It's true. The main thing you have to look forward to on a cruise is the food. With four days at sea on-board the P&O Pacific Pearl, our seemingly endless hours of idleness were broken only by meal times. Our visits to Salt Grill by Luke Mangan were a particular highlight.
Salt Grill by Luke Mangan
Dining at Salt Grill incurs a nominal surcharge for passengers ($30 at lunch and $40 at dinner), but it's a relatively small price to pay given the level of service inside the private enclosed restaurant. Salt Grill is the only dining establishment on the ship which has its own kitchen (the Plantation buffet and the Waterfront Restaurant both share the same giant galley kitchen downstairs) and like every outlet, you can order and eat as much as you like (only a small number of dishes come with a surcharge).
Dinner table setting
The concept of Salt Grill was first floated by Sture Myrmell, vice president of hotel operations for Carnival Australia, owners of several international cruise liners including P&O Cruises. It works as a licensing deal, where Luke owns the brand "Salt Grill". Senior chefs who work with P&O Cruises are trained at Luke's Sydney restaurant Glass Brasserie and Salt Tokyo in Japan. The first Salt Grill by Luke Mangan was launched on the Pacific Jewel in 2009, followed shortly by openings on the Pacific Dawn and then the Pacific Pearl.
Pollastrini sardines (Italy) served from the tin with garlic toast; and
chilled chopped prawns with cos lettuce, avocado and mango salsa
We have dinner at Salt Grill on our first night, quickly impressed by the elegant intimacy of the dining room and the sense of quiet escape from the cruise ship distractions of bingo and off-key karaoke at the bar.
Luke Mangan is on-board the initial stages of our cruise, delivering a cooking demonstration for all passengers in the main theatre, and providing a welcome presence in the Salt Grill dining room for most meals.
We're happy to let Luke choose our courses for dinner, which arrive as a multi-course banquet over the next four hours.
Prawn toast with smoked corn salsa;
Prawn toast with smoked corn salsa is the first to arrive, the prawn a little hard to detect beneath the rubble of sweet corn. We sip on demitasse cups holding a sweet coconut broth with "Sydney spice" - a blend that Luke revealed includes kaffir lime, curry and cinnamon.
Kingfish sashimi with ginger and eschallot is surprisingly sweet, refreshed with dabs of creamy Persian feta. We devour whole Italian pollastrini sardines on garlic toast and dive into a haystack of cos lettuce, chopped prawns, avocado and fresh mango salsa.
Glass Sydney crab omelette with miso mustard broth
Much of the Salt Grill menu replicates dishes available at Glass Brasserie, Salt Tokyo and the Palace Hotel in Melbourne. The crab omelette is one of Luke's signature dishes at Glass, a pillow of fluffy egg filled with crab and sweetened with a miso broth.
Rocket, blue cheese, pear and walnuts; crushed peas and mint sauce;
truffle mashed potatoes; and roast curried pumpkin with feta and coriander
Rangers Valley sirloin, 300 days grain-fed Black Angus with Moroccan spice
There is barely any conversation when we tuck into our mains - the table falling into an ecstatic silence with each eye-widening chew of the soft and juicy Rangers Valley sirloin, cooked to a perfect state of rare.
Our myriad of sides include truffle mashed potatoes, minted peas, roasted curried pumpkin with feta and coriander, and a lively salad of rocket with blue cheese, pear and candied walnut pieces.
Luke's liquorice parfait with lime syrup and tuile
This was my first time trying Luke's signature liquorice parfait, a dessert which Luke claims will sway even the most ardent liquorice despisers. I love liquorice, particularly the Darrel Lea soft liquorice which Luke's recipe uses. It's an addictive dessert, the richness of the sabayon made more complex by the inclusion of liquorice and Pernod.
Floating island with fresh fruit and Frangelico anglaise; cheese platter;
We also have the Meredith sheep's milk yoghurt cheesecake as well as the floating island with fresh fruit and Franglico anglaise. And because gluttony loves company we manage to find room for a cheese platter as well, a decadent assortment of cheeