THEY travel the world for a living and have uncovered more than a few hidden travel gems. Airline staff spill the beans on where they love to go.
EVER wondered where international pilots and cabin crew go to eat, drink and play after they’ve delivered you safely to your destination?
Airline staff are bursting with hidden travel gems, from heavenly Peking duck in Hong Kong, sublime satays in Singapore, to belly dancing shows in the Dubai desert.
One overseas restaurant is so popular with Australian pilots, a selection of dishes is known as the “Qantas standard”.
In a rare insight, Qantas and Jetstar staff lift the lid on their favourite spots across the world.
And their answers may surprise you.
EATING AND DRINKING
Hong Kong is a foodie’s paradise, whether it’s emptying your pockets at five-star restaurant or keeping it simple at tasty street stalls.
But no matter how many times he jets in, Qantas A380 second officer Chris Lin can’t go past The Spring Deer, with its “exquisitely beautiful” Peking duck and spring onion pancakes.
“The restaurant has been in business for over 45 years and is the quintessential Northern Chinese food experience in Hong Kong,” he says.
“From handmade Shanghai noodles to steamed or pan-fried dumplings, from delectable spicy beef and chicken dishes to traditional Peking bread rolls, The Spring Deer is one of my favourite Chinese restaurants in town and during a layover I’ll always pay a visit for lunch or dinner.”
When in Singapore, he orders a plate of chargrilled satays at the bustling Lau Pa Sathawker market, based in a striking historic building and home to 54 stalls.
“What was originally a wooden fish market building on the south bank of the Singapore River, Lau Pa Sat has become the flagship outlet for a diverse range of Asian cuisines,” Lin says.
“Scrumptious flavours of Malaysia, India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and other Asian cuisines abound, but my favourite dish is satay! Best experienced at night, make your way to the back of Lau Pa Sat, to the outdoor eating area and order share plates of chicken, mutton, beef, duck or prawn satays. Enjoy the sliced cucumber and delectable satay sauce and the humid, noisy night air that is a night out in Singapore.”
After a long flight to Dallas, Texas, the jet setting food lover stumbled across the funky Ida Claire eatery — and urges y’all to try it.
With a polished, vintage silver caravan featuring an eclectic interior, an outdoor movie screen and vinyl hour every weekday, the venue is magnet for the cool crowd.
Lin recommends the steel cut oats, strawberry shortcake French toast, shrimp and grits and Ida’s biscuits for a traditional breakfast or brunch.
For dinner, try the fried green tomatoes, crawfish corn beignets (fritters), blackened sea trout, creole gumbo and braised beef short rib.
“With its warm and inviting Southern Texan hospitality, a fabulous restaurant and a very social bar, it is a great place to mingle with the Dallas locals, people watch and enjoy a great meal — and an even better Sunday brunch,” he says.
On trips to Old Blighty, Lin can be found perched in prime position at The Lido Bar and Cafe, overlooking the Serpentine recreational lake in London’s Hyde Park.
His order is quintessentially British: a serving of fresh scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, accompanied by a bottomless cup tea.
“While it’s not your typical fancy London restaurant, sometimes enjoying the peace and tranquillity in a beautiful natural setting over a nice hot coffee is just what you need to do in a big city,” he says.
No matter what time of day, chances are you will hear a cacophony of Aussie accents discussing flight plans from the outdoor tables of “Fatty’s” — aka Wing Seong Fatty’s — in Singapore.
A popular pilot haunt since the ‘60s, it’s cheap and cheerful Chinese, but Qantas A380 second officer David Gorski ranks Fatty’s as his No. 1 restaurant on the airline’s network.
His colleague, Qantas A330 captain Marc Sladden, goes even further to rate the spring rolls as the best in the world.
The typical pilot order, dubbed the Qantas standard, is spring rolls, black pepper prawns, nuclear chicken, fried rice and barbecue pork.
Across the ditch from Australia, Gorski thinks the burgers don’t get any better than The White Lady food truck near Queen St, Auckland.
“Recommending a burger joint is difficult, but this is the best, particularly the King Burger. It’s open until 4am most days,” he says.
In LA, he hunts out the nearest King Taco chain, which began in a converted ice-cream truck and is lauded by food critics for it unpretentious, fresh fare.
He says it’s the best Mexican food he’s had and recommends brushing up on your Spanish before ordering.
Jetstar crew member Kathy Seaman, a regular on the Australia to Phuket route, recommends catching the sunset over the Andaman Sea at Sabai Beach Restaurantat Patong Beach and staying for dinner.
Her ultimate Thai go-to meal is green curry — “it’s filled with local vegetables and fragrant herbs that burst with authentic flavours”.
“Thai coconuts are the sweetest you will find — ice cold coconut water is amazing and refreshing, and local coconut ice cream is a must try,” she says.
In Bali, Jetstar crew love La Favelafor dinner and drinks, a hip Seminyak bar brimming with quirky antiques and artfully-placed junk, and a luscious forest-like courtyard.
Jetstar crew member Guy Griffiths has had his passport stamped more times in Hawaii than most can dream of, and is a walking, talking, flying travel guide to Honolulu.
“Shorebird restaurant is an Aussie barbecue-inspired restaurant where you can cook your own meal,” he says.
“There is a huge salad bar to choose from and it’s right on the beach — it’s definitely worth checking out.”
For a traditional Hawaiian traditional dish, he recommends the Spicy Poke — raw tuna in a spicy sauce.
When you regularly wake up in exotic locations, sometimes the simple pleasures in life are the best.
For Griffiths, relaxing on the beach with a fresh coconut is his first the to-do list when touching down in sun-soaked Hawaii.
“One of my favourite things to do is hire a long board and head out on the Waikiki bay for some relaxing paddling,” he says.
“Or take a hike up Diamond Head for some incredible views.”
Other tips include taking in the sunset on a Mai Tai cruise around the bay, as dolphins and turtles swim past, and the 17ha Honolulu Zoo.
In Phuket, fellow crew member Seaman loves kicking back on Kata Noi beach, and says the foot massages are so cheap you can afford to indulge every day.
On a tropical island closer to home, Jetstar cabin crew member Jo Cowan knows Balilike the back of her hand and enjoys immersing herself in the local culture.
“I love visiting local villages. Recently a group of us brought some suitcases of clothes to donate to communities,” she says.
She also likes to jump on the fast boat to the sleepy Nusa Lembongan island for a day trip, a scenic outpost popular with surfers and honeymooners.
For holidaying families, she says Waterbom water park is a big hit with kids, while other crew members recommend hiring a driver and exploring the countryside, including Bali’s verdant rice paddy fields.
In Dubai, Lin from Qantas stepped back in time on a safari in the desert with Arabian Adventures, describing it as “magical and memorable”.
His dinner in the desert tour combined camel riding, dune bashing, a falconer demonstration, belly dancing and a Middle Eastern meal in a traditional Bedouin-style camp.
“We enjoyed kebabs, mixed grills, bread, hummus, dips, olives, roast lamb, pastries, fresh salads and the most exquisite Lebanese desserts and sweet treats,” he says.
“We watched an authentic belly dancing performance after dinner, then thoroughly enjoyed the tranquillity of the desert as the camp lights were turned off for a few minutes so that you can see all the stars of the night sky.”
The cooler months of November to March are best to avoid the desert’s oppressive heat, he advises.