Revisiting Qantas’ A380 first class degustation menu

Remember when you could soar above the clouds in first class comfort and pretty much graze your way from take-off to landing?

By David Flynn, April 9 2021
Revisiting Qantas’ A380 first class degustation menu

For Qantas, the mighty Airbus A380 wasn't just the airline's flagship: this twin-deck, near-500 passenger behemoth also helped Qantas redefine its first class experience.

That began with the opening of game-changing first class lounges in Sydney and Melbourne in 2007, one year ahead of the arrival of the first red-tailed superjumbo and the start of Qantas A380 services to Los Angeles and London (via Singapore).

Those A380s were crowned with bespoke First suites designed by Marc Newson, with passengers enjoying a menu developed by Neil Perry.

And the pinnacle of that was the degustation menu: a multi-course culinary journey best taken at your leisure while soaring above the clouds.

With an array of small dishes to sample and work through, it was also ideally suited to follow the more substantial meal which travellers may well have enjoyed in the Qantas First Lounge before their flight.

(Passengers could also opt for the more conventional a la carte menu, but the tasting menu proved a hit and a highlight of the flight in itself.)

As the years rolled on, frequent flyers noticed the degustation menu moving down a few notches to become a more modest affair which in some ways was a hybrid of the first and business class offerings rather than a standout signature.

And of course, last year saw the Airbus A380s themselves unceremoniously grounded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After being stood down at the start of the pandemic, and mothballed in the arid conditions of California's Mojave Desert, they're not expected to return to the skies for several years, until demand for international travel returns to pre-COVID levels.

"We don't think demand will get back to 2019 levels until 2024," says Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, "and that’s why we're assuming the A380s are going to be parked in the desert for those three years."

So for now, with the bulk of international travel off the cards until at least late 2021 and the superjumbos sidelined for several years to come, this article from 2014 – by Executive Traveller Associate Editor Chris Chamberlin, after booking a Sydney-Hong Kong A380 First trip using Qantas Points – will serve as both reflection on those carefree days, and anticipation of when the A380s and first class Qantas flying will return.

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By Chris Chamberlin | Just how good can airplane food be? If you're flying first class with Qantas the answer is "astoundingly good".

The tasting menu offered in first class on Qantas' flagship Airbus A380 superjumbo is closer to something you’d expect from a fine dining restaurant on the ground than flying high at 40,000 feet... and with sommeliers to pair up dishes with the perfect wines, you’ll be forgiven for blurring the lines between the two.

Join us in working our way through Qantas' first class tasting menu on an Airbus A380 flying from Sydney to Hong Kong. 

A first class welcome

We had to hold back during the preflight visit to the Qantas First Lounge – no mean feat when you're in one of the world's best first class lounges and tempted by the seasonal menu.

After boarding the Qantas A380 and settling into our first class suite, out came warm nuts, fresh olives and a glass of the sumptuous 2004 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs.

With a crystal-like boldness infused with a vibrant, well-balanced mix of citrus, white peach and hints of gun smoke, it’s the perfect way kick off a truly 5-star meal.

Both the prawn toast and the crostino with porcini mushroom pâté and cornichons arrive shortly after departure – of course, with more champagne…

On today’s flight, the prawn toast is a great sample of the gastronomic delights that await our arrival in Hong Kong, layering an appetising mix of ginger, garlic, shallots, sesame oil, fish sauce and king prawns between thinly-sliced, crumbed and fried sourdough bread with a side of sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Then, it’s on to the pâté… grounded by a mix of sautéed button, Swiss and shiitake mushrooms, thyme, port, lemon juice, reconstituted porcini mushrooms and topped with cornichons, we’re left wanting to ‘sample’ just a few more of these tasty treats…

Nevertheless, it’s time to set the table for the courses to follow, which the crew do impeccably:

Starting us off is a glass of the 2011 Lost Valley Cortese

With its crisp and zesty citrus tones, it’s the perfect wine to both match and transition away from the Taittinger… but for the caramelised fennel and onion soup with croutons, we’ll finish out the bubbly.

This is where on-board meal preparation really becomes noticeable – the croutons aren’t mushy in the slightest, and come together with both vegetable stock and crème fraiche to complete the dish, seasoned before our eyes.

On the side is a warm roll for dipping, but we found the combination of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Pepe Saya butter stood well on its own.

The main courses...

Intertwined into today’s tasting is a seasonal dish: garlic and herb butter Moreton Bay bugs.

