Reviews of a Gourmet Snob: Jaan, Singapore

A friend of mine recently came into possession of a stack of CapitaLand vouchers, and while looking for a place to dispose of them, we realized that the entire Equinox complex perched atop the Swissotel Stamford — not long ago the world’s tallest hotel — accepts them.  What better excuse for a birthday splurge at my near-namesake, the newly renovated Jaan?

Making reservations at Jaan is hard, not because it’s so popular, but because you have to go through the Swissotel’s centralized system and they usually just refuse to answer the phone.  But reserve we did, and I asked if I could bring along a nice bottle of Lebanese wine…  to which I was told that yes, certainly, but a token corkage fee of S$100 (about 5x the cost of the bottle) would be charged.   Yowza!  Scratch that then.

We showed up at 7 PM, along with two other groups of customers, only to find the entrance to the restaurant closed.   After five minutes of drumming our fingers and collectively wondering if we were in the right place, somebody finally showed up and let us in; not, perhaps, the best way to treat your customers.  The view from the floor-to-ceiling windows on the 70th floor is impressive, although I was mildly disappointed to find us facing towards the endless housing block jumble of eastern Singapore, instead of the rather more dramatic Singapore River, banking district and Chinatown area.

Jaan offers 5/8 course tasting/degustation menus for $180/250 (plus around $100 extra for wine pairings), but we decided to go for a la carte.  The a la carte menu was fairly stripped down: half a dozen appetizers, three Poissons et crustaces, three Viandes, and half a dozen desserts, all listed in French and English.

Amuse-bouche

Prawn and mango ceviche with kaffir lime froth, served in a shot glass.  This was just terrible, a pretentious attempt at fusion that didn’t work on any level at all.

Super-skinny breadsticks (crostini?) with squid ink-parmesan puree and butter.  A work of art in appearance — if not for the waitress’s explanation, I would’ve thought what appeared like a bunch of twigs in a glass was a table decoration — and very tasty too, especially the subtle sea flavors of the squid ink dip.

Appetizer

His: Tartar of Hokkaido sea scallop with dabs of oscietra caviar and a spray of random vegetables ($68).  The one whole grilled scallop was mindblowingly tasty; the tartar paste was just generically fishy (and I usually love raw scallop).  The grudgingly dribbled caviar came atop halves of baby potatoes, and the veggie side dishes included artichoke, asparagus and peas, carefully boiled and laid out into a strip not unlike a Japanese garden.  A little uneven, but pretty good.

Hers: Foie gras ice cream (!) and a layeed foie gras pastry of sorts ($5x?).  This was really, really good, especially the pastry-thing: the pureed foie gras with a little crunch from the pastry with a little sweetness and spice from the sauce just hit all the right spots, and while the idea of mixing goose liver and ice cream sounds pretty disgusting, it worked quite nicely.  Best dish of the evening.

Main course

His: “Duo of Pigeon”, two halves grilled in red-wine-type sauce, plus a miniature salad with two pigeon legs served cold in a mild Chinese-style sauce and pats of apple-ginger(?) compote ($68).  The grilled pigeon was quite OK, if no match for the duck at Kafe Warisan; the teeny tiny little legs were very tasty, but, well, teeny tiny.  In all, competent but unextraordinary.

Hers: Pumpkin soup ravioli with popcorn and black cod a la plancha with bacon bits ($5x?).  Yes, bacon bits, and intensely salty ones at that, which pretty much obliterated any taste the cod (already plenty salty in itself) might have had.  I snagged one of the raviolis and kind of liked the intense sweet soup within, but she didn’t, at all.  Quite disappointing.

Dessert

I was somewhat intrigued by the offering of le bar “Snickers” with ice cream ($20), but in the end, we just shared some chocolate mousse with white chocolate vodka sorbet ($22).  The sorbet was quite good, although the vodka was hardly noticeable, but only a single spoonful was served and it melted pretty much immediately.  The mousse came wrapped in a unidentifiable and quite tasteless red jelly wrapper and was quite dense, so much so that it was hardly a mousse anymore, but hey, it was chocolatey.

