I’ve had a few health issues recently and every time I have to fill out a doctor or nutritionist questionnaire I end up having to admit that my diet sucks. Not because of what I eat at home – I’m a vegetarian, I live next door to a greengrocers, and I eat a balanced diet, but because of the impossibility of consistently eating well when I’m on the road.
It’s all very well telling people to pack a healthy lunch at home for ‘plane journeys but if you are, as I was last week, departing a hotel in Switzerland for a flight to America, this is not an option. And, whilst I heart an almond, I am not a frickin’ squirrel, and a bag of emergency nuts in my handbag isn’t going to keep me sane on a 12 hour flight.
(Equally, as I pointed out in this piece on surviving airline food for The Pool, have you ever tried eating quinoa in turbulence? Or picking bulgar out of your cleavage in a restricted space? The kind of healthy food I like at home does not travel well.) So I am often solely reliant on whatever the airline has popped in its little silver trays that day.
Because Christ, airport food is bloody awful for vegetarians in 90% of the places, (cheese, all of the cheese all of the time), so I can’t eat in the airport first, or even find a healthy option to take on board the ‘plane. There are honourable exceptions – Singapore’s Changi has a wonderful food court, and Hong Kong has, as one would hope, great Chinese food, but America is f*cking terrible.
Let’s take Detroit as an example. Oh my God, Detroit was a shocker. I walked the length of the entire terminal – and US airports are huge, looking for something that I could eat that was a) not meat and b) vaguely healthy. There was one option for a), and none for b). In the end, properly dizzy from hunger and experiencing low level airport rage, I had to buy a slice from Sbarro, and spent the next day with a violently upset stomach. Cause or coincidence? Who knows? But I’m not eating re-heated pizza again any time soon.
How about Europe? You’d have thought somewhere like Geneva would be pretty good on the food front, what with the ultra high net individuals who frequent the airport – and it is for meat eaters, with a pretty pimped out food court and fresh meals cooked to order. But the vegetarian offer: quiche. It was, in fairness, an excellent quiche, which I very much enjoyed, but I really do not want to eat cheese and pastry ALL OF THE TIME when I am travelling.
And do not even get me started on the Gare du Nord, in and out of the Eurostar terminal, which is a national embarrassment to the French. The catering is so bad that it could single handedly take responsibility for many Brexit votes from travellers.
Which brings me to England, where I can, finally, joyfully report, London has some of the best transit catering in the world. If I only ever travelled in and out of London’s various hubs I could remove about 80% of the unhealthy food from my diet.
St Pancras and Kings Cross have excellent and varied food offers from some of the best food chains – think Leon, Wasabi, Benito’s Hut, LPQ, as well as Fortnum’s and The Curious Pig for picnic provisions, and both Heathrow and Gatwick have many excellent food options. (Apart from the Star Alliance lounge in LHR Terminal 3 which is worse than school dinners, and don’t even consider trying to buy food at London City, the home of the nutritionally dubious and miserly two spoonful pot of mac n cheese – yours for £6.50.)
Gatwick, in particular, has had such a shot in the arm on the food front that I’m tempted to say that it has the best food offer of any airport in the UK, and maybe Europe. I’m not going to pretend that LGW isn’t sometimes a hellhole of screaming children, soda-ramped feral teenagers on school trips, and almost catatonic OAPS on jaunts, but it is fast becoming bearable, thanks to the fast track services (more details on this post here), the absolutely fantastic Special Assistance hub, who are just a dream if you have mobility issues, and the FOOD.
There is a branch of Tony Kitous’ Comptoir Libanais, in whose London branches I frequently eat excellent riffs on Lebanese food, and where you can get delicious takeaway options for the ‘plane, (only slight issue is that it has always been shockingly understaffed on my visits, so ask for the bill the moment you order), a Wagamama, Yo Sushi!, Jamie’s Italian and a Giraffe (I’m quite partial to a Giraffe vege breakfast before I fly).
And the jewel in the crown, the best airport restaurant in which I have ever eaten , (I am discounting all excellent fast food outlets here, as although delicious, Shake Shack et al are not exactly artery-friendly), drum roll,
I LOVE GRAIN STORE. There I said it. And, whilst I still don’t understand what a second iteration of Chef Bruno Loubet’s Grain Store is even doing in Gatwick Airport’s South Terminal, I thank goodness for its existence every time I pass through the airport.
My astonishment is because its parent, Grain Store in London’s Kings Cross, is a Proper Restaurant. It is not part of a chain – unless two outlets count as a chain, it is helmed by a much feted and loved chef, whose ways are not unknown to Michelin, and it consistently serves interesting, adventurous and clever food, And where those three words often translate to ‘challenging on the palate’ and ‘inedible’, Loubet’s food at Grain Store is deliciously, lip smackingly yum. Oh and it just happens to be based around vegetables, with a little meat, so it’s good for everyone.
So hurrah for an airport food outlet that isn’t just a weak, rolled out branch of a bigger shinier name, hurrah for great coffee and pastries, hurrah for a proper restaurant where grown ups can eat, but where you can still get your food in front of you and in your tum under half an hour (they aim to serve your food within 15 minutes), as per the dictates of an airport meal, hurrah for their doggyboxes, and ‘plane picnics. And, most of all hurrah for not compromising on the food – the ingredients are interesting, the dishes unusual, and there is no sense of dumbing down here. And, best of all, it tastes damn good.
And, compared to the price of most airport food outlets, there is no comparison. Sure, it’s more expensive than you’d pay in a High Street food outlet, but this is excellent cooking, with immaculately sourced ingredients, for the same price as a bag of ‘plane supplies from Pret.
Above: the vegetarian English breakfast, with avocado crostini, plum tomatoes, wilted spinach, and baked mushrooms. (£10)
If you would like to book a table, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sasha and Rachel ate at Grain Store Bar & Cafe as guests of Grain Store in March 2016. Sasha has frequently eaten as a paying customer at Grain Store Kings Cross (it’s ten minutes from home), and has returned to Grain Store Bar & Cafe at Gatwick on her own dime each time she has travelled through LGW this year.