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Sampling Qantas’ new Neil Perry business class menu

By David Flynn     Filed under: qantas, Neil Perry, inflight dining

On a recent Qantas flight Australian Business Traveller had the opportunity to sample the airline’s refreshed international business class menu – specifically, the ‘small plates’ option.

Why small plates? Because not every traveller wants to dive into a three-course meal built around one large main dish.

For starters (no pun intended), many business travellers and frequent flyers have already enjoyed a substantial meal at the airport lounge.

Yet barely an hour after the plane takes off, another large meal – often a proxy for lunch or dinner – comes rolling your way.

For me, that’s way too early. And while the best passenger experience allows you to dine at a time of your choosing, it’s pleasing to see that airlines are now fine-tuning the inflight menu to allow for lighter meals.

Qantas’ revised business class menu sees the introduction of small plates alongside the traditional main plates.

And as the menu is still designed by superchef Neil Perry and his Rockpool team, the meals themselves are top notch.

While travellers with a hearty appetite might rate the small plates as just an entree, these downsized dishes are a welcome alternative meal for people who’d prefer to graze more lightly during the flight.

"Passengers can order a small plate as entre followed by a main plate" a Qantas spokeswoman advised Australian Business Traveller.

"It's flexible dining so they can order any rotation, such as three small plates if they wish, or two main plates for example."

On my flight (QF81, from Sydney to Singapore) the small plates available were:

  • Cream of broccoli soup with croutons
  • Roast beetroot salad with goat’s curd, rocket, peas, toasted almonds and balsamic vinaigrette
  • Fish cakes with nuoc cham
  • Wok-fried mushrooms with tofu, white noodles and chilli

Deciding to treat these like two smaller dishes to replace the main, I chose the fish cakes and wok-fried mushrooms (I missed out on the beetroot salad, which was clearly a popular pick as as there weren’t enough to go around our packed business class cabin).

The fish cakes with nuoc cham (above) were excellent, although definitely in the ‘starters’ league and would have been well paired with the salad.

The wok-fried mushrooms with tofu (below) proved to be a more sizeable serving – if you don’t have a large appetite, this one dish may be all you need.

Having a lighter meal on the plane is also healthier and can even help you sleep better during the flight.

The crew on my flight suggested that passengers who wish to opt for two small plates and skip the main should feel free to do so, but your first two choices might not be available if other passengers have already spoken for them.

Keep up to date with the latest news for business travellers and frequent flyers: follow @AusBT on Twitter.


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.


Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 29/4/13 by AusFlyer

I really like the new menu being offered by Qantas and also the revised style of serving. Gone are the trays and they are replaced by a nicely designed side plate that also holds the salad. It feels much nicer than having a tray stuck on the table.

Breakfast is also much better as so many QF flights arrive first thing in the morning and the last thing I feel like is airplane eggs being served. The continental style breakfast is perfect.

Great improvements by QF!

2 on 29/4/13 by Tom

Flew QF12 (LAX-SYD) in early February in Business. Enjoyed the new soft mattress cover option, but found the service was very spotty with the refreshed Perry menu compared to your experience.

Having not been fed in the packed QF First lounge at LAX, my choice of one small plate and one main plate was rejected by a senior-ish J attendant, and the way I was told off made me feel almost greedy for asking, a bit rich in this class of travel on this route.

Settled for a main plate - steak - which was typically up to standard.

The next step: standardise the portion allocation and make it clear on the menu to avoid this unnecessary embarrassment.

3 on 29/4/13 by TAADC9

I just flew Emirates First Class and have experienced their Business class. Qantas will need to up its game if it wants to be on the same playing field. Good to see they are making changes.

4 on 29/4/13 by mfl

Does this mean, they we also be revising the 'Cafe Breakfast' on the Singapore - Sydney flight, which was just a little too stingy and miserable for a business class flight.

1 on 29/4/13 by David

I think the 'cafe breakfast' is staying - I've heard a few complaints about it along the same lines as yous, mfl, but missed this on my trip back because I wanted to sleep the whole way (SIN-SYD doesn't allow much time for sleeping, so I tend to skip inflight breakfast and then grab something more substantial at my local cafe when I get home).

5 on 29/4/13 by whipper

Agree with the comments, this menu depends entirely on the time of day.  The trips back in F & J from the US are the worst.  They don't serve a full meal, just an abridged version in about 12 minutes flat.  I once tried to slow it down and said to the flight attended out of DFW that I would like to have a drink then dine later - but was rebuffed when the attendant said 'we already have the meat cooked, sorry'...  I also don't know a lot of people other than (sorry David) travel writers who get to the airport three hours before the flight and dine early.  Usually I turn up with 60-75 minutes to go and I count myself lucky if I get a couple of G&T's in before boarding.   Thus I find the whole 'snacking' menu a little, light on...  Just give us a decent entree and main any day :) 

1 on 29/4/13 by David

Whipper: totally agree with you that travellers should have an better option of when to dine, although of course that's tricky with some meals.

As to how early some travellers arrive in lounges: a lot of people besides travel writers do an early international checkin, especially if they have lounge access, to have a good meal and also get some last-minute work done in the lounge instead of rushing around too much.

Two hours is a good norm – I used to cut things fairly close, my standard checkin was 90 minutes before the flight but a few times I was running late and there'd also be traffic, until one time I arrived at Sydney airport for a flight to Tokyo and the flight had just closed. Thankfully they re-opened it for me, but since then I have gone totally the other way and now plan to be at checkin when it opens (3 hours prior to the flight) where possible – this means I can enjoy a good meal without rushing (and maybe a spa treatment in the QF First lounge), and get some work done too.

My philosophy is that I'd rather have an extra half-hour sitting in the lounge then be short of a half-hour due to sitting in some traffic jam due to some accident, roadworks, general congestion etc – because if there is some hold up en route, then I already have a generous buffer built into my schedule.

6 on 29/4/13 by Tezza

Hi All, I have been posted my view in the past but the CAFE breakfast (Ham and cheese crossiant or fruit with yogurt) on Asia route e.g. SIN and HKG are an disgrace.

7 on 29/4/13 by Ozkid

Just came back from BKK - the menu was yum. lamb cassulet outbound, duck salad followed by gnocchi on return leg. I didn't mind the small breakfast of croissant and/or fruit - I appreciated the longer zzz but I can understand why it raises ire as it does look skimpy.

8 on 29/4/13 by The Thinker

I think this is a brilliant addition. I eat small but I eat often (I graze) so it seems to nail my problem of these massive meals on the head. However I had hoped that with the small plates would come some simplicity.

The menu selections themselves and this never ending focus on designer meals is a negative to me personally.  Not to take anything away from Neil Perry and the culinary arts, but I do not spend my life in restaurants and have an exceedingly simple palette. I am more comfortable with the sandwich they serve in economy or the random “chicken or beef” options than I am with a triple glazed flame licked endangered pheasant breast.I am very lucky that my work pays for travel in premium cabins but when it comes to the food I often find its BYO or go without.

9 on 30/4/13 by PLATY

Back up your final paragraph saying that catering options are limited for business class passengers?

IMHO this negates the exercise since running out of supply on QF biz is the first problem that needs to be fixed...

1 on 30/4/13 by David

As I was told on the Qantas flight when I enquired about the small plates, QF has an 'allocation' of one small plate per passenger - clearly not a hard & fast rule, as I was able to order two. Bear in mind also that in the early days of any new menu there will be a fine-tuning phase during which the airline can make a more accurate 'real world' judgement on how many meals to load, which ones are more popular etc.

10 on 1/5/13 by nix584

So are QF saying that you can have either a small plate as your main then dessert or a small plate as your entree and also a main plate as your main dish then dessert?

I'm doing QF52 which leaves at 10:20, so it would be nice to have a leisurely 3 course lunch then a snack along the way and before arrival. But as Tom has said above, he was rebuffed when asking for a small and main plate, so will the attitude of the crew on the day determine if you will get lunch (3 course) or just a snack (small plate)?

1 on 1/5/13 by David

My understanding from the flight was that you can do small only, small + dessert or  main + dessert - the small plate wasn't positioned by Qantas to us as a 'starter', just a small serving if you don't want the larger meal.

1 on 1/5/13 by nix584

That's poor service if that's the case. I'd fully expect an airline like Qantas to offer a standard 3 course meal in Business on international flights (especially ones to Asia and the US). They do it in Y, surely a J pax is entitled to something similar?

At that time of morning I (and perhaps many other people) won't have eaten breakfast and the offerings in the lounge in BNE aren't nearly as plentiful as those in SYD/MEL, so the flight is when i'd be eating my first meal of the day. And to get on board and be told I can only have one plate and some cheese or a slice of cake is unacceptable. But if that's the case I would expect the 'refreshment' before landing to be substantial and the snacks to be readily available.

1 on 1/5/13 by JamesM

The 'small plates' are not part of the main course nix584, they are an altermative to it. 

1 on 1/5/13 by nix584

I understand that, and it's a great idea for people who aren't too hungry but still would like something. But what about people who are hungry or are expecting a meal service only to be told that they can have either a small plate or a main plate only? And what happens if the whole allocation of main plates are gone by the time it gets to your row, can you then have two small plates? It seems in most cases, no.

2 on 1/5/13 by Ozkid

Hi David 

  Just from own experience last week I was able to order any combination of small, main, and dessert. 

11 on 3/5/13 by David

After hearing some of the experiences of AusBT readers, we went back to Qantas and asked for a clarification on how small plates fit into the meal service and a definitive position on what you can and can't order.

Qantas says: "Passengers can order a small plate as entre followed by a main plate. It's flexible dining so they can order any rotation, such as three small plates if they wish, or two main plates for example."

This indicates some some 'settling in' issues among crews dealing with the new menu and perhaps juggling how many of each dish have been loaded for each flight.

But the bottom line is that one or more small plates can be enjoyed on their own, as substitution for a main course; or you can have a small plate as a starter before the main; or, as your appetite and Qantas' meal loadings permit, you can choose a few of each from the menu!

1 on 4/5/13 by PLATY

...and Qantas meal loadings permit....there's the rub!

QF are keen to minimise the amount of catering they carry on each flight (presumably to save money) to the extent that have typically denied upgrades to people for lack of catering and run out of supply for those that have paid substantial amounts of money to travel with a "full service premium airline"

For example, over Christmas they reduced catering in business class.

There's a point where thriftiness impacts supply of service. 

2 on 4/5/13 by nix584

Thanks for going back to QF to clarify David. From my point of view I wont be eating a lot of food on board, but it's nice to know there is the option to have a 3 course meal or just a couple of small plates.

Do you happen to know if there's any way to get a copy of the menu for a route prior to flying?

12 on 3/5/13 by Joe

What of the pathetic 'salad' ..some of us like salad neil not rabbit food...why is this part of the meal so sadly neglected? Surely on long haul travel light things such as a good salad are less filling but still satisfying?

Come on Neil give us QF Business Class travellers a break here.


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