment becomes stressful, the more we have to deliver pleasure, and gastronomy is about spending time at the table, taking the time to pamper one's self and to relax.”
The Middle Eastern hubs, she noted, “are growing very fast and investing enormously into infrastructure”.