For me, one of the considerations when travelling anywhere is about the food. Sure the hotel and mode of travel is important but as you may have gleaned from reading this blog we live...I mean we travel to eat. I had my own ideas about food on a cruise. My impression is that on cruises, buffets tend to feature heavily and feeding large amount of people is the biggest concern. But as we don't eat buffets on land, I don't want to eat them at sea either.
Most cruises nowadays have a fine dining restaurant, usually opened under the name of a celebrity chef. Marco Pierre White, Gary Rhodes and Luke Mangan and all have lent their names to various cruises. On the Queen Mary 2, Todd English, an American chef and four time winner of a James Beard award and one of People's 50 most beautiful people holds that distinction. English's restaurants are called "Olives" (named after his then wife Olivia) and "Fig" and are based in Boston.
These on board celebrity chef restaurants usually incur an additional charge whether it be a flat rate or a per course surcharge, the latter being the case here. It's usually a modest charge and much less than what you would pay for on land, the cost subsidised by the cruise tariff.
Our food experiences on the Queen Mary 2 have been varied. The buffet, never my cup of tea was not going to offer the type of food that you get on land although it's standard buffet quality. And the food at the Britannia restaurant and the Kings Lounge were fine enough. The old English pub perhaps offered the best experience for an included meal but our question was would the "Todd English" restaurant be as good as what you could get on land?
The restaurant is sumptuously decorated in golds, paintings, curtains and velvet. Curiously, the lobby is actually more Middle Eastern in tone than the main room which doesn't look Middle Eastern at all although there are influences in the food.
Service is deferential and accommodating. We are the first diners there so there is a lot of attention but the restaurant doesn't really fill up for lunch although it does get busier for dinner. The menu has a choice of appetisers, two pastas, entrees (mains) and desserts. The lunch and dinner menus are quite different except for the desserts that remain the same.
The bread basket arrives first and there are two squares of onion foccacia and a white and multigrain roll as well as herb crackers. We only have eyes for the foccacia which is pillowy soft and moreish. The breads come with a sharp green olive tapenade and a black tapenade.
The puffy, soft bread is like a pizza dough - English's Fig restaurants are pizzerias serving Napoletana style pizzas. It is topped with thinly sliced asparagus, fontina cheese, mushroom puree and a fragrant truffle vinaigrette. It's very good although I think this is best for sharing among the table rather than having it as your entire appetiser.
The garlic shrimp are sauteed in a garlic cream sauce and sit atop a parmesan crusted beefsteak tomato slice which is golden crumbed and crunchy.
We're quickly learning that meal sizes are very generous as they are American style. Even though they're meant to be single serves, I think a lot of them are best shared among at least two people and this dish is one of them. The artichoke hearts are crumbed and deep fried and served with wilted wild arugula or rocket, preserved lemon, capers, goat's cheese and shaved red onion. It's a delicious dish but very substantial in size and richness.
There's a generous amount of scallops in this tart and it features whole sea scallops and roasted cepes on top of a bacon rosemary puff pastry tart.
The crab cake is full of crab but gets a little wet as it sits in a bed of "Todd's fiery sweet and sour tomato soup." I would have loved a bit more fire to it as it wasn't very spicy at all. It is served with whipped avocado and cucumber salad which is really just tendril thin slices of cucumber and salad is perhaps a stretch.
This is said to be his signature dish at the restaurant. It comes as a row of silky pasta with a light potato filling. It's served with a burro fusso or melted butter, parmesan and madeira glaze. It's rich in flavour and also with the potato and pasta but delicious.
The lobster and baby corn chowder has a rich, smooth broth heady in lobster and seafood flavours. The soup has juicy baby corn kernals and small pieces of lobster which are a tad chewy.
Onto the mains! The prices for the mains at dinner are higher than the ones at lunch but compared to land prices they're still very good. The pan seared diver scallops are served with braised oxtail, artichoke, pink grapefruit, celery root and leaves and a tomato anchovy vinaigrette. Overall it's a fresh dish but the oxtail gives it richness.
The 7oz/210g beef tenderloin was utterly perfect from the way that the tender, flavoursome beef was cooked, to the accompaniments which made me wish I had left more room for this rich beef dish. I can see diners coming here for a perfectly done steak.
On this trip, we've been saying a lot of "I'll have one of everything!" which means that we're constantly chasing gym sessions and walking around the boat. But when there are five of us and some of us are dessert freaks and just want to try a bit of everything, one of everything seems the best option. The iced coffee tiramisu has the flavour of milk coffee in a cake form with three layers.
The chocolate fallen cake is a chocolate fondant cake served with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce. The centre is molten and it's a rich dessert.
The wild Maine blueberry cobbler is comfortingly good. The crispy buttery oatmeal brown sugar streusel topping is the perfect foil for the sweet Maine blueberries and vanilla ice cream.
I must admit that I particularly liked the black bottom tart with its rich tooth sticking chocolate ganache base and the light Nutella moussey topping. It too comes with vanilla ice cream.
The menu mentioned that the sorbet would sit on a bed of minted mango and citrus salad but it arrived as three simple scoops. The sorbet tastes of pure fresh fruit. There are three flavours: banana, raspberry and mango and we particularly like the banana. The raspberry is tart perhaps needing a little sweetness while the mango is also good.
The milk chocolate panna cotta has an excellent texture with much wobbling when being passed from plate to mouth. It is served with a side of mixed berry salad balancing the sweet creamy panna cotta with freshness.
I apologise for the lack of photos of petit fours. They are house made biscotti, cookies and truffles. We are too full to eat them so they pack them up for us to take back to our room. The chocolate truffles are a highlight, a sumptuous bite of creamy rich chocolate and cream. Just the ticket to lull one to sleep along with the ocean's waves.
So tell me Dear Reader, would you opt to dine at a restaurant like this if you were on a cruise? Would you try it just once or visit more often? Would having a celebrity chef's name on it influence you to go?
NQN and Mr NQN travelled on the Queen Mary 2 as a guest of Cunard Line
Queen Mary 2
Queen Mary 2’s 13-night roundtrip voyage around New Zealand departs Sydney on March 12, 2015 and is priced from AU$4049* per person twin share for a balcony cabin.