Visitors to the Qantas First Lounges in Sydney and Melbourne are in for a treat this week, with 18 delectable new dishes appearing on the lounge’s seasonal menu for autumn.
These seasonal menus are a centrepiece of superchef Neil Perry’s approach to dining at Qantas’ flagship international lounges, with the restaurants at both lounges under the wing of Perry’s Rockpool Group.
Many dishes in the all-day dining menu are completely new to the lounge while others represent tweaks to perennial favourites using seasonal cool weather produce to give very frequent flyers a dash of variety.
So what’s on the menu for autumn?
Chef Alexander Woolley (below), who joined Rockpool late last year after 13 years in Sydney’s fine dining arena including Tetsuya's and Est, walked Australian Business Traveller through this season’s new preflight delights.
The breakfast menu leads off with Shaw River buffalo milk yoghurt with honeyed apples and toasted pecans.
“I love apples” Woolley admits without hesitation, when asked what autumn means to him as a chef.
“Both my grandparents cooked lots of apple desserts, and my family moved out to Orange ten years ago and when you go there in autumn you always see lots of places selling apples.”
The apples used in this dish in March are Granny Smiths but will change throughout the season, Woolley says, with the large green apples roasted in honey, lemon, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Buffalo milk is of course a favourite ingredient of Neil perry’s Rockpool group and makes a regular appearance on the Qantas First Lounge menu.
This time it’s the base of a delicately flavoured natural yoghurt from Victoria’s Shaw River, served with the honey-roasted apples, lightly toasted pecan nuts and a drizzle of White Clover honey.
Buttermilk pancakes with lemon curd and fresh blueberries
There’s no ditching the popular pancakes from the Qantas First Lounge menu, but this seasonal refresh uses a lighter buttermilk mixed with fresh blueberries, cooked to order and then topped with more blueberries and creamy lemon curd. It’s a sweet way to start your day.
Croque Monsieur with leg ham and Gruyere
This classic breakfast sandwich layers sourdough bread with Gruyere cheese, Quattro Stelle leg ham and a creamy mustard mornay; the sandwich is then dipped in a royale of eggs and milk and cooked until golden.
Cheese and spring onion fritters, balsamic roasted tomatoes and herbed marscapone
We’re rating this as a ‘must try at least once’ dish. Small balls made from a batter of parmesan and cheddar cheeses, spring onion, whole eggs, milk, wheat flour, salt and pepper are deep fried until puffed and golden, then served with slow-roasted balsamic tomatoes and a scoop of Marscapone cheese flavoured with lemon, black pepper and freshly chopped thyme, chervil, parsley and chives.
Autumn brings two twists on the Qantas First Lounge’s classic omelette.
The whole egg omelette goes Spanish with chorizo, roasted red capsicum and savoury-sweet sheep’s milk Manchego cheese, while the egg white omelette (below) now features baby spinach, Tasmanian smoked salmon and ‘sweet and sour’ cooked onions spiked with a dash of red wine vinegar.
If your flight timetable allows you to sample the ‘all day dining’ menu from noon onwards, you’re in for a real treat.
“Most of the main courses are new dishes” Woolley says, “although some are a reworking of a particularly great dish but with seasonal flavours and ingredients.”
“The great thing about Neil Perry’s food is its simplicity and the quality of ingredients… Neil’s not too fussy about things being what they are, as long as they’re great.”
A case in point is our pick of the all day menu: fettucini with ragu bolognese, a recipe from Perry’s Rosetta Italian restaurant at Melbourne’s Crown Casino.
“This is a very simple dish” Woolley explains. “It’s pasta and sauce with cheese grated over the top. But it takes two day’s work preparing the ragu.”
The base is a long simmered and intensely rich and flavoursome ragu bolognese – a mix of pork, veal and pancetta mixed in the lounge’s kitchen – with a sweet soffritto of stewed onion, carrot and celery, tomato paste and red wine, topped with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese.
“The vegetables for the ragu are cooked out for up to five hours the day before, to get them really concentrated and sweet, and they’re added to the ragu the next day once the meat’s been browned off, then it takes another three hours to finish.”
