A standout feature of the Qantas international first class lounges in Sydney and Melbourne is the dining experience: a full à la carte service with seasonal menus changing every three months.
Overseen by the Rockpool Group and star chef Neil Perry, who now holds the title of Qantas Creative Director for Food, Service and Beverage, it's like a five star restaurant within a lounge – and one reason the Qantas First Lounges continue to find themselves listed among the world's best airport lounges.
With the summer menu launching this week, and extending through to the beginning of March 2019, Australian Business Traveller visited Sydney's Qantas First lounge to sample some of the newest dishes.
These of course don't displace many of the favourites of frequent flyers, but they're a great way to try something different – especially when paired with the right wine or cocktail.
For Rockpool chef Alex Woolley, who leads the design of the Qantas First lounge' seasonal menus, summer is "all about mangos and all sorts of fresh green vegetables."
"Even asparagus which starts in spring but is still really great in summer," Woolley tells Australian Business Traveller.
Both the breakfast menu (available from 5am through to around 11am) and the all-day dining menu (available from 11am until the lounge closes at 10pm) feature another of the health-conscious bowls which have also been appearing on Qantas' Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights and from time to time in domestic business class lounges.
For summer in the Qantas First lounge, this bowl is built around a turtle bean salad: turtle beans are small, black, shiny beans with a dense texture, slight mushroom flavour and are high in protein. It's mixed in with avocado, corn, blanched kale, puffed wild rice and a Tuscan-based 'dragoncello' dressing.
While this started as a breakfast bowl it's really perfect any time of the day, including as a starter before lunch or a lighter preflight snack before hopping onto your afternoon or evening flight.
"Our customers love these bowls and they can be served any time of the day," Woolley says. "In the morning we keep it a bit more simple but sometimes for the evening version we'll add chilli or pickles to make this more savoury."
The heirloom tomatoes with bocconcini, basil, balsamic and olive oil are another light starter – Qantas have moved way from Shaw River buffalo mozzarella to Paesanella bocconcini cheese produced in the inner-Sydney suburb of Marrickville by second-generation Italians native to Napoli.
This is one of the dishes which evolves throughout the season, Woolley explains. "You'll get different varieties and colours of heirloom tomatoes, so you'll see this dish change between red and yellows and greens, and then towards the end of the season we'll get some really nice tart green tomatoes."
This next dish is another light summer special: asparagus with grilled chorizo, capers, almond tarator and sourdough wafers.
The asparagus spears are gently blanched and served with mix of shaved zucchini ribbons, pan fried chorizo, chives, eschalots, capers and sherry vinaigrette, alongside a sourdough bread wafer and a dollop of tzatziki-style almond tarator sauce.
A warmer and slightly heartier starter is the Taiwan-style beef noodles with coriander and pickled mustard greens.
An aromatic beef broth with brisket, dried Chinese spices, chewy wheat noodles and bok choy, it's garnished with fresh coriander, shallots, preserved mustard greens and can be amped up with the side-serve of red chilli.
Several travellers dining at the Qantas First lounge during our visit as the new menu rolled out nominated the linguine with basil, pine nuts, capers and parmesan as the best addition to the summer menu.
I'd have to agree. Ribbon pasta is tossed with garlic, chilli, pine nuts, capers, parsley, olive oil and a touch of lemon juice, then garnished with torn basil leaves and shaved parmesan. If I'm back in the Qantas First lounge in the next few months, this dish will be my go-to.
Among the all-new Summer menu dishes, the tamarind duck with eggplant, jasmine rice and lime pickle yoghurt is already another favourite of travellers.
With just a touch of spice, this dish sees duck legs marinated overnight in a mix of chilli, turmeric and coriander; then slow roasted and served with the bone in, on a bed of steamed jasmine rice with cherry tomatoes, fried eggplant and tamarind sauce.
The grilled Humpty Doo barramundi is a carry-over from previous Qantas First menus, but with a seasonal twist.
This sustainably-produced saltwater barramundi from the Northern Territory is served with summer peas and fregola, a slightly nutty oven-toasted semolina pasta which looks like pearl couscous.
Likewise, the popular beef brisket – slow cooked in beef stock, light soy, garlic, onion and ginger – sees a summer shift to be served with miso and wasabi butter.
Be warned: you'll want to leave some room for dessert, because the toughest choice lies ahead.
Do you opt for the not-too-dark chocolate fudge cake with tangy yoghurt sorbet, raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries (which later in the season will be accompanied by figs)...
... or the heavenly brown sugar flan (made with a molasses-rich muscovado sugar) served with served with diced mango and fine wafers made with toasted and ground star anise?
Of course, sometimes you simply can't go past the Qantas First lounge's iconic 'deconstructed' pavlova in a glass, served with seasonal fruits and topped with Persian fairy floss.
You can download a PDF copy of the Qantas First Lounge's Summer 2018 menus at the links below: