The Qantas First Lounge: how seasonal menus are crafted

By David Flynn, July 8 2012

One of the delights of dining at the Qantas First Lounge is that there’s almost always something new to try.

That’s not just because the extensive menus (see what's being served for breakfast and all-day) boast so much variety, on top on daily specials.

The menus themselves change every three months, introducing new seasonal dishes alongside perennial favourites.

Following the debut of the current winter menu Australian Business Traveller editor David Flynn down with Jessica Sly, who heads up menu planning for Rockpool Consulting and oversees dining at all Qantas lounges, to learn how the lounge's unique seasonal menus are developed and delivered to your table.

DF: How do you start designing a seasonal menu for the Qantas First Lounge? For example, at what point did the winter menu begin to take shape?

JS: It’s sort of on-going. I spend my every single day on the phone to suppliers, and finding and testing new products. But a couple of months out I’ll sit down and flesh out a menu. 

I’ll get details from the Qantas First Lounge team as to the consumption of different dishes, so we what’s popular and what’s not.

I’ll obviously look at lots of new ideas. Neil gets involved too – he might want to try a Spanish influence, or he might’ve been on a trip to Italy and want to try some new dish.

We’ll also look at the components of the existing dishes, to see if the ingredients will be available throughout the season.

Even favourite dishes like the buffalo mozzarella get a little winter twist to take advantage of seasonal produce

From there it’s just a matter of liaising with the guys. I spend quite a bit of time here in the lounge doing menu workshops.

I also write detailed tasting notes with a brief description for every single dish. We pinpoint ingredients that may be unusual or that may have a really great story which the restaurant team can share with the guests.

They’re a big part of our training the team when we introduce each new menu.

DF: I’ve been in the lounge when a new menu has been launched and that’s really quite a sight!

JS: Yes, we do at least a one hour presentation around the dining counter in front of the kitchen. And it’s amazing. We have about 30 people from the lounge team, sometimes more than that. People come in on their day off. We even get the spa team involved, anyone that might come in to contact with the guests.

Then every one of the new or changed dishes for the season comes out, we go through the tasting notes and make sure that everyone tastes all the dishes. We also get their feedback and suggestions on all the dishes, it’s very interactive.

The entire Qantas First Lounge team are introduced to each new menu...

We try to do this in a quiet period, in the middle of the day, so the menu is actually going live as we do it and it’s madness in the kitchen!

In fact the last time we introduced a new menu I think there must’ve been a delayed flight, the lounge was actually really busy. So we had guests sitting around, listening in, it was like a bit of theatre. It was actually really great!

... and everyone gets to taste everything, so it's a very hands-on session!

DF: I’m always impressed by the knowledge the restaurant team have for each dish.

JS:  It’s all about getting the guys involved. We always compare it to going to a great restaurant, you expect the staff to know their product. So, when they go out to the lounge, they can share that knowledge and that passion for the food, and they can educate our guests to a certain degree on the dishes.

If a guest is hesitating or unsure about what to order you know all of the dishes, you know what works well together and what’s good to share.

DF: Looking at the new winter menu, what’s one of the stand-out dishes for you?

JS: We’ve got this amazing kind of deconstructed pavlova. Now I pulled the traditional pav off the winter because it’s so great with a summer fruit – the best ones we’ve had have been passion fruit, mango, that sort of thing.

But we created a winter version, it’s actually a trifle, which has pear and rhubarb. We make a ginger butternut cookie in-house, which is crumbled, and then we put in glacé ginger, pear gelato and mascarpone cream. It’s essentially very similar to a pavlova, both visually and texturally.

DF: So what’s in store for the next seasonal menu, for Spring?

JS: Beautifully light, brothy dishes, a lot of spring vegetables, lamb, and all of those kind of classic things that you do for spring.

At the same time, it’s interesting because even though you might think about winter as being ‘heavy’ and we’ve put quite a few more robust dishes on, we still try to keep them quite light anyway. Even now, some of the dishes the twice-cooked duck or the Bangalow pork belly sound heavier than they really are, they’re quite light.

As a special treat for frequent flyers who love their food, here are Neil Perry's recipes for thee delightful Rockpool dishes served at the Qantas First Lounge: click below to download them (PDF)

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David Flynn

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

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