My first sailing experience with Seabourn Cruises finally filled a gap in my cruise experience that has haunted me for the last five years. So, how did it go?
|Caviar Hors D' Oeuvres on Seabourn|
The restaurant décor is stylish, but bright enough for dental surgery. Most nights I was at the same table, hosted by an officer or staff member, with ten people. The menu in the Restaurant comes in just two sections; starters (including salads, soups and appetizers) and entrées. I would expect a luxury cruise line to have at least three sections, appetizers separate from soups and salads (isn't that normal?). Some people were ordering one starter, some two, some three. Everyone had an entrée. With 10 people at one table, everyone having a different number of servings, it is impossible to keep the servings on schedule. You get the picture.
The bread baskets for 12 nights in a row had only white or wheat bread slices or baguette slices. I did not see a single roll of rye, sesame, sunflower, sour dough or crusted cheese roll the entire cruise. Then during the Gala Galley Buffet on the final day of the cruise I noticed a nice variety of dinner rolls. The restaurant manager (Food and Beverage manager on most lines) happened to be standing right there when I saw them so I asked him why those same rolls were not served in the dining room. He amazed me by saying, "They are, that is what we serve in the dining room ".
"Are we on the same ship?" I wondered incredulously? This is the restaurant manager and he actually did not know what his own restaurant served for dinner rolls. I asked him again "You think this is what is being served in your dining room?" And he insisted again that it was so. I couldn't believe my own ears. I said " I am sorry, but that just isn't true," and I told him exactly what we had been served every single night of my cruise (and this was the last day). White bread, with sliced white-flour baguetttes and soft wheat bread slices. And the Colonnade was worse; baguettes and sliced white loaf nightly, and add soft dough white-flour focaccia - three white doughy breads that taste fundamentally the same. This is the best cuisine at sea?
Now, when we got to Reastaurant 2 we had a lovely selection of dinner rolls, with delicious bite-sized bits with cheese in the center. That was the only decent bread I had the entire cruise. Isn't good bread a part of any excellent cuisine?
Now, I personally felt the wine selection was extraordinarily good on the other hand. I will not pretend to be an oenophile (although that is something that is easy to do), but I was very happy with what I was served almost every night. The whites started each meal with were crisp and bouncy while the reds were soft and seductive - almost never biting. Another odd thing is that red and whites wines, and even the water, are all poured into the same size and shape glass – small. Such a small glass completely wrong for a red wine, with no nose at all.[Note: I don't have many pictures to show you what I am talking about because I didn't anticipate finding this, but you can also see the glasses here, and another bread basket. Is this what you expect from fine dining?] By the way, you will also notice you never get more than two fingers of wine. They refill generously, but it just shows something (budgeting) is going on there.
There was one night when I asked the sommelier nicely if I could skip the white wine and go straight to the red. Her exact response was, "you want me to bring you the red wine now?" with not even a hint of a smile. She was obviously irritated. I said, "If you don't mind." She left without a word, came back and let me try the red wine. I said it was very good (don't we always?) but also that it needed to breath, I was just trying to make conversation. She sighed, rolled her eyes and said, "yes, we allow the wine to breathe". Thank you.
Were my food expectations out of line? Maybe so. Maybe I just don't "get" Seabourn gourmet style. But I have dined on many cruise ships, as well as gourmet restaurants on land and I always know when I am enjoying the food. I just have to say that I didn't leave that ship with any memories of anything truly outstanding. The beef was always very good, tender and juicy. One night I ordered a steak medium in the Restaurant and it came well-done. One time I ordered a hamburger on the patio and it was delivered without a bun (was I supposed to specify I wanted a bun for my hamburger?) These are the memories I have.
Even Celebrity has QSine, a fun and frolicky way to enjoy food. Many ships now have Brazilian churrascaria, which is a wonderful cuisine many people have discovered since 2000. The Colonnade serves a different variety of foods from different world regions every night, and I am sure some of the dishes were wonderful (I ended up in Restaurant 1 every night), but I don't recall seeing churrascaria.
I do recall a day in the Colonnade when they served what they said was tempura. I love tempura, but this was what I saw...Meanwhile - this is just a random shot of tempura taken off the Internet. Do they look the same to you? They didn't to me.
Other Dining Options
There are three restaurants to choose from, plus a poolside hamburger/pizza court for lunch and dinner. One thing I found lacking was the short dinner hours; merely 90-minutes to two hours for each meal; 8:00 – 9:30 (breakfast), 12:00 – 1:30 (lunch) and 7:00 – 9:00 (dinner). Sometimes breakfast and lunch last a half-hour longer. If you miss the serving times you have to wait for the next meal or else call room service.
Now, I admit I feel a bit odd going on about this, as I know others have praised Seabourn cuisine. But I will never forget the chef speaking during the culinary demos of his personal love for "combining traditional tuna ceviche with South American ancho chili." The more he spoke about this the more I found myself dreaming about Nobu, who has a namesake Asian fusion restaurant aboard Crystal ships. Nobu is the most celebrated sushi cheg ever - famous for combining Japanese sushi with Peruviam spices. Amd he has a restauramt on Crystal (and it is good).
While the recipes in the culinary demos may have been cutting edge, and Chef Andrew Soddy certainly speaks like he lives and breaths great cuisine, the actual food we ate was very traditional continental fare; veal, rib eye, lobster and duck – the same food luxury cruise lines have been serving since I worked for Royal Viking Line in 1983. Also frustrating was that as delectable as the chef's demonstration recipe looked, it was never served in the dining room, but that seems to be true on all cruise lines.
Here is a picture of the sea bass as he prepared it in the culinary demo: and here it is as served at dinner, Almost all fish dishes were "pan fried" and came in ¼ to ½-inch slices with the skin attached – like the sea bass in the picture below. Nothing wrong with this, but how about a litle variety?
Seabourn claims to have "gourmet" dining, but I never saw a bite-sized slice of truffle or more than half a thimble of caviar (until I special ordered a serving on the last day). I ate at an Alain Ducasse restaurant once where his signature steak comes smothered in truffle. There was never a single amuse bouche served during the entire cruise.Alain Ducasse steak with truffles and fois gras - not from Seabourn.
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