And finally, the house plied us with little violet-colored lavender pastries (very sweet: I liked ’em, she didn’t), orange peel dipped in chocolate (usually a favorite of mine, but these were kind of blah), and a miniature Madeleine-type pastry flavored with almond (?), all served on a metal plate engraved with “Jaan by Andre”. Ooh.

Drinks

Jaan has an extensive wine menu, spanning the globe (albeit with an emphasis on French) and the gamut from $90 to $17,000 bottles (a Chateau Margaux), but they do not offer wine by the glass.  We (fine, she) opted for a Beni di Batasiolo Barbaresco 2003 ($160), which was a very good choice: a very light and drinkable red, which paired quite nicely with the fish dishes as well.

My eyeballs were set rolling, though, by their other drink menu: this is the first time I’ve seen a water menu in a restaurant, offering everything from artisanal Welsh well waters to bottles from Japanese mountain springs, all (needless to say) at ridiculous prices, some north of $20 for a 0.5L bottle.  Our pick of a very lightly carbonated Saint-Géron ($12.50/750mL) was OK — at least it’s better than Evian.

Overall

The damage done came to just over $500, easily my most expensive dinner in Singapore (or, on second thought, anywhere), and we didn’t even order from the expensive end of the menu, which had things like Kobe beef steak for $125.  The service was very good, the views were nice, the setting was OK, but I couldn’t help but feel that, at these prices, the food was a bit of a letdown.  I doubt I’ll be back.

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A Querulous QR Quest to Q8: Singapore to Doha

Changi Terminal 3 at 3 AM in the morning is positively comatose. Qatar had four desks open and a supervisor watching over it all, but I was the only passenger. My iPod having done a disappearing act earlier in the week, I’d been planning to pick up a new one at Changi, but hadn’t expected all electronics shops in all three terminals to be closed. Lacking a lounge, I picked up a few snacks at the convenience store and attempted to sink into one of the plush-looking seats at the closed Il Lido cafe, only to find that they were actually rock-hard. Next time, I’m not showing up two hours before my flight…

QR639 SIN-DOH Y A330 seat 17K
QR638 DOH-SIN Y A330 seat 18A

I had high expectations for these flights, and due to that very fact was ever so slightly let down. Based on the scuttlebutt on FlyerTalk, the A330 is considered the bee’s knees of the QR fleet, but apparently this applies mostly to the pointy end of the plane: in the back of the bus, the seat pitch is less than generous (32″, says SeatGuru) and window seats on both sides of the plane turned out to have half their foot space eaten up by the AVOD box. The configuration is a rather odd 4-2-4, and while on the way in I had a free seat next to me and could catch a few Z’s, on the way back the plane was packed to the max. Based on quietness of Changi, I’d assumed the plane would be half empty, but no; this flight continues onward to/from Jakarta, and the rear half of the plane — on both flights — was packed with Indonesian aunties in hijabs on their way to work in the Gulf, with virtually no men to be seen. Obviously a more profitable strategy than Etihad’s AUH-SIN-BNE flights.

But what the seat lacked in pitch, it almost made up in AVOD. QR’s “Waves” is one of the best I’ve tried, with 120 movies on demand, another stack of TV shows, an eclectic set of music (mmm, ghazals) and a zoomable in-flight map. The screen is large and the controls very responsive.

Both flights were red-eyes, so the service followed the same pattern: “refreshment” (read: sandwich) after departure, then hot breakfast before arrival. QR doesn’t do hot towels, instead passing out those dinky little disinfectant wipes (boo), but they do give a nice amenity pack with shades, earplugs and even a tiny toothbrush, and even the bathroom amenities are by Aigner. The thing I missed the most compared to SQ, though, was the total lack of water runs: you had to page the crew to top up on your H20, which isn’t really excusable on an 8-hour flight, and unlike Etihad they don’t hand out water bottles either.

