No list of the world's best airport lounges should be considered complete without Qantas' flagship lounge at Sydney International Airport.
This world-class effort ticks all the boxes – from a chic yet elegantly classy design to great food and wine, a Payot day spa and superb, highly personal service with the genuine warmth of an Aussie smile.
Marc Newson's architecture is stunning. Dramatic wooden ceiling spars cambered like the inside of an airplane wing subtly yet naturally divide the lounge's sweeping space into almost a dozen semi-contained functional areas, all bathed in an abundance of natural light.
Then there are delightful touches of whimsy, such as the old-style flipper boards which track flight departures.
Location & Impressions
Having successfully skirted through Sydney International Airport’s duty-free obstacle course, you’ll find the Qantas Business and First lounges up an escalator next to the Travelex desk.
They’re well located for the gates used by most Qantas flights. Turn a sharp left for the Business lounge, or glide ahead for the more rarified confines of the First lounge, where a concierge awaits you behind the sliding glass doors.
The left wall of the curved entryway is lined with plants – yes, the real green alive-and-need-to-be-watered type – while the full length windows opposite provide a peek onto the airport apron and the closest boarding gates.
The Qantas International First Lounge is open to all passengers flying first class on Qantas and its oneoworld partners such as British Airways.
Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum cardholders, and those with the equivalent oneworld Emerald status, can also enjoy the lounge regardless of which class they’re flying in.
The dining facilities at the Qantas International First Lounge are truly first-class: the meals, wines and service are what you’d expect from an up-market bistro.
There's counter seating with a view through to the kitchen, while a barista pulls fresh juice of the bean at the far end.
Two separate dining areas provide table service for travellers.
Breakfast is available through to almost noon, along with an all-day dining menus plus daily specials. Many of the dishes share ingredients from Neil Perry’s restaurants, such as Blackmore Australian wagyu beef.
Staples on the all-day menu include entrees such as buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and basil; smoked salmon with crème fraiche, pickled onion and salmon roe; wagyu bresaola with goat’s curd, braised leeks and truffled potatoes; salt and pepper squid with green chilli sauce; crisp pork belly with spicy eggplant, coriander and shallots.
Always-reliable mains include a 300 day grain-fed tenderloin served with café de Paris butter and chips; chicken laksa with golden eschallots and chilli sambal; grilled fish with beetroot risotto, fennel and dill; papperdelle with lamb ragout and aged pecorino; and duck confit with braised red cabbage and balsamic (below).
Fancy something a bit more straightforward? The thick club sandwich and beef burger are popular choices.
As a regular visitor to the lounge, my preference leans towards sampling a few entrees rather than sticking with a conventional entree-main combo.
The buffalo mozzarella (above) and salt & pepper squid (below) are always hard to pass up.
This ensures there is room for dessert: a pavlova with strawberries and cream, chocolate lava cake with rhubarb and vanilla bean ice cream, sticky date & toffee pudding (below), a selection of Gelatomassi gelato and sorbet, or a cheese plate with Cabot clothbound cheddar, Brillat Savarin and Papillon Roquefort.
Daily specials also grace the menu: these can include blue fin tuna sashimi, Jamon serrano, Blackmore wagyu beef, potato gnocchi, and creme caramel.
Would sir or madam like something to drink with that? The lounge's well-chosen cellar selection includes Tattinger, Veuve Cliquot and Bollinger champagne, a dozen top-shelf Australian red and whites plus De Bortoli’s syrup-sweet Noble One dessert wine. Add a machiatto and you're set.
Snacks are also plentiful. Self-serve areas at both ends of the lounge include bread rolls with leg ham, roasted vegetables; chocolate brownies, pecan bites, orange & hazelnut cake, raspberry & pistachio friands and coconut tea cakes, plus fresh fruit and cheese platters.
Not to mention a serious-looking coffee machine.
Scattered here and there are other seasonal treats, like this mountain of juicy strawberries.
The Qantas International First Lounge is also well geared towards finishing some work before your flight.
Free wireless covers the lounge, and unlike the wi-fi at the domestic Qantas lounges it’s both speedy and reliable.
A handful of iMacs (which also run Windows 7) and a printer-copier are located at the end of the lounge, adjacent to the ‘library’ quiet zone which is also a great place to fine-tune a presentation or fire off those last few emails.
(If you want to check email or the web while you grab a bite in the restaurant area, the tables nearest to the counter bar and the window have powerpoints built into the wall just behind them.)
There are also two meeting rooms with their own iMac, printer/copier, landline telephone, sofa and even a large flat-screen TV.
These are free to book, and even if you’re not travelling with workmates they provide the ideal environment for shutting yourself off from the rest of the lounge if you really need to focus on your work.
Tucked away in the far corner of the lounge is the Payot spa, a haven where not even boarding calls are made.
It offers a range of treatments – facials, massages, even foot and leg wraps – lasting from 30 minutes to 50 minutes, all performed by trained professionals in lush private rooms with their own shower.
And as with the restaurant meals it's all free, even if you're a Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum cardholder booked on the cheapest economy seat.
But the passengers who pay the most get first shot at the spa. Qantas contacts its first-class passengers before their flight to book in a session for treatment of their choice on the day they travel. Everyone else has to take pot luck with what timeslots and treatments are available on the day.
This is another reason I suggest checking in as early as possible for your flight. Boarding for Qantas' international flights begins three hours before departure, so why not be at the check-in desk on the dot of that T Minus 3 Hours mark and spend as much time as you can relaxing in the lounge?
I tend to go for a facial to hydrate and moisturise the skin – it’s not just relaxing, it prepares my face for the inevitable dryness to follow on an 8-12 hour flight. There’s no doubt that the facial helps my skin look and feel better when I step off the plane at the other end of the flight.
If you just want to freshen up before your flight, duck into one of the eight marble-lined shower rooms.
You'll find Kevin Murphy shampoo and conditioner in handy travel-size packs which are great to take with you, plus toiletries such as a toothbrush, razor and shaving cream and a small jar of Payot moisturiser.
At the other end of the lounge from the Payot spa and tucked behind the iMac workstations is 'the library' – a quiet zone set aside for reading and relaxing.
While on the subject of relaxing we should mention these amazing chairs, also designed by Marc Newson. Wide, richly padded and with a bolster headrest, they're a modern take on the classic club chair with a recliner twist.
Most of them face the windows which overlook the runways and the Sydney skyline beyond.
After a satisfying meal, a spa treatment and a glass or two of wine they're the perfect place to while away those last minutes before your flight is called.
What strikes you most about the Qantas International First Lounge isn’t just the award-winning design, the dining or even being spoiled at the Payot spa. It’s the service.
Staff are quick to learn the names and faces of frequent flyers, and from a delightfully personal ‘welcome back’ at the front desk to the professional yet unobtrusive attention at the restaurant, there’s really no better way to begin your journey.
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