We expect this hearty dish will be especially popular as summer’s last rays give way to crisp autumn days.
Duck leg confit with roasted onions, apples and green lentils
The meltingly tender duck meat falls off the bone in this dish, which salts a duck leg with herbs and aromatics for four hours before the leg is slow-cooked for another four hours in duck fat.
Slow roasted lamb with turmeric eggplant, coriander yoghurt and basmati rice
Australian lamb shoulder is slow-braised with onions, cumin and coriander until tender, then pressed flat, while a portion of the shoulder is caramelised on the grill to give a slightly crispy skin.
Salad of blue eye, kipfler potatoes, shallots, roast garlic and parsley
A sure hit with fanciers of fish. A lightly salted Blue Eye Trevalla is poached, flaked and combined with steamed kipflers in red wine vinaigrette, pickled shallots, parsley leaves, frisee lettuce and sourdough croutons spread with caramelised garlic puree.
Heirloom tomato salad with enoki mushrooms, buckwheat, shiso
This is one of the lightest yet flavoursome dishes on the all-day dining menu, making it perfect for sampling alongside a selection of your favourites or more of the newcomers.
Ripe late season heirloom tomatoes are matched with grilled East Asian enoki mushrooms, gluten-free buckwheat, shiso (a herb from the mint family) and nori seaweed that’s been roasted and then ground to a fine powder to add depth to the oil and red wine vinegar dressing.
Salumi platter, house-made grassini, pickled celery
Another Mediterranean influence on the autumn menu is this small plate of cured meats sliced to order. The meats will be rotated throughout the season with the debutante trio of carrasco guijuelo iberico paleta (shoulder of Iberian pork), Victorian wagyu braesola and kurobuta cantimpalo, which is a pork and paprika-based salami.
Grass-fed minute steak with wasabi and miso butter, new potatoes
East meets west as the Aussie tenderloin minute steak – grilled for 30 seconds on each side so it’s juicy, tender and light pink in the middle – is served with a lounge-blended butter containing white miso paste and Tasmanian wasabi, while more wasabi is grated over the steak just before it makes its way to your table.
Keep an eye on the daily menu’s Market Inspiration section for sashimi.
“We’re always going to have sashimi on the market inspiration menu because our customers just absolutely love it” Woolley tells Australian Business Traveller.
“But we can change it seasonally as the fish changes or if we feel we’d like to do a kingfish rather than ocean trout, for example."
During our tasting session we sampled a rich creamy ocean trout sashimi lightly dressed with a malted soy sauce and white sesame oil, finely shaved daikon pickled in rice vinegar and sugar and grated Tasmanian wasabi.
Also from market inspirations: grilled mulloway snapper (also known as Jewfish) with fennel braised in chicken stock and white wine with zucchini tossed in a sweet-sour ‘agro dolce’ reduction dressing.
After all that, you’d be wise to leave a bit of room for the new desserts...
Grilled plums, hazelnut financier and hazelnut gelato
The fragrant hazelnut and almond ‘financier’ cake studded with plum pieces and toasted hazelnuts is a perfect match for grilled plums and hazelnut gelato. topped with a caramel plum sauce. (And did we tell you that all desserts served in the Qantas First Lounge have zero calories?)
Black chocolate creme with white chocolate gelato
Made from Valrhona Manjari chocolate, this looks like your typically too-rich chocolate creme but it’s incredibly light and moist under that cocoa biscuit crumb topping.
Pavolva in a glass with yoghurt gelato, raspberries and passionfruit
The ever-popular and iconic ‘deconstructed pav’ is back – this time with delicately passionfruit-flavoured meringue layered with marscapone cream, fresh in-season raspberries, passionfruit, yoghurt gelato and dressed with vanilla floss.
If you're visiting the Qantas First Lounge at Sydney or Melbourne through to the end of May 2014, click the links below to download a copy of the menu and start planning your first class feast!
Download: Qantas First Lounge - Autumn 2014 Menu, breakfast [120KB PDF]
Download: Qantas First Lounge - Autumn 2014 Menu, all day dining [120KB PDF]
Mouth-watering photography in this article by Chris Chamberlin
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