Winter is with us, and for many business travellers and frequent flyers that means a chance to sample new pre-flight delights at the Qantas First Lounge.
These seasonal menus are a centrepiece of superchef Neil Perry’s approach to dining at Qantas’ flagship lounges in Sydney and Melbourne.
Perry’s winter 2013 menu for the Qantas First Lounge, which will be introduced this week, sees a bevy of winter warmers alongside perennial favourite dishes, although some of those have also been tweaked to take advantage of cool weather produce.
The new dishes will be introduced at the Sydney lounge on Tuesday June 4th, and Friday June 7th in Melbourne.
Jessica Sly, who heads up a six-person team from Rockpool working full-time with Qantas on the airline’s business class and first class catering, explains that the latest menu’s winter dishes “are almost like comfort food.”
“You don’t want it to be too heavy but but it’s got to have that feel of winter” Sly notes, adding that while the portions “are generous they’re not massive, so it’s all about being able to try a few dishes.”
Here are the highlights of the new menu.
Breakfast (served to noon)
“We don’t make substantial changes to the breakfast menu” Sly says, “partly because we’ve got so many signature dishes and people come to the lounge knowing exactly what they want.”
“But also, with breakfast if you do really great eggs, bakery and a few light options then everyone’s happy.”
But if you want to try something different, check out the buffalo milk yoghurt topped with rhubarb and hazelnuts and the wholegrain toast with ricotta, slow roasted capsicum & extra virgin olive oil.
“We’re using lovely fresh cows’ milk ricotta and the capsicums are slow-roasted in olive oil to make them tender and sweet.”
All-day dining (served from noon)
There are far more changes in the all-day menu which spans from lunch through to dinner.
The popular buffalo mozzarella remains on the menu, of course – “that’s one we wouldn’t dare pull out!” Sly laughs – but now it’s served with caramelised pear & radicchio.
“Pears are definitely more of a winter fruit, and mozzarella goes really well with sweet and savoury components” Sly says.
“The cut side of the pear is covered with a little bit of sugar and then grilled so it’s caramelised, then we roast the pear in the oven until it’s tender.”
Meanwhile, the robust leafy radicchio is grilled in olive oil and finished off with what Sly calls “a quince balsamic, which is balsamic vinegar with quince through it, which we reduce to a sticky balsamic for a really unique flavour. The sweetness ties together the radicchio and the creaminess of the mozzarella.”
Pork meatballs in roasted tomato sauce with pan fried polenta & Swiss chard
Meatballs in a first class lounge? Hold your judgement until you’ve tasted these morsels, which Sly says are partnered with polenta “because a very different combination than meatballs and paste.”
“Polenta is fairly substantial but you end up with a satisfying winter dish that’s not over the top.”
“We have a few meatballs made with beautiful pork and sourdough soaked in milk to lighten the mix, and a light sauce made with vine-ripened tomatoes.”
Duck broth with soy duck, wild mushrooms, farro & watercress
This is a good example of a dish with substantial wintery ingredients brought together in a combination which sits light on the stomach, Sly says.
“Duck is quite rich and robust, and the mushrooms have that earthy feel, but all the ingredients are served in a light broth.”
Grilled snapper with laksa sauce, Asian vegetables and chilli sambal
“Laksa has a coconut and milk base so it’s quite rich and dense but we’re using it with the snapper as a sauce rather than a whole soup, so it’s still light yet substantial” Sly says.
Chorizo, preserved vegetable & goat’s cheese tart with olive oil pastry
“This is a shortcrust pastry made with parmesan and extra-virgin olive oil” Sly says.
“We cook that off until it’s golden and crusty, and the other ingredients are added almost like a salad on top of it - fried-off chorizo, vegetables, goat’s cheese, peppers and a few different herbs.”
Wagyu carpaccio with potato, egg & caperberry salad, mustard mayonnaise
“The wagyu is seared on the outside, sliced paper-thin and we dress the plate so the wagyu carpaccio is completely covering it.”
“That’s brushed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and seaosning, then we add a really simple salad potatoes, just-set eggs, capers, caperberries and anchovies, plus a tiny dollop of mayonnaise mixed with mustard.”
Thai style hot and fragrant chicken stir fry with jasmine rice
“Australians love to eat stir-fry, and in the kitchen at the Qantas First Lounges we’ve got induction appliances including a wok that’s incredibly hot and very good for stir-fry.”
“For this dish we use chicken thigh fillet and our own in-house stir fry sauce which combines Chinese and Thai flavours – there’s some oyster sauce, dark soya fish sauce, sesame oil, palm sugar, Chinese rice wine and chicken stock.”
Black Angus minute steak with potato puree & spiced red wine sauce
This is another mainstay dish where the accompaniments are changed depending on the season, Sly says.
“We often do the steak with a butter, like a Café de Paris butter, but this time we’re serving it with a sauce using red wine and quite a few different spices such as thyme, cinnamon, star anise and white pepper, with a little port.”
“It’s reduced right down until it’s almost sticky, then we season it with a little aged red wine vinegar and whisk through some butter to put back some viscosity and body.”
And for dessert...
It’s hard to imagine you’d have any room left for dessert, but pace yourself, if only to try the lemon madeleine cake with crème brulee, which Sly readily admits is one of her own favourites.
“You take a slice of this soft finger of lemon cake and scoop it through the crème brulee, it’s an absolutely beautiful!”
Sly says she’s also working with the lounge’s gelato supplier Gelatomassi to create a new new gelato flavours for winter.
On top of that dizzying array of dishes is a selection of ‘market inspirations’ which always includes a vegetarian meal and a seasonal soup.
“This is where we’re really driven by market produce and our chefs within the lounge” Sly explains.
“We could change those dishes every few days, depending on what we see in the markets, which is also influenced by the weather.”
“More often than not, seasonal produce doesn’t come in right at the start of the season, so it’s often better to being this in throughout the season as it becomes available.”
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