Up in the air: The art of crafting menus for First and Business Class

Up in the air: The art of crafting menus for First and Business Class

Inside the Mile High Club

Text: Adibah Isa

Savour a taste of Sydney's culinary prowess the moment you board a Qantas flight. Chef Neil Perry dishes on the details

Be it the luxury of showers, designer-approved amenity kits or a mini-orchestra performance on your flight, airlines have been spoiling passengers for choice. But what truly sets a carrier apart from another when you're cruising at 40,000 feet, kitted out in your in-flight pajamas and snugly leaving an imprint of your bottom in a First or Business Class seat? We're talking about an airline's in-flight menu, something Qantas Airways has refined right to a tee.

While Middle Eastern airlines have been associated with providing the frills, the Aussies know that the quickest way to a passenger's heart is through their stomach. Which is why Qantas has been working with the likes of restaurateur and chef Neil Perry of the Rockpool Group for the last 19 years. A kingpin of the Australian dining scene, Perry oversees a string of restaurants—ranging from casual burger joints to upscale, fine dining digs—and bars dotting his dining empire. The 59-year-old is also a published author of eight cookbooks and a regular face on television, making appearances as guest chef and judge on MasterChef Australia.

If you're travelling to Sydney from Singapore, you'll get a taste of Perry's creations even before you land. Before the in-flight spring menu made its debut last month, the options for winter-leaning dishes included a lamb biryani with dhal masala as well as a tom yum goong. Once you land in Sydney, you'll notice that Perry's familiarity with Asian ingredients translates into the dishes he serves up at his dining outlets. When I dined at Rockpool Est. 1989, I tucked into a grouper dressed with a delectable dan dan sauce that understood the balance of flavour needed in the Sichuan-style base of preserved vegetables. The dish was so popular that it's been adapted to Eleven Bridge's menu, this time swapping the nori crisps for a buttery, Indian-style pastry.

You won't leave Sydney without Perry's final touch either, by way of a meal at Qantas' First Class lounge. As soon as you enter the compound—which functions more like a casual, sun-drenched restaurant than a dimly-lit, stuffy establishment—a waiter will see to your order. Our recommendation? Chairman Mao's pork belly with shiitake mushrooms. It's just hearty enough for you to stay sated before your flight, leaving a lasting impression of Perry's indulgent relationship with the Asian palate.

Neil Perry

Below, we take a look at Qantas' long-standing relationship with Neil Perry:

Green fish curry with eggplant, Thai basil, fried eschalots, and steamed rice
months is the time taken to develop a new menu, which changes four times a year according to the season. Till 30 November, the Spring menu features chicken and shiitake wonton soup with ginger and shallots in the Business cabin and smoked kingfish salad with green papaya, betel leaf, and palm sugar dressing in the First cabin.

years—and counting—is the duration Qantas has worked with Perry and the Rockpool Group. Together, they design in-flight menus for international first, international business and domestic business as well as their first, premium and business lounges. The consulting chefs travel to the kitchens in Qantas' global ports to taste and test the dishes before they go onboard, making modifications to the original recipes to ensure they taste just as delicious in the air.

Qantas International First Lounge in Sydney

menus are worked on at any one time. The consulting team tests recipes before they are issued globally and menus are crafed around seasonal produce. "What vegetables are beautiful out of the UK in winter? What's fantastic out of Singapore in mid-summer?" These are some questions that Perry's team would ask.

steak sandwiches with tomato and chili relish are served in the First Cabin every year. Perry notes that the team is also working on introducing more fresh produce, such as cold-pressed juices, salads and healthier snacks, onboard. 

chicken schnitzels and Swiss cheese toasted sandwiches are served in Business and Premium Economy every year.

bottles of champagne are served every year. Each year, the sommeliers from Rockpool vet over 1,400 Australian wines and champagnes to shortlist the vino offerings served in the lounges. These are the same guys responsible for creating the cocktail menu, too. 

bees reside in 10 beehives installed by Qantas by way of their collaboration with The Urban Beehive and Hank's Jam. The bees produce the airline's bespoke honey, served on First and Business cabins.

Qantas operates A330 services twice daily between Singapore and Sydney. To book your flight with Qantas, click here.