As a sleepy Canberra Airport comes to life each morning at 4.30am, a staff member with a pretty unusual job title now joins the crew of airport and airline staff, chefs and baristas heading in the glass front doors.
Lulu Lee is Canberra Airport’s first Sushi Master – a title that reflects the airport’s recent and significant shift to providing fresh, quality dining options for passengers flying in and out of the capital. City Hill, a fine dining restaurant with Pialligo Estate meat products at its heart, has launched to initial acclaim, while Baker’s Cut is serving up Ona coffee and Three Mills Bakery pastries to delighted fliers.
Sushi Master Lulu Lee is one of five staff at the brand new Noodles XO – an Asian noodle bar whose laksas are packed with prawns and crab meat from the NSW south coast, and whose soups are built from stock made with fresh meat and vegetables on premises at the airport.
The Noodles XO dishes are made fresh as soon as you order them, and include wonton soup, udon noodle soup, ramen and Thai tom yum soup.
Lulu Lee’s job is to pack the sushi cabinet early each morning and throughout the day with incredibly fresh sushi – from Nori and Maki to Negiri.
Chef Frank Burger, from Airport Retail Enterprises, the contractor behind the revitalised airport food offering, says Noodles XO’s sushi is best consumed at room temperature.
“We’re making it 100 per cent fresh on premises, nothing has been brought in, we cook and marinate our own rice,” he explains.
“That ensures the flavours are there – there’s nothing worse than sushi being delivered in a refrigerated van and it’s really hard and stale.
“Sushi needs to be eaten before it’s really chilled, and we can achieve that at Noodles XO.”
While Noodles XO is designed for travellers on the go – dishes start at $10 and can be taken away – it’s also a place to literally recharge after a flight.
“We have dedicated seating – it’s cosy. The interior is especially designed to give a bit of a break from the hustle and bustle of the broader airport, and to be authentic,” Burger says.
“We have outlets for people to charge their devices and to sit and relax – among the lanterns – if they want to.”
While it’s early days for the airport’s suite of brand new food offerings – also delivered by Airport Retail Enterprises – some dishes are already becoming Canberra faves.
“The amount of people who come to the open kitchen [at fine dining restaurant City Hill] and say, ‘Wow, that Falafel Kerfuffle salad is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten’ is amazing,” Burger laughs.
“People have definitely been waiting for healthy, quality and super fresh dining options at Canberra Airport.”