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First-class dining arrives at airports around the world

Courtesy of Encounter Restaurant

The Encounter Restaurant is located in the landmark Theme Building in the center of Los Angeles International Airport.

By Jane Ormond, Lonely Planet

In these days of budget flights and travel for all, airports are no longer the hermetically-sealed Sno-Globes of "Mad Men"-style glamor. They are crowded, crushing hubs filled with people fretting over suitcases with busted seams and wondering if their online booking was actually the real deal.

Fittingly, dining at the airport is often a dreary, cash-fleecing exercise in gastronomic boredom. Why so much fast food when we have so much time to kill? If ever there was a need for slow food, the airport, with its interminable security checks and distended lead-up times, is it.

Which could be why the travel times, they are a-changin'. Over the last few years, some of the world's most famous chefs have opened restaurants at airports — and the trend shows no sign of abating.

New York's LaGuardia has made the move to fancier eating options, not dissimilar to the airy, loungey JetBlue terminal at New York's JFK airport where you can enjoy mushroom and pepper salad with fried rosemary (the menu was designed by Del Posto's Mark Ladner) at AeroNuova while vintage Italian movies screen overhead. Gordon Ramsay has opened Plane Food at London's Heathrow (whiskey pannacotta!), Rick Bayless is installed at Chicago's O'Hare. Soon it'll be hard to tell the difference between people waiting for a flight and people waiting for a table.

Beijing Airport’s Langham Place has impressive chefs galore fashioning delicacies at the various restaurants. Ramping it up is Geneva Airport’s Altitude restaurant with two chefs who have received Michelin stars for their city-based operations. Not to be outdone, Top Air restaurant at Stuttgart Airport is actually a Michelin-starred restaurant in its own right. A Michelin-starred restaurant. At the airport.

Food-mad Melbourne, Australia, is swiftly getting on board the phenomenon. Shannon Bennett of Melbourne's lauded Vue de Monde, has opened the whimsical Cafe Vue at Melbourne Airport where you can sit with a glass of sparkling and a neat little "lunchbox" of four small courses. Another chef, Raymond Capaldi, has crafted the menu of Plonk, a wine bar that aims to capture some of Melbourne's famous laneway culture.

And while there's a whole raft of new eateries peppering the freshly renovated LAX, for my money nothing beats a final meal at Encounter. Housed in that Jetsons-tastic building, it serves perfect pre-flight food — bright fresh salads, free-range chicken dishes — and cocktails. And you can watch the planes come in.

Of course, you do have to remember that, although you can have a lovely little duck cassoulet instead of a sloppy burger, this is still travel. Your knees will still be scraping up against your carry-on luggage by your side. There'll still be someone using their backpack for a pillow just within your eyesight and your meal will still come with a nervy side-serve of “I have got my passport, right." But it beats a burger. And it beats staying home.

This article, Flying through the Michelin stars: airport dining takes off, first appeared on LonelyPlanet.com.

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