Last but not least, QR gets some brownie points for crew: especially on the return flight, the cabin crew were absurdly attractive, with Japanese and south Indian ladies who should be strutting on a catwalk in Paris instead of dishing out omelettes on a plane.

All in all, I would probably have been delighted with QR if only I’d had a little more space for my legs. On any future flights, I’m definitely steering clear of the windows, or better yet, angling for a way to get myself into C.

A Querulous QR Quest to Q8: Singapore to Kuwait on Qatar Airways

The Firm recently found itself with a customer in Iraq, but visiting Baghdad being presently contraindicated for unbelieving khawagas like myself, I was asked to visit the next best thing — Kuwait. Always ready to check another Gulf state off my list, I accepted the offer and set off figuring out how to get there on Singapore. There are no direct flights, and I first looked at Thai via BKK, but they only fly three times a week and the schedule didn’t fit. Going through DXB on SQ and/or Emirates would have required two long layovers on the return leg, although detouring via Sri Lanka did sound kind of interesting… but in the end, I decided to try out Qatar for the first time: the schedule was excellent, the price was right and it was time to see if they lived up to their “five-star airline” hype, especially in Y — there are plenty of trip reports about QR C/F on FT, but I couldn’t find any for economy.

http://openflights.org/trip/1

As I flew the same flights on (almost) the same planes in both directions, I’m going to condense the flights together: one report each for SIN-DOH-SIN and DOH-KWI-DOH. No pictures, alas, as my CF card did a disappearing trick on my very last day and took every last picture of Kuwait along with it.

EY 470 AUH-SIN Y B777-300 seat 54K

Another three-hour layover at a time when I’d really much prefer to be sleeping. I picked up a few bottles at the tax-free, noted to my surprise that Romeo & Julieta No.2’s are appreciably cheaper in EY’s in-flight sales than here (US$11.50 vs US$15 for box of 3), tried and failed to find a local souvenir that didn’t involve dates, and then hacked on my laptop for a few hours.

I’m starting to kind of like AUH though. The two-layered squashed-octopus shape means it’s really compact and easy to get around, and the bizarre blue-green tiles roof-fountain-structure pulls off the rare trick of making a terminal really stand out: there is no way you can possibly mistake AUH for any other terminal anywhere. It’ll be a real shame if the new Etihad terminal here is just another soulless box of glass and steel.

I’d picked my seat on this flight carefully. Conventional wisdom says seats at the back of the bus are bad, because it takes a long time to disembark and because the turbulence is worse, but I knew I’d be in no hurry in Singapore (my Access Card would get me past any immigration queues and I’d have to wait for my suitcase anyway, and turbulence doesn’t particularly bother me — I find it oddly relaxing in a “yay, I’m flying!” way. Etihad’s online seat map showed that the back of the plane has two rows with only two seats on the window sides, so I picked the second to last row: this way, I figured I’d guaranteed full recline, I’d have some useful extra space between my seat, and I’d have a fair shot at nobody sitting next to me.

Once in my seat, I realized that the extra space was virtually nonexistent: on eg LH 747s, it’s enough to stretch out both your legs, but here there wasn’t really appreciably more space than the other rows. And yes, the seat next to me stayed empty, but with a load of no more than 40% there were plenty to go around and a few lucky guys — including the guy in 53K — got a whole three-seat row to stretch out on.

Drink and cracker service rolled around soon after takeoff, but it took close to two hours until they got around to lunch. Here’s the menu:

Asian glass noodle mixed seafood salad

White fish masala, biryani and harissa vegetables
Saffron vegetable lasagna with basil tomato coulis
Singapore hawker’s chicken laksa yong tau foo

Ginger and kiwi fruit mousse
Strawberry coulis

Cheese

Tea and coffee
Hot chocolate

Note to the menu writer: if you’ve got two “coulis” in one meal, one of them atop lasagna at that, you’re trying too hard. Indeed, the crew did the right thing and reduced that down to “fish, vegetable or chicken?”, and I opted for the “chicken” as it just sounded so bizarre. I wasn’t disappointed: the entree turned out to be a collection of tofu, fishballs, shrimp and, yes, chicken on a bed of thick rice noodles with a sauce that was half laksa, half rendang, with coconut shreds, laksa leaf and plenty of spices. I suspect this might be a bit much for people unused to Southeast Asian cuisine, but for me the end result was delicious, and even the noodles had stayed firm instead of degenerating into sogginess. Full points to Etihad for ingenuity!

I watched No Country for Old Men, which isn’t very good in-flight fare because it demands your full attention, but it does certainly deserves its Oscars. I also realized that Etihad’s headphones, which are excellent for economy (solid, padded, cover the whole ear, comfy) also incorporate noise canceling — I’d just gotten a broken set on the DEL-AUH flight, and this time too the wiring was flaky enough that turning my head was enough to flip the canceling on and off.

And then to bed. Even us economy class plebs got socks, eyeshades and earplugs, and even the brown blanket seemed a little fluffier than what you’d usually get in Y. Two seats with a liftable divider ain’t too bad, and while they never turned the cabin lights off, I managed to contort myself into a semi-sleeping position and catch a few Z’s.

The menu had promised us a “refreshment” prior to arrive in Singapore, which I figured would be the same sandwich-and-juice deal as on the RUH flights. But nope: we were treated to cups of frozen-solid Haagen-Dazs instead.

Disembarkation, immigration and baggage claim went fast enough: the only problem was that the handle I used to pull along my diving gear-laden suitcase had been knocked cleanly off. On my previous trip, the same beaten-up old Samsonite had lost a wheel, but off it was to the baggage claim office. Sorting out the claim took a while, and I was told to expect a call sometime within a week — I was thus rather surprised to get a call on Saturday morning for pickup, and even more surprised to get the fixed bag on Monday. They’d even replaced the top handle as well!

9W 017 SIN-DEL Y A330-200 seat 19A

I’ve flown this sector umpteen times, but to date always on SQ. However, this week they were booked full for days on end (the second daily flight starting this summer is not a moment too soon), so it was time to try out my first longer flight on Jet. My previous experience with the carrier has been limited to a single one-way Amritsar-Delhi hop, but I’ll confess not to paying my usual obsessive attention to the minutiae of the flight, as my intestines were in the rather unpleasant process of being roiled by amoebic dysentery at the time and I’d only narrowly avoided messy disaster in the check-in line.

This time, I was in harmony with my intestinal flora and looking forward to the trip. The plane looked new and very good, with lie-flat pods in business and modern burgundy-and-cream seating in economy in a 2-4-2 configuration. On the rather interminable taxi out from T1 to the runway, I spotted Etihad’s 777ER taking off — the very same thrice-weekly flight I was originally supposed to be on.

Take off, a towel run, and then straight into dinner with no menu, just a choice of “chicken, fish or veg”. The dinner selection looked impressive, with a miniature tablecloth on a tray, metal cutlery and a cloth napkin that looked almost good enough to steal, but the food was a bit of a disappointment: the chicken’s sauce was a pale Western approximation of a curry, just a sauce with turmeric really, and the raita tasted like it was made with sweetened low-fat yogurt. The salad was watery and the chapattiesque thing was thick and greasy, and only the finishing notes lifted the average a bit: a Magnum ice cream bar and a bag of Indian after-dinner mint spice mix. SQ wins this round.

Jet’s inflight entertainment system is really good, probably the best I’ve used interfacewise and far better than SQ’s Wiseman. It’s fast, responsive, easy to navigate and intuitive, as important settings like volume, brightness and screen on/off have their own buttons on the bottom of the screen, which can easily be manipulated by touch alone. The screen is nice and big, and there’s a pretty decent selection of programs, if with an understandable Indian slant. Today’s selections: episodes of Rome, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, The Office (US) and then a lengthy trawl through the dedicated Ghazals section of the music selection, where I drifted off to Lotus-land listening to Ghulam Ali. I was introduced to this amazing singer by trash novelist Shobhaa De‘s works, where the mango-breasted heroines rave about the aphrodisiac properties of his songs, and while they took a while to grow on me I’m starting to agree: a few bars, and I feel like I’m smoking opium and crushed pearls from a jewel-encrusted hookah while watching Hyderabad’s finest nautch girls dance. Score one for Jet.

