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A remarkable week at FAB 2019 concluded for me with a memorable tour of Paradies Lagardère’s restaurants and retail stores at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), where I was reminded again of the warmth of Texan hospitality and the rich blend of culinary culture in this southern state. The quality of food also underlined how far travel dining has come in recent years, with imaginative menus, stunning presentation and flavours to match any downtown restaurant.
Despite a late previous night marking the annual FAB Awards, where Lagardère Travel Retail (Paradies Lagardère is the US subsidiary of Lagardère Travel Retail) enjoyed notable success, by early Friday afternoon I had summoned up the energy to go again – and the welcome from the regional team in Terminal D made the early trip to DFW well worth it. We made a selective tour of key locations – Paradies Lagardère runs eight dining and 30 retail outlets – focusing on some of the newest.
We began with one of the big recent success stories for the retailer and restaurateur at DFW, Bar Louie, which was converted from previous brand Abacus in February. Name recognition (Bar Louie is a well-known brand off-airport), improved visibility (it now occupies concourse space as well as the original restaurant footprint), a travel-friendly food menu and a terrific cocktail offer have helped turn around this location for the company. Try the flatbread offer with their combination of savoury and sweet. Simply excellent.
Paradies Lagardère has partnered with local chef Kent Rathbun on a range of concepts. Among the highlights here is Whitetail Bistro, which combines Texan tastes with French cuisine. Although I had sampled freely at Bar Louie, I just had to make room for the peppered duck, a moreish creation that is the number one best seller at this restaurant.
Courtesy of the Paradies Lagardère retail team we had a good look through some of the established and new shop concepts, among them Tumi and Hugo Boss – a strong speciality combination – as well as Univision, a relatively new travel essentials store, but one we’ll see more of in the retailer’s network.
Courtesy of owners Tracy Rathbun (wife of Kent) and Lynae Fearing, Shinsei has taken modern Asian dining to DFW. There’s a clear Japanese influence but this is very much pan-Asian food, with a menu pared down for the airport space. It was a regional winner in this year’s FAB Awards, and you can see why. Sumptuous sushi and sashimi, high-quality sake, crispy tempura, beautiful braised pork steam buns and hot rock wagyu beef were just some of the stunning items we tasted over lunch.
Our final stop was Brewed, the newest addition to Terminal D’s dining offer. I loved this concept, a curated collection of the finest Texan craft brews with a homely menu featuring everything from superb chicken thighs to the sumptuous bacon bucket, strips of pork with a peppery twist.
I met co-owner Dayna Corley, who with her partner had the idea for a place that would serve great coffee but also the finest regional beers. An unusual combination but one that has caught on in their Dallas off-airport outlet, and a concept that others are already copying. I sampled five mini-versions of the beer menu, from a Belgian style blood honey to a thick stout that was both food and drink.
As I boarded shortly after leaving Brewed, the experience reinforced the message that airport dining – when done well, which admittedly is not always so – should no longer be considered a poor or sub-standard relation to downtown food. Travel dining can be as imaginative and memorable as dining in any other channel can be. In the case, certainly of some of the restaurants I visited, it can even lead the way.