We’re unabashed fans of the world-class Qantas First Lounge. One of its stand-out features is the superb dining – surely the best way to begin any overseas flight (or even some domestic ones, as savvy frequent flyers have discovered).
Built around menus designed by Aussie superchef Neil Perry, prepared fresh in the lounge’s kitchens and served with a smile by the restaurant staff, it’s one of the most memorable parts of any visit to the Qantas First Lounge.
Australian Business Traveller sat down with Jessica Sly, who heads up menu planning for Neil Perry's Rockpool Consulting, for a behind-the-scenes look at how this fantastic food makes its way onto your table at the Qantas First Lounge.
AusBT: How do you shape the Qantas First Lounge menu?
Jessica Sly: Throughout the year, and throughout each season, I’m talking to Neil Perry and looking at a lot of his menus that he’s using throughout the different Rockpool restaurants.
The menu is shaped by all sorts of influences we see in the media, online magazines, just what’s happening out there in the local restaurants and of course Neil’s feedback. But we always design dishes that are in line with Neil’s philosophy and suit the style of the lounge.
I have a brainstorming session with Allen Parrish, our executive chef across Sydney and Melbourne International First and Business Lounges, where we talk about what’s working in the kitchen as far as service goes, and also what’s been really popular.
The menu comes out of that that, and then we jump into the kitchen at the Sydney and Melbourne lounges for two solid days and we test everything, taste a whole lot of ingredients from suppliers, fine-tune the menu, build the dishes and photograph them all, both for reference and so they can be plated up correctly.
AusBT: What are some of the most popular dishes on the menu, the favourites that you’d never remove for fear of being shot by the guests?
JS: Definitely the salt and pepper squid. We’ve had a few variations on that over the years, because we alter the mix slightly as ingredients change, but if we took that off the menu there would be absolute heartbreak!
There’s also the club sandwich, the burger, the minute steak. The Bluefin tuna sashimi has been so popular that it’s now a mainstay. And the Shaw River Buffalo Mozzarella, that’s another one we wouldn’t dare pull out!
AusBT: But I also notice you’ve changed that slightly, now it’s got sweet peppers.
JS: Yes, we do mix it up a bit from season to season. We’ve added some peppers which are actually really sweet and melt in the mouth.
There are a lot of dishes we tweak through the year, throughout the seasons. It’s winter now so we’re seeing a lot of citrus fruits, pears and apples, winter greens. We’ve got an amazing providore that spends his time at the market and quite often brings us things that you don’t think would be available.
For example, we can get a different range of mushrooms throughout autumn and winter. Asparagus is available at different times of the year, and tomatoes – all those sorts of things come in and out of season.
AusBT: Of course, travellers should sample the daily specials as well...
JS: The daily specials on the menu are really great because we’ve got such a talented brigade of chefs in the kitchen. They can strut their stuff and bring in some seasonal ingredients that might be a little bit too expensive to have on the main menu all the time.
One of the great things is the quality of the products that we use. It’s second to none, it’s the same that Neil uses in his restaurants. And we’ve got a really good mix of culturally diverse staff in the lounge, who try all the meals themselves so they can can suggest meals to the guests.
And we find that even people who say they don’t like mushrooms or sashimi or whatever it is, they changed their mind once they taste these dishes purely because of the quality of the product and the way it’s cooked to perfection.
In part 2 of this article: how the lounge's seasonal menus are developed and introduced, plus Neil Perry's recipes for a few of the Qantas First Lounge dishes!
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.