You won’t find this one anywhere on the menu, although as we also discovered with the Qantas First Lounge wine list, it never hurts to ask what else might be available.

Served with a celeriac purée and contrasting grilled, whole green shallots, it comes as fresh and juicy as you’d expect on the ground, and matches perfectly with the Lost Valley Cortese we’d sneakily ordered in advance.

Back to the ‘regular’ first class fare, it’s time for the pastrami with grilled vegetable salad...

It's served with a salad of chargrilled capsicums, sweet potato, green zucchini and slow roasted tomato, topped off with a smidgeon of goats curd and a mix of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to give the meat a nice little kick.

There's still plenty of time to spare before landing…

… so we took the chance to try two of the reds aside the pastrami – the 2010 Paringa Estate Pinot Noir, and the 2010 Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 9 Hunter Valley Shiraz:

The ever-so-slight mellifluousness of the Mornington Peninsula pinot noir, brought about by a powerful palate of plump strawberries, red cherries and silky tannins, makes it a better complement to the sweetness of the pastrami.

While still enticing, the darker Hunter shiraz is best saved for the next course…

Now comes the difficult decision – it’s a choice of a seared blue-eye with XO sauce with stir-fried oyster mushrooms, Asian greens and fragrant rice, or a Rockpool Bar & Grill-style grilled lamb loin with fregola, almond and preserved lemon, chimichurri sauce and cauliflower gratin.

It’s a tough call, but with plenty of Asian-style meals awaiting us in Hong Kong, the lamb is one of the Flying Kangaroo’s can’t-pass dishes…

… plus, it comes with the deliciously cheesy cauliflower gratin…

… and a salad of baby cos, radicchio and frisée with palm sugar vinaigrette.

Incredibly tender and cooked to perfection, the lamb was a real winner. Even though you’ll find a similar dish on the business class menu (instead with pumpkin almond couscous and chimichurri sauce), it doesn’t detract from the first class experience in the slightest.

In fact, that’s also true of a number of the menu items, such as the caramelised fennel and onion soup and the pastrami plate – which also aren’t exclusive to first class. Yet, with the standards so impeccably high and with more to choose from than merely ‘starter, main and dessert’, the tasting menu is definitely worth making room for.

That brings us to the cauliflower gratin on the side, which is best likened to the ‘dinner’ version of a well-made crème brûlée… a crisp layer of cheese and breadcrumbs blankets the dish, while underneath lays a succulent bed of cauliflower.

You’ll want to taste them all together, and even if your (admittedly spoiled) children are joining you in first class, we can’t envision even the fussiest of vegetable eaters passing on this gourmet masterpiece.

There's always room for desserts

Like most seasoned foodies, we reserve a ‘separate stomach’ for dessert. Hey, with a cheese plate this decadent, it’s near-essential…

On the menu today is a firm and fruity Jurassic d'Été Affiné, made from the milk of cows grazing in the Jura Mountains in France, Switzerland and Germany and left to ripen over 10-14 months.

We're also treated to a four-week-old Italian Saporini – a soft, white mould cheese drawn from the milk of cows, sheep and goats – and a tasty French Roquefort, aged for three months.

If the cheese, strawberries and cream and other accompaniments don’t satisfy your sweet tooth, you could of course lean towards the baked rhubarb and apple shortcake with double cream – but we’ll save that one for next time.

For a light, more acidic match to the cheese plate, try a drop of the 2008 Lillypilly Noble Blend dessert wine, with poignant yet pleasing cues of passionfruit, lychees, pineapple and tropical fruit. Or, for something darker and more debonair, you simply can’t pass up the Seppeltsfield Paramount Collection Rare Tokay.

Capping off a great meal are handmade Cacao chocolates – including a scrumptious and smooth coffee/caramel ganache...

... along with a choice of espresso coffee.

But wait, there’s more…

And, if you’re still not ready to burst, you can order the signature steak sandwich with tomato and chilli relish at any time throughout the flight.

Served on a warm, French-style baguette with fresh rocket leaves, a minute steak joins with a rustic, ‘homemade’ tomato and chilli relish to form the centrepiece of Qantas’ premier inflight menu.

With so much food to devour on board, you’ll want to stick to a light meal in the Qantas First Lounge, or risk struggling to squeeze in those last few chocolates and skipping the delightful steak sandwich later in the flight…

Also read: What does the future hold for Qantas first class?

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