Cruise dining has taken an interesting turn in the past few years; similarly to the more in-touch hotels across the globe, the trend is moving away from the notoriously average quality of mass production and all-you-can-eat buffets (although the rare buffet can totally hit the spot) for the sake of higher quality, more targeted experiences. Instead of standing in long queue with tray in hand, floating holidays are now shaped by some of the world’s most renowned chefs, resulting in more actual restaurants temping people on board; many of which offer access to celebrity chefs’ work for a fraction of the cost such an experience would be on land.
Princes Cruises have offered their latest iteration of the trend by teaming up with internationally renowned (and not just for those Coles ads) Australian chef Curtis Stone, who to date has had more of an actual dining presence internationally then across the country. The result is SHARE, a concept dining experience where the name should be the only description you need: this is all about group feasts and shared plates.
With Stone’s Maude in Beverly Hills very well-received, and a new restaurant in Hollywood (Gwen) freshly opened, the affable chef certainly has his hands full. It then seems a bit too ambitious to have three new restaurants on board three of Princess Cruises’ superliners (Sun Princess, Ruby Princess and <>Emerald Princess), but it’s all seemed to work out rather well with Stone working closely with the Princess culinary team to develop a menu that aims for both quality and consistency.
It’s obvious from the first moment one treks on up to the top floor and walks out to SHARE’s brassy glow that this is something that means a great deal to Curtis, hence demanding special attention from the famously busy chef. Personal family photos decorate the walls, while book shelves – strangely disconnected from the rest of the restaurant – are apparently designed and filled according to what Curtis has on display in his own living room. The real “aww” moment comes with a framed portrait of his very first hand-written recipe, which he scribbled down as a child; it’s a simple step-by-step on how to make orange cake, a mirror for how far Stone has come and an anchor for SHARE’s family-focused, socially-minded philosophy.
While SHARE on Sun Princess has a slightly different menu to the other two ships, all the signatures seem to be the same. The menu is segmented by style but there’s little distinction between entree and main, so it’s best to just order up a few of these plates and design your group’s own table spread.
Of course, it’s advisable to dig into the “Charcuterie & Cheese” section before anything else, creating nice little plates filled with spicy Hungarian salami, milky Bethmale cheese, and cured jamon serrano. The real strength of cruise dining is the scope available to the chefs, so the menu will read with produce from all around the world which has been carefully sourced to maintain freshness among more local ingredients which are brought on board each time the ship docks and carefully stored at optimal temperature. Reading through the Charcuterie and cheese list alone, there’s produce from Canada, Tuscany, Hungary, Spain, Italy, and California.
Thinking slightly bigger will get you dishes like the Wild Mushrooms ($8.50), a creamy medley served with ricotta, pine nuts, and a few bitter greens, the Potato Gratin ($9) with black winter truffle and cream, and the classic Mac & Cheese ($7.50) with strong smoked gouda and black pepper. The strong flavours are a big step away from dull, dry quantity-focused buffet food, all serving as perfect sides for the few dishes which could be considered mains. The best of these is the Beef Cheek Pie ($12) with fresh Aussie beef mixed in with porcini mushrooms in a flawless pastry; it’s sizable, hearty, and the essential signature for SHARE, particularly if you can get the staff to shave some truffles on top of the potato gratin side, as Curtis did for guests at the recent launch.
It’d be nicer to see more seafood represented on the menu. Roasted Crab Legs ($15) with tobanjan aioli and clarified butter, and Shrimp ($7.50) with lemon gel, turnip, citrus salt and brioche are nice showcases for fresh, simple seafood dishes fancied up with a few local ingredients, but the kitchen’s clear ability to respect natural flavours begs for more.
Of course, these prices are kept low because they aren’t part of the all-inclusive package many people use to define cruise ships. So don’t be too shocked when you see a dessert as beautiful as the Warm Bread Pudding priced at $4.50. The homely finish is sweet and creamy with a crumbly texture and a rich caramel from the toffee sauce that’s generously poured on top. Those after something lighter will probably want to go for the Tarte Aux Citron ($3.50) which is served with raspberry granola and meringue, though any kids in the house will certainly be leaning towards Chocolate Cremeux ($4.50), flavoured with hazelnut and vanilla bean ice cream.
For more information on SHARE click HERE.
SHARE can be found on board three Princess Cruises. The above copy is based on SHARE aboard Sun Princess. For all upcoming itineraries from Australia click HERE. Upcoming Princess Cruises include a 12-night South Pacific cruise on board Sun Princess, sailing from Sydney on 25th April 2017 ($1499pp twin share with on board credit of $100pp). Emerald Princess also has an upcoming 11-night South Pacific cruise departing 7th March 2017 ($1199pp twin share, on board credit of $100pp), and a recently anounced 11-night New Zealand cruise departing Sydney on 10th January 2017 ($1699pp twin share, on board credit of $75pp).