Service was quite good also: Jet’s crew aren’t quite as dolled up as the SQ girls, nor are their faces contorted into a permanent rictus of a smile, but everything does work quite well. There was no water/drink service during the “night” while the lights are off, but I snagged a miniature water bottle from the galley and they did do a juice run before descent. Tie with SQ on this one.

The one big downside to Jet from SIN, though, is the terrible flight timing. Arrival into DEL is after 2 AM (meaning you’ll be lucky to get to your hotel by 4 AM), and the return flight wastes a full day by leaving DEL at 8 AM and arriving in SIN around 5 PM. And the smaller downside is the lack of alliance mileage, although I did manage to park the miles in my comatose Northwest account. Now to figure out a way to do something useful with the ~7500 miles I have in there…

SQ 943 DPS-SIN C B777-200 seat 15D

We left for the airport two hours before our flight, figuring we’d get there in half an hour, but due to a Galungan parade one of the main roads was closed and the alternate routes were thus jammed bumper to bumper. It took us one hour just to get near Kuta, usually a 10-15 minute trip, but then the traffic miraculously cleared up and we got to the airport a little under an hour before our flight.

Check-in was unproblematic, although I realized only later that we’d been unceremoniously shifted from my prebooked A/C seats across to D/E. Some last-minute duty-free shopping (bottle of Hatten rose wine, check) and a 5-minute breather in the lounge, which is a little tired, but has a reasonable selection of eats, a ridiculous amount of staff and has a noisy little outdoor patio in the “nice idea, poor execution” category… and then to the gate, past the economy class boarding scrum via the business class line. Rank hath its privileges.

There wasn’t much difference to the flight in, except that this time the plane did have AVOD, and (as all ex-DPS flights) there was no Book the Cook service. I neglected to snag the menu, but I had a rather blah baked snowfish dish, while Z tried out a rather reasonable lamb. The meal service was even more abbreviated than last time, with the ice cream replaced by such a generic dessert that I can’t even recall it afterwards. Z noted that the flight attendents addressed her by name, but not me, which may not be unrelated to the fact that my name is twice as long as hers…

The rest of the flight passed uneventfully and, to my mild disappointment, the flight landed at T2. Back in Singapore — but not for very long.

SQ 946 SIN-DPS C B777-200 seat 15A

As I’d expected, the plane turned out to be one of SQ’s regional models, without even on-demand video. I’d prebooked seats together for us and, as I kicked back and praised the joys of having some space in front of me for once, Z poured rain on my parade by noting that she’s small enough to sit in any seat and has a proven ability to sleep anywhere. Well, the back of the bus is that way, m’dear… but then a stewardess came to distract us with a glass of champagne and a terrible drink of the month involving apples, bitter lemon and 7-Up, and her fear of business class (a rather rare ailment about frequent flyers, I suspect) subsided into a mixture of relief and a wrinkled nose of disapproval when a passenger on the opposite site turned out to be wearing flip-flops and shorts revealing pale, hairy legs. So much for business class being all business.

