This restaurant opened by an airline will cater to your secret love of plane food

Hannah Sampson

THE WASHINGTON POST – Just what everyone thinks when they’re digging into an airline meal: Man, I wish I could order this even when I’m not flying.

At least that’s how AirAsia, a low-cost carrier based in Malaysia, hopes its customers feel. Recently, the airline opened the first restaurant inspired by its in-flight food offerings at a mall in Kuala Lumpur. Executives have ambitious plans for expansion, with a goal of opening five owned restaurants and 100 operated by franchisees “in global markets” in the next three to five years.

“Our dream is to have one in Times Square,” AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes told Reuters.

The restaurant, Santan, is named after coconut milk in Malaysia; that is also the name of the airline’s in-flight menu brand. It opened in conjunction with T&Co, a cafe.

General Manager of Santan and T&Co Catherine Goh told Reuters that 30 per cent of the restaurant menu comes from the menu that is served in the air.

Thai basil chicken with rice and Nyonya curry laksa from the restaurant Santan. PHOTO: AIRASIA

“We have seen a significant appetite for our in-flight menu offerings beyond our flights across the region and this is our answer to that demand,” she said in an announcement. “We are very proud to extend what started out as an in-flight menu into new markets and reiterate our support for local and ASEAN producers, suppliers; apart from creating new job opportunities with affordable franchising.”

Dishes that airline passengers might recognise include “Pak Nasser’s Nasi Lemak”, described as a coconut rice dish with chili sauce and a chicken stew. The meal includes fried anchovies, half a hard-boiled egg, and nuts. Also on the Santan menu: “Uncle Chin’s Chicken Rice”, with roast chicken, seasoned rice and chili and ginger soy sauces. Meals hail from countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, and cost about RM12 (or about USD2.90).

“It will bring people together through our shared love for ASEAN food under one roof and trigger wonderful memories from your trips with us to your favourite ASEAN countries and beyond,” Fernandes wrote in a LinkedIn post last September.

For years, airlines have consulted with celebrity chefs to spruce up their in-air menus. But taking inspiration from the air to the ground is less common.

Thai Airways’ catering arm operates four restaurants, all at airports in Thailand.

But AirAsia’s CEO wants to reach way beyond air travellers.

He hopes the restaurants will ultimately compete with American fast-food chains.