I perform too much of a ritual when I am about to travel to pay valuable attention to the eating at all, let alone eating well. Flying elicits all kinds of emotional responses, my brain becomes strangely reflective of the past x number of months since I was last bumping in the clouds. Time slows to a halt, especially in the last couple of days running up to actual act of flying when it becomes an all encompassing sensory event, as if I was being me for the very last time. Insomnia ensues. Mostly because I had spent the last few days caught up in the indissoluble cinema of my life but otherwise, probably because I had spend the final night so urgently packing away comfort items I think I need. The toothbrush, hairgel, the latest monocle, the moleskine, red pants, iPod cable, my faber castells. Then there is the list of would-like-tos scribbled on a note which is next to indecipherable, something which I had hastily prepared during breakfast, coffee stains still very fresh. I fail to see the point of airport fine dining.
Could it be that the restaurant building wizards of this country have spotted a gap in the market? A sound business case as well as an attempt at fixing our insipid international reputation with the opportunity to create the world’s greatest airport quality food at the world’s busiest airport. It would be the last meal on British soil a traveller would have before leaving for good, and perhaps even a contributing factor to whether if said traveller would return to said British concrete – Talk about imprinting a lasting impression. Modish gastro-houses are springing up at the international terminals inside Heathrow. These super chic outlets with their high octane branded emblems are comparable to the cartel of self aware, self important, highly produced (if highly mass produced) fashion labels which occupy the opposing spaces in the same departure lounge. Woe is the jet-setting socialite of the new millennium – how would she decide to spend her duty-free pounds, will it be a new scarf from Hermes, maybe it is time to invest in a little blue box, oh mull over it over brunch why not. While Gordon Ramsay holds court in T5 with plane food, Terminal 3 belongs to new boys “rhubarb”. The quotation marks are not an invention of mine, but merely an observation of company branding, in which it seems to play a major role in “rhubarb”‘s services. “rhubarb” is one of two highly stylised restaurant concepts spinning out of Rhubarb food design; primarily a catering company armed with a magic canon to sprinkle star dust on classy finger food projects aimed at the equally bespoke corporate party organiser – style is something “rhubarb” just ‘understands’, so they say. Take a trip to their website and you should instantly notice the frenetic copywriting, the sort of self appreciating stuff plastered across their webpages, sending not so subliminial messages of their greatness. Oh so pink as well, and you can watch videos too.
I had already queued up at WH Smith to pick up a copy of the Economist when I asked to sit at the shimmering black lacquer bar at “rhubarb”. The current issue coincided with the release of what industry experts hail as the Jesus Tablet. The economist’s cover story was aptly titled ‘the book of jobs’ with a photoshopped Steve clutching his latest invention as in the image of Moses. “rhubarb” sticks out like a sore thumb stung by a large bee, their staff are dapper in pressed white shirts and tidy black aprons. I never get to the airport on time, it is always too early or too late, it’s a hassle I haven’t rehearsed well enough, even if I have been flying out from this terminal for a decade now. In this case, I was a little too early for a noon flight. My empty stomach suggested that I ask for a cappuccino, a cappuccino which seemed to take forever to arrive, a cappuccino which set me back three quid. When it eventually appeared, it was surreptitious watered down and tasted much like the regurgitated spit from decade old un-upgraded instant coffee machines that some establishments claim to be ‘coffee’. I didn’t like it or perhaps I was just grumpy. The menu is an effective selection of representatively British fare: Wiltshire ham croissant, breakfast, shepherd’s pie, steak sandwich, sticky toff pud. My yo-yo expectations of “rhubarb” had suddenly swung from MTV generation crap to mildly interesting greatest hits of Great Britain. Plus, the place is painted pink. I chose nothing decidedly British though, just didn’t feel a fry up you know, instead it was either the steak sandwich, the burger with the handcut chips or the NY Brunch. I chose door number three.
The brunch consists of four mini square plates, placed on a larger square plate. Wait a minute – did I already step on the plane, I thought miniaturised versions of real food was only meant to be so, so that they could save space in the tight compartmentalisation of modern air travel. On the ground, this concept is a ghastly thing, it even smells mechanical. In the foreground, duck confit hashbrown with egg and banana muffins. In the background, a chicken and foie gras parfait and micro version of what appears to be a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. At least they got the partfait right – moist, smooth, buttery and glammy, and equally pleasing were the near weightless banana muffins that carried a sugary aftertaste. The duck confit was more mash than hash sharing, more similarities with Waitrose tuna mayo than it’s brasserie cousins in Paris. A radioactive looking hollandaise sauce poured all over the hash looked disturbing, even though it didn’t stop me from eating it. The bagel was standard, edible, but forgettable.
For a fast food bar, cooking takes the slow lane, nearly 20 minutes for the kitchen to produce this miniature version of what would be equivalent to a meagre selection from a Holiday Inn’s complimentary breakfast buffet. Priced at £13.50, it is not the cheapest option if you were looking for a quick bite. Compared to the rest of the Terminal 3, well, ain’t much of a choice. There is that smoke salmon and caviar bar inside the same terminal – half a dozen rock oysters for £13. In the end – mixed feelings, “rhubarb” was merely ‘ok’. It wasn’t a lasting impression and the next time I fly, I’ll make sure I add “an apple” to my coffee stained list.
The Gist of It
Rhubarb Official Site £15pp
Heathrow Airport Terminal 3