I had one last surprise up my sleeve: I’d preordered Book the Cook for us and even gotten her selection for it by asking her to pick her favorites off an e-mailed menu without telling her what it was for. Reconstructed from memory, our “Light Lunch” menu was:

Appetizer
Scallops with avocado salsa

Main
Hers: Slipper lobster Thermidor, buttered asparagus, and slow-roasted
vine-ripened tomato, and saffron rice
His: Fish souffle and spicy minced chicken served with pineapple rice and
curried vegetables

Dessert
Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough or Strawberry Something ice cream

The scallops were sublime, big and juicy and a surprisingly good fit for the avocado, definitely one of the best things I’ve eaten on a plane. The lobster — originally my choice, but ever the gentleman, I bowed to her birthday veto — was also cooked to perfection, but my Thai-influenced entree was a bit of a disappointment: all of it (souffle, red curry chicken, green curry veggies) was furiously spicy and tasted like something I’d get in a Bangkok canteen for 30 baht, which isn’t to say it was bad, just not what I’d associate with “gourmet”. The Italian wine she opted for was quite tasty, while the German riesling (the only other white on the menu) was sickeningly sweet and singularly unsuitable for my dish.

It’s a short flight to Denpasar, so the meal service was abbreviated, with no dessert/cheese platter or liqueurs (although port was on the menu). But the ice cream was tasty, even though I had to ask for it twice, and by the time Z finished exploring her seat controls, it was already time to descend.

Wahhabalinese Adventures 1: Singapore, part 2

The plane touched down at 5:00 AM and rolled up to the gate at Terminal 3 at 5:05 AM. Changi was quiet, and I was through immigration and customs and inside a taxi by 5:15. By 5:30, I’d reached home and by 6 AM I was showered and in bed.

At 11 AM, my alarm clock rang, and I ran off for an hour of errands and came back just in time to see Z climbing out of a taxi with her rollaboard. Tomorrow was her birthday, and I’d booked award flights to Bali for us in economy… or so she thought.

– Let’s go to the airport a little early — they’ve got champagne in the lounge.
– Really? They didn’t have any last time.
– Ah, but this is a different lounge, in T3…
– Great, let’s go!

We hailed a cab to the airport and stepped inside the departures hall of T3, where I fiddled a bit with one of the self-service machines before realizing that its poor little brain couldn’t handle checking both of us in at the same time. Off to the desk then, where the clerk first told me we’d have to go to T2 but changed his mind after I glared at him, and then I passed Z her boarding card with a flourish.

– Ta-dah! Happy birthday.
– Huh? Err, gee, thanks.
– Um, look at it more carefully…
– Huh? What’s wrong?
– This. <points at “Business Class” text>
Kyaaaaaaa!

And into T3’s arrival hall, where I was impressed by the high ceiling and Z was impressed by the outlets of Brewerkz and the Fullerton Hotel’s Post Bar. Signage to the SilverKris lounge was a little lacking, but we eventually found it, turned left towards the Business side, and, well, damn. It was my first time here as well, and it’s posh, it’s huge, and it’s great: finally a SQ flagship lounge that can compete with the likes of BKK, NRT and ICN. Unlike the single row of food over at the KrisFlyer Gold lounge, the SilverKris lounge has an entire room (hall?) devoted to soups, salads, Western and Asian entrees and, of course, a bottle of Charles Heidsieck’s finest on ice. Z was so taken with the miniature bottles of balsamico and olive oil dressing that she borrowed one to take home, but as we had a full-fledged Business Class meal on the plane coming up, we limited our calorie intake to a healthy selection of rabbit food. The one little touch I missed from the T2 SilverKris lounge was the dedicated bar complete with bartender, but hey, pouring our own glasses of champagne wasn’t too big a deal.

All too soon it was time to head out and across to Terminal 2 by Skytrain, and once paradisiacal T2 now looked small, cramped and scruffy in comparison. Poor Z was feeling distinctly nervous by now: it was her first time in Business Class, and while in the lounge everybody else was businesslike and serious, dressed in power suits or conservative dresses, I was in a T-shirt and she in a tank-top and sarong wraparound. To the gate, through security and the boarding scrum, and then the lovely feeling of turning left into Door A…

SQ 375 DXB-SIN Y B777-200 seat 59D

I hate airport transfer desks: they’re always full of people with bizarre problems flying on bizarre itineraries that made my half-paper, half-electronic SQ-SV mutant combo look normal. This time around, a Chinese guy with a dodgy ticket, a very lost-looking Somali housewife and a pair of Pakistani mullahs had to be disposed of before the frazzled Filipino agent got around to processing me, and even my ticket took a couple of phone calls to sort out.

But eventually I had a boarding pass in hand and I set off to check out the Star Alliance Lounge, which based on the amount of LH propaganda lying around probably used to be Lufthansa’s. For an airport the size of Dubai, it was rather ridiculously small, with seating for maybe 40 and most of all of those taken even on this offpeak weekday afternoon. The full bar looked pretty good and they had rather spotty free wifi, but food offerings were limited to a few miniature sandwich-type things, chips and peanuts and the selection of newspapers was heavily Germanic (LH again?).

Back on the bird, which was coming in from Moscow and hence full of Russians knocking back vodka like it was going out of style. Somewhat to my surprise this turned out to be one of SQ’s regional models with no AVOD, and I understood why the people stuck on this thing for 12 hours were intent on getting liquored up. I’d forgetten to online checkin back in Saudi, so I’d ended up with an inner aisle seat way in the back of the bus, but the middle seat was empty and I could stretch out a little.

We took off on schedule and within minutes were back inside that crazy tail wind: I could feel the plane jittering a little as it was pushed forward and the airshow speedometer showed an amazing ground speed of 1138 km/h! Alas, once out of the Gulf the wind slowed down and meal service started. As I honestly can’t remember what I ate, I’m pretty sure it was airplane food, but part of the blame has to lie on Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, an utterly brainless Hindi comedy of the type that makes three hours on a plane fly past. A bit of laptop hacking later a simple breakfast rolled around (choice of muffin or danish with tea or coffee), and before I knew the plane was starting its descent, with a good half hour shaved off the scheduled flight time of 7:15.

SQ494 SIN-DXB Y B777-300 seat 35H

The flight started off ominously: on all seat-back and cabin screens was a freeze frame from the SQ safety video, showing a little girl with an orange oxygen mask on her face and the caption: “Take care of yourself before attending to others.” Kiasu or what?

That aside, it was another day, another SQ 777 — SQ is the world’s biggest operator of the 777 and unsurprisingly it’s also by an overwhelming majority the most common plane I fly. Fortunately life is made marginally more interesting by the fact that SQ has no less than four variants of this. The pedestrian B777-200 is the workhorse of the regional fleet, with neither on-demand entertainment nor decent business seating. B777-300s like this are a step up, with decent entertainment but still no near-flat seats; it’s only the B777-200ER that introduces the Spacebed in biz, and the still rare B777-300ER (aka “77W” in SQ-ese), which I’ve yet to fly, was SQ’s star until the A380 crashed the party.

But today, something a little out of the ordinary happened. We taxied out from the gate and lined up for our turn to take off… and waited, and waited, and waited some more. Eventually the captain came online: an indicator light for a punctured tire was lit. We taxied back to a safer position, waited for the mechanics to show up, and they eventually confirmed that, yes, a tire was indeed punctured. Nearly two hours after pushback, we arrived back the same gate we’d left from. They guessed 45 minutes to replace the tire, so I headed back to the lounge (T2 this time) for a quick bite and laptop recharge.

After barely 10 minutes in the lounge, it was time to try again, and this time we were off for real. I’d finished my first movie (an enjoyable if brainless Egyptian criminals-fall-in-love romp) by the time dinner rolled around. No Arabic catering here either, I’d had the same ayam rendang (chicken in dry curry) umpteen times before, but I’ve had worse.

And the flight continued. The lights went dark, I played with my laptop a bit, tried to sleep a bit, watched the barely entertaining Rush Hour 3, had a fairly bizarre “refreshment” of a croissant stuffed with salsa, tuna and yoghurt, had the lights go off again, and come back on only 30 minutes before landing. Soon we crossed over the northern tip of the UAE, flew past Dubai, executed a U-turn and came down for a landing, the Palm Jumeirah visible in the distance and the insane lit-up spike of Burj Dubai looking like a computer rendering error in the night-time sky.