We taste test Luke Mangan’s vibrant new Business Class menu for Virgin Australia

At his flagship MOJO restaurant in Sydney, and in front of his test kitchen – where many of the dishes that end up on a Virgin Australia flight are designed (with Virgin’s on board equipment seen sitting amongst the usual array of kitchen equipment) – I recently had the chance to taste Luke Mangan‘s new Business Class menu, and the wines that will accompany it, ahead of its launch on selected domestic and international services from March 7th.

Virgin Australia Resident Chef Luke Mangan (centre), in front of his Test Kitchen and a group of hungry journalists.

The dishes bring together a range of international flavours, with local Australian produce serving as the centrepiece of most dishes. The additions to the menu also acknowledge the carrier’s recently added Melbourne to Hong Kong route with some decidedly Asian flavours. Take the Beef Wonton Soup with Bok Choy and Sichuan pepper for instance, a perfect pair of lean beef wontons served in a delicious broth, bursting with flavour. You’ll find that as an entree exclusively on the Melbourne to Hong Kong route from June.

Another entree selection set to join the menu is the poached chicken with egg noodles, coriander and Sichuan dressing – another strong example of flavours from the destination. This will be available on the Melbourne to Hong Kong service from June, and LAX and transcontinental (East to West Coast) services from March 7th.

The highlight of the menu’s new additions, however, has to be the lamb moussaka with eggplant, broad beans, peas and oregano – a vibrant mix of flavours in this air-friendly take on the classic Greek dish. You’ll find this from March 7th on select Domestic services, including the Brisbane to Sydney route, and then it will roll out to LAX and Hong Kong from June.

Vegetarians will enjoy their new main addition of the beetroot, caramelised pear and goat’s cheese salad with walnuts, available on Australian flights from March, and Hong Kong from June. And launching with the new menu in March on transcontinental flights, and flights to LAX, will be the penultimate blend of cuisines – a steamed Australian barramundi with sweet potato curry, basmati rice and a mountain of herbs. Get ready to board a flight to flavour town with this dish.

And it’s not all about the food. A series of Hardys and Grant Burge wines have been specifically designed for the Virgin Australia in flight service, in collaboration with Luke’s Group Sommelier, Mauro Bortolato, who told us at the dinner, “at altitude, wine tastes softer, so we choose parcels from the barrels of wines that are more fruit forward, and full of flavour.” Indeed, be it the “Vine View” Chardonnay or Hardy’s “The Magic Stick” Shiraz (my two favourites of the selection – which is rare for me of the former selection), the wines have been crafted specifically to be enjoyed at altitude. The result are flavours – when on the ground at least – unlike any you’ve experienced.

Hardy’s “The Magic Stick” is given its name because they literally use a magic stick to make the wine. “A stainless steel rod that injects air into the fermenting wine to soften the tannins while accentuating the rich fruit aromas and flavours” it says on the back of the bottle.

Paul Carpenter, Hardys winemaker, said it was a rare opportunity to be able to produce the wines and then take
them onboard to see the influence that 30,000 feet in the sky had on the aromas and palates of the wines. “It was a challenging environment and we found that the wines with abundance of fruit and balanced acidity and
tannins won the day. A fascinating observation of the way wine changes in the sky,” said Mr Carpenter.

A short film about the creation of these wines specifically for Virgin Australia passengers can be found as part of the in flight entertainment. The food has also been prepared with the altitude in mind, with Luke Mangan telling us, “because you loose 30% of you taste buds, we like to give fragrant spices and fresh herbs…” and you don’t have to look much further than the dishes above to see what he means. Did we mention the plane to flavour town?

Virgin Australia Resident Chef Luke Mangan shows off the processes behind the creation of his menu in his Test Kitchen, in front of the in flight oven the use to test every dish. 

Rounding off the new offerings from Virgin is a selection of produce from local suppliers. On all VA flights, look out for the raw, organic, handmade, vegan chocolate from Pana. We sampled the Mint (60% Cacao) and Wild Orange (73% Cacao) and were blown away by the flavours. Again, the intensity here would simmer down at altitude.

Services to LAX and Hong Kong will also enjoy incredible desserts courtesy of Gundowring ice cream, and regularly supplied snacks at the bar in the form of Molives’ lemon-stuffed green olives. The balance of flavours there is as surprising as it is remarkable.

The new Business Class menu will launch on selected flights from March 7th. Dishes on each flight are subject to availability. For more details, and to book your next journey with Virgin Australia, head to virginaustralia.com. Photos (except for the photo of the wine, which was taken by the author) courtesy of Virgin Australia.


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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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