I have never paid for a business class seat and on those rare occasions I've been upgraded (I can count three times in the last three years, which ain't much considering how often I fly), the food hasn't been memorable. Looking at my narrow experiences on Singapore Air, Alitalia and Air France, I'd say that the food reminded me of what airline food used to taste like...when you actually got a meal on a plane. The only differences: it came with better and more abundant wine plus good bread served from a basket. Oh, and I got a white table cloth, metal utensils and obsequious service. Those were the only differences I could detect.
Studies have shown that our taste buds are badly affected by high altitudes. In fact, a third of those in our mouths are numbed out entirely when we fly. We don't smell as well, either, as the dry cabin air affects that ability and smell is, obviously, a huge part of the culinary experience. That's why, though airlines oversalt the food, it usually tastes very bland.
Which all leads me to wonder whether the new strategy being employed by some airlines to introduce gourmet food into steerage class will actually work. In a CNN.com article today, it was reported that a number of airlines are making partnerships with well-respected restaurants in destinations around the world, which will allow them to sell their specialties at 40,000 feet. Passengers must pre-order their meal; they pay a bit more for the privilege of dining on the famous dishes being offered. At this stage, Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, US Airways, Hawaiian Air and KLM have programs of this sort.
I think I'm going to stick with my tried-and-true method of either bringing my own home-cooked meal aboard, or grabbing a sandwich in the destination before I hit the airport. Cheaper, and likely more tasty. But I may be in the minority on this one. It'll be interesting to see how many passengers, er, bite.