A Moveable Feast

13 January 2015
Read Time: 5.2 mins

At least three meals a day, up to 16 weeks on board a ship – surely food would get a little monotonous? No way!

Cruise ships are very serious about taking your tastebuds on a tour as you travel the globe. Fine Italian, traditional Japanese, addictive Asian, innovative Indian and fabulous French can all be found on the high seas.

Cruise companies know that bookings can be made or lost depending on the calibre of the cuisine and the culinary offerings available. Most meals are included in the fare but specialty restaurants and branded items often carry a surcharge and require reservations, and all dietary needs can be met.

Warning: Cruising makes clothes shrink. Just buy new ones when you disembark.

Culinary Journey

On a world cruise, passengers can literally eat and drink their way along the culinary map, tasting giant Madagascan oysters, ethnic dishes such as Indonesian nasi goreng and Philippine adobo, and perhaps fresh fish and exotic fruit from local markets, too.

 Cruise ships are serious about taking your tastebuds on a tour.

For years, luxury liners have been luring discerning patrons with celebrity chefs and exclusive dining options, like the very intimate Le Champagne on board all of Silversea’s classic ships. The eatery offers guests superlative dining with a tasting menu of regionally inspired dishes to complement premium wines. It’s the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant afloat, so pre-cruise bookings are recommended.

On many Silversea voyages, guests can also tap into cooking demonstrations, epicurean lunches and visits to markets en route to learn about regional specialties.

Made To Order

Serial cruiser Vivien Devlin says: “On Silversea, with a day’s notice, you can ask for just about anything – the chefs are always happy to oblige. I love linguine Genovese and I asked for this in La Terrazza the day before we dined there. And on a recent world cruise, a group of six of us requested an Indian banquet while heading towards Kochi. Then, in the Maldives, four tunas were bought at the market and served, sashimi style or seared, as you wished, for the pool-deck lunch!”

 Fresh fish is, of course, a given on board any liner.

With the opportunity to go shopping with the chef, explore gourmet specialties at local markets and enjoy special food and wine excursions in ports en route, as well as offering award-winning cuisine and fine-dining experiences that would rival the best restaurants on land, Seabourn was rated the best culinary cruise line by a panel of travel and culinary experts brought together by Saveur magazine for its 2013 Culinary Travel Awards.

 All dishes on Seabourn cruises come beautifully presented.

Meanwhile, on some Uniworld river cruises, fresh produce is delivered direct to the galley kitchen from farmers’ markets and local suppliers. And when P&O ships replenish in Sydney, fresh salmon, barramundi and snapper from the Sydney Fish Market arrive to the ships’ galleys within hours.

Acclaimed Chefs

On the other side of the world, French chef Jacques Pepin has long been charming guests with his namesake Jacques restaurants on Oceania Cruises’ Oceania Marina and Oceania Riviera – how could anybody resist steak frites (New York strip steak with French fries), poulet roti (roast herb-crusted chicken with mashed potatoes) and supreme de saumon au court-bouillon (Norwegian poached salmon with rice pilaf)? As the cruise company’s master chef and executive culinary director, he also has input in all of the company’s other dining options, guaranteeing a fabulous feed wherever you decide to feast.

 Seafood such as tuna and caviar feature at Oceania Cruises’ Jacques restaurants.

Cunard has had a 10-year relationship with US chef Todd English, whose signature restaurant is on Queen Mary 2. Todd knows the value of food on any cruise and says: “It is one of the most important activities ... The (dining) experience is very much how a ship is rated,” he says.

 Fine dining that’s fit for royalty at Todd English’s restaurant on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.

UK-based P&O Cruises has employed the talents of celebrated chefs Marco Pierre White – the youngest chef to be awarded three Michelin stars – and Atul Kochhar – the first Indian chef to receive Michelin-star status – on its world cruises. Says Marco: “Since I joined P&O, I feel like I’ve seen the world. For so many people, cruises are all about the food. I remember visiting Marseille and having the most sensational bouillabaisse, the glorious fish stew with rascasse and gurnard and the flavours of Provence – fennel, saffron, olive oil.”

 Marco Pierre White’s salt marsh lamb rack is a favourite at Ocean Grill on P&O’s Arcadia.

Acclaimed Australian chefs are also making their mark on cruise dining. Mark Best of Marque Restaurant in Sydney and Pei Modern in Melbourne has joined the Holland America Line Culinary Council of top chefs from across the globe, while P&O features Salt grill by Luke Mangan, currently Australia’s only celebrity chef restaurant at sea, where guests pay a fraction of the land-based prices.

 Seared beef carpaccio with Thai salad at P&O’s Salt grill by Luke Mangan.

His menu – featuring premium quality fillet steak from Goulburn Valley, sirloin and scotch fillet from Rangers Valley Cattle Station and succulent rib-eye from Cape Grim in Tasmania – often commands an arm-long waiting list. “My goal is to showcase and promote Australian produce,” explains Luke.

If you’re hanging out for fresh Japanese flavours, take a cruise on Crystal Symphony or Crystal Serenity, where you can tuck into Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa’s sushi, sashimi, seafood ceviche or black cod with miso at Silk Road restaurant and The Sushi Bar. Naturally there is a surcharge, and if you check his sailing schedule, you might even get to meet the popular maestro or take a cooking class.

Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian is the first foray afloat for the popular British TV chef who champions good food prepared simply. Expect rustic pasta dishes such as truffle tagliatelle and wild rabbit casarecce on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas.

Other cruise lines to lure celebrity chefs on board include Disney Cruise Line, with three Michelin-starred Arnaud Lallement; Hurtigruten, with TV chef Andreas Viestad demystifying Nordic cuisine; and Paul Gauguin Cruises, with French chef Jean-Pierre Vigato on board MS Paul Gauguin.

Beef and Burgers

Prime 7, on board Regent’s Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner, prides itself on serving the best steak at sea, with USDA Prime and 28-day minimum dry-aged beef on offer. Guests are also offered the choice of filet mignon, chopped wagyu and even massive half-kilo bone-in rib steaks.

After swimming and socialising by the pool, there’s nothing quite like a great poolside hamburger for lunch. Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival Cruise Lines’ Breeze, Conquest, Freedom, Glory, Liberty, Sunshine and Triumph gets the nod for serving addictive burgers with melted cheese and spicy fries.

 Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival Cruise Lines gets the nod for the best burgers at sea.

Sweet Treats

Sweet tooths will love the oversized cupcakes served at Royal Caribbean’s decadent Cupcake Cupboard on Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and ships in the Oasis class. The delicious desserts continue with Norwegian Cruise Line, which features Carlo’s Bake Shops by Bartolo ‘Buddy’ Valastro (the Cake Boss chef) with to-die-for cannoli, tiramisu and, of course, cakes.

Happy and Healthy

And for those who don’t want to go home the size of, well, a cruise liner, Royal Caribbean has also recruited the services of celebrity chef Devin Alexander, whose Devinly Decadence at Solarium Bistro on Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas focuses on healthy comfort food. It’s here that you’ll find low-kilojoule versions of a burger with fries and sausage penne bake, as well as indulgent desserts like Chocolate Not-Only-In-Your-Dreams Cake and True Love in a Bowl (banana cocoa ice cream).

Want something more specialised? Try a Food & Wine Cruise

Taste some gourmet fare above the waterline: Celebrity Chefs At 35,000 Feet

In Good Company

Food and wine connoisseurs can join the chef’s inner sanctum and dine with an intimate group of discerning guests at the chef’s table. The experience costs a little extra, but it’s worth every cent.

On some Princess cruises, a group of 10 lucky guests can begin the evening with pre-dinner cocktails and canapes in the galley, followed by a special tasting menu, hosted by the executive chef, in the dining room. Each guest will also receive a signed copy of the company’s cookbook, Courses: A Culinary Journey.

Exclusive dining experiences are also offered on some P&O cruises, for up to 14 guests in the Wine Room, with a degustation menu paired with specially selected wines. Meanwhile, on board Carnival ships, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres kick off the VIP experience, which then leads to indulging in a specially designed menu for 12 guests.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s chef’s table is also limited to 12 guests, with a nine-course menu accompanied with wines and a behind-the-scenes galley tour, while Royal Caribbean caters for up to 16 guests with a five-course gourmet menu paired with selected wines presented by the chef de cuisine. How’s that for intimate dining?

Tricia Welsh

Tricia Welsh is a Melbourne-based freelance career journalist who has specialised in food and travel writing for some 30 years. In that time, she has been a regular contributor to magazines such as Vogue Entertaining Guide, Australian Gourmet Traveller where she was Melbourne Editor, and Qantas inflight magazine. She has caught piranha in the Peruvian Amazon, cupped coffee in Costa Rica, eaten beetles and crickets in Cambodia, sailed the icy waters of Antarctica, swum with sea-lions in the Galapagos and dined right royally in Michelin-star restaurants along the way.