The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed a distinct lack of posts on Love to Dine of late. It’s partly because of work commitments, but part of the hiatus over Christmas was due to me being away on a rather lovely holiday: a cruise in the Caribbean, followed by New Year spent in Miami Beach. It’s been back down to earth with a bump since then, but I thought I’d reminisce via the medium of blogging. I wrote a couple of posts about onboard dining when I returned from a previous cruise on the Queen Mary 2, and they’ve been very popular, so I thought it would be a good idea to do something similar with my recent cruise, aboard the Celebrity Silhouette. I’ll apologise now for the distinct lack of food photos in the post – it was only when I got home that I decided to blog about it, so instead I’ve included a few general cruise pictures for your delectation!
The Queen Mary 2 was my first cruise, and I was totally spoilt with the dining opportunities on board, which were some of the best available at sea. A second cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines was quite disappointing in the food department, but we were optimistic about the food on board Celebrity, with Silhouette being one of its newest, Solstice Class ships. It’s a very luxurious, elegant ship, and we really enjoyed our stay onboard.
The first thing to say about dining on board is that Celebrity is an American cruise line, so the dining options are geared very much towards American guests, with large portions and a strong US theme to a lot of the menus and dining options. Saying that, the Executive Chef on board was actually from London, and had worked all around the world, but had spent a significant amount of time in his career at the Ritz Carlton (we know this because we went to a show in the theatre which featured him and some of the other chefs and had a Q&A as part of it, which was fascinating).
We travelled Concierge Class, which entitles you to ‘Select Dining’ – you can reserve a table at a time of your choice in the main restaurant (Grand Cuvee) for dinner, rather than the traditional cruise model of having set dining times. This works well for us and I’d never book a cruise where you had to dine at a set time each day. Dinner in Grand Cuvee was included in our cruise fare, but for an additional cover charge you could dine in any of the ship’s four speciality restaurants, or you could visit the buffet which was open 24 hours a day with different food on offer depending on what time you ate there. During the week we tried pretty much all the dining options!
Grand Cuvee was an impressive set up, over two floors, catering for several thousand guests each night. There was a standard menu that didn’t change, plus specials every night. The food we ate on the occasions we dined there was good, solid fare. I’m pretty sure American guests would have said it had a French flavour (more on that later!) and to be fair, one of the set menu starters was escargot, which they managed not to mess around with, and which were therefore served traditional French style with butter, garlic and parsley, and were very good. Lobster featured one night, as did steak, rib of beef, rack of lamb and a few pasta dishes, including a pretty decent lasagne. Puddings were a massive let down, though. A Sachertorte was the texture of bath sponge, and a New York cheesecake had an unpleasant gelatinous consistency and none of the creaminess we’d hoped for. A cheese plate was similarly disappointing with all the cheeses being of a similar rubbery consistency and tastelessness – the only difference in them was their colours. Service was friendly and efficient, and the sommelier was excellent, but sadly our particular waiter was quite irritating and hung around our table making jokey comments far more than was necessary. Some diners might have loved this, but we didn’t! We ate in Grand Cuvee three times during the week, which was enough for us, and it was fine, but had we not had the inclination or the budget to try the speciality restaurants, we’d have probably got fed up with it and ended up disappointed. We did eat lunch in there one day too (also included within our fare) and Mr W had a very decent hamburger!
The other ‘inclusive’ dining option was the buffet. I always try and steer clear of this type of set up wherever possible as I get put off by other people’s gluttony, pushing and shoving, and insistence on putting weird combinations of food all on one plate together (just go back a second time, don’t put your pudding with your curry!) However, we did have a late lunch there a couple of times, when the crowds had died down, and had some very pleasant salads. The ingredients were fresh and tasty, and if you put food together that actually went together, it looked very appealing! Plus, you could dine out on deck, which was a massive plus point. We had scones one afternoon too, and although the fruit in them was cranberries, rather than the usual sultanas, the clotted cream was spot on (we were expecting something akin to squirty cream!) so we were pleasantly surprised.
The first of the speciality restaurants (or ‘specialty’ as the Americans insist upon calling them!) that we tried was the Tuscan Grille, an Italian themed restaurant with a strong focus on steaks. The night we went there, the sea was incredibly rough which wasn’t overly conducive, but we struggled on – unlike the people at the table next to ours, who left after their starters to hole up in their stateroom! An antipasti amuse bouche was very good, and my crab cake starter was one of the best things I ate on board. I also had a very decent fillet steak (which was described as filet mignon, but was actually gigantic!) A panacotta dessert was much better than the Grand Cuvee puddings, but had far too much going on on the plate.
Next on our list to try was the ship’s French themed restaurant – and I use the term loosely! For a start, it was called Murano, and I can only assume that Americans labour under the misapprehension that the French go round constantly flambéing everything in sight, as this seemed to be the standard for the majority of dishes on the menu, with someone setting fire to something at someone’s table every few minutes throughout the evening. Also, the portions were bigger than anything I’ve ever had in any French fine dining restaurant (which I think is what it was trying to be) and not quite as finessed as you’d expect in the real thing. Cultural approximations aside, the important thing was that the food was excellent. A starter of crispy pork belly was up there with the crab cakes, and Mr W’s rack of lamb was fantastic. I had flambéed lobster (when in Rome…!) which was very tasty, although the creamy sauce was a bit too much in the end. Happily, the cheeseboard in Murano was the French-est thing about the place, so Mr W went away happy this time.
The most expensive cover charge for any of the speciality restaurants applied to the Lawn Club Grill, situated on the top deck of the ship in – as the name would suggest – the Lawn Club, a lovely area which had real grass, lawn games and hammocks. We were hoping to benefit from the location on the evening we ate there, particularly as we were sailing out of Puerto Rico at the time and looking forward to some lovely views, but sadly it was raining! Fortunately, the dining area itself was inside. It wasn’t until we got there that we realised that part of the concept of the Grill is that you can – if you wish – get involved in cooking your own food. Cue comments from me about not paying the most expensive cover charge on the ship only to be asked to make my own dinner – and I was only half joking! Thankfully, our waiter didn’t even ask us if we wanted to go up and join the chef – he told us at the end of the meal it was because he’d noticed we were nicely dressed up (it wasn’t one of the ship’s formal nights, but we’d made an effort anyway as I love dressing up for dinner!) Starters were flatbread style pizzas with hand stretched dough (that’s what you can help make if you so wish) and the barbecue chicken on ours was fantastic. A salad buffet was overflowing with beautiful fresh ingredients, including some absolutely divine pesto. You could then have a meat of your choice, plus a range of side orders, cooked to your liking for your main. I chose steak and Mr W lamb, and both were fantastic. A side of lobster mac’n’cheese was completely unnecessary but totally delicious, and a dessert of warm chocolate chip cookie dough with ice cream was divine and by far the best pudding we had on board.
Last but not least was Q-Sine. We weren’t sure what to expect from it, as we couldn’t find a description of it anywhere – and even after visiting I’m still struggling to describe it! Menus were on iPads, and you added dishes to your favourites, then handed them to the waiter. We were told that food was tapas style and we’d probably want 6 or 7 dishes between us, which would be brought to our table in order of size, the smallest first. Options included spring rolls, Chinese selection, Indian selection, mini sliders and beer battered fish and chips. Everything we tried was absolutely excellent, and very stylishly presented, but we ended up ordering way too much food and had to cancel our last two dishes, as the portion sizes were enormous – yes, they were tapas portions, but each dish comprised several tapas dishes, for example the Indian dish was the size of a generous Thali, plus a portion of samosas on the size! Basically, Q-Sine is all about the experience and the quirkiness – but this shouldn’t overshadow the fact that the food was really good too!
During the day, there are a few other dining options, most of which attract a small cover charge if you choose to lunch there: a bistro serving salads and crepes, a rooftop café serving salads and paninis (I tried a Panini there on our first day and found it a bit cardboardy so we didn’t go back!) and a lovely coffee shop called Il Baccio where you could have free patisserie and cookies when you ordered hot drinks. There were some lovely bars on board too: we loved the Sunset Bar on the back of the ship where you could sit outside, the buzzy martini bar, the innovative molecular bar and the cosy Ensemble Lounge where there was often live jazz music of an evening.
Celebrity Silhouette certainly wasn’t the amazing foodie experience of the Queen Mary 2, but very, very few cruise ships are. However, we had some great meals in some lovely venues, and the service was excellent throughout. We’d definitely book a Celebrity cruise again, and, so long as you don’t mind spending a bit extra on the speciality restaurants, I don’t think you’d be a disappointed foodie if you did the same!