Food is a key part of any holiday – but, from Michelin star chefs to truffle farms, luxury cruise lines take things further. Anthony Pearce looks at some of the best
Food tourism is booming, with more than 50 per cent of British travellers naming cuisine as a determining factor when deciding where to book their holiday, according to a survey by TravelSupermaket.
Food is certainly a key part of the luxury holiday: as well as beautiful surroundings, exclusive experiences and exceptional service, well-heeled travellers want authentic and mouth-wateringly good food.
In the cruise industry, with the the majority of evening meals enjoyed on board, this shift has meant that all cruise lines – but particularly those that fall into the five and six-star bracket – have had to up their food offering.
This has resulted in emergence of luxury ships with multiple venues, which offer a diverse range of cuisines, as well as off-board food and drink experiences.
No longer are cruise guests given the option of one of two sittings in the main dining room. Speciality restaurants and smaller eateries have become the norm. Silver Muse, Silversea’s new flagship, for example, has an incredible 12 venues for just 596 guests, while Scenic Eclipse, Scenic’s new ‘discovery yacht’, has 10 dining experiences for just 228 guests.
Celebrity chef tie-ins are also increasingly common. Acclaimed Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa has been partnering with Crystal since 2003 with the excellent Silk Road and The Sushi Bar on board its ocean ships, while there is Jacques from French chef Jacques Pépin on board Oceania Cruises; The Grill with three Michelin-star chef Thomas Keller on Seabourn and Rudi’s Sel de Mer (Rudi Sodamin) on board Holland America Line.
Off board, there has been a shift, too. On itineraries in Uniworld’s Connoisseur Collection guests are transported to famous restaurants, vineyards, orchards, truffle farms and more, allowing them to delve deep into a region’s food culture. Overleaf, we pick some of our foodie cruise highlights.
Nowadays, there are too many exceptional food options at sea to choose from, but we have highlighted seven venues from different cruise lines that have really caught our eye. Each is included in the price unless otherwise stated.
1. It would be remiss not to mention Oceania Cruises when talking about food at sea, and possibly remiss to even not begin with them. The line, part of the Norwegian group, claims to spend more on food per guest than any other cruise line, and, as those who have experienced it will tell you, it shows. The afforementioned Jacques (on Marina and Riviera), a French-style restaurant, is perhaps the pick of the bunch when it comes it comes to its speciality restaurants. The encrusted lamb loin with pistachio stuffing and cabernet sauvignon sauce, and the Maine lobster naked in its shell with mushroom cream sauce are among the highlights.
2. La Dame, the only Relais & Châteaux restaurant at sea, is one of the most opulent speciality restaurants out there. With a per guest reservation fee of US$60, the restaurant, on Silversea, promises an “elegant, refined and enticing” experience: expect caviar, fois gras and lobster, white table cloths and exceptional service.
3. Viking doesn’t put itself in the luxury bracket, but its ocean product is rightly applauded as being among the best. Elegant, minamalist and unfussy, Viking Star, Sky and others provide a modern type of luxury that never feels over the top. It also has some great dining venues, including Manfredi’s, its Italian bistro. The antipasti and pasta are exceptional, but most diners save themselves for the main event: the belly-busting cured rib-eye. It was voted as the best steak at sea in the cruise adviser office survey.
4. Nobu Matsuhisa, known for his fusion cuisine blending traditional Japanese dishes with Peruvian ingredients, has two restaurants on Crystal Cruises: Silk Road and The Sushi Bar. The dishes include salmon tartar with sevruga caviar; tiradito and yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño; Nobu-style lobster; and black cod with miso. Asian fusion restaurants are now common on cruise ships, but this might be the best.
5. The Grill by Thomas Keller, on Seabourn, is inspired by classic American restaurants from the ’50s and ’60s and serves simple, but excellent, versions of iconic dishes. That is: Dover sole meunière; thick-cut prime New York strip steak; and roasted chicken with thyme jus, to share.
6. With Sushi lollipops, ‘disco’ shrimp and popcorn fish’n’chips, it’s no wonder Celebrity Cruises describes the food of Qsine as “thought-provoking”. Costing $45 per person, this speciality restaurant is one of the most intriguing at sea.
7. There are plenty of Italians at sea, but Princess Cruises’ Sabatini is among the best. Piemontesi, burrata, lamb tortelloni and porchetta: it’s all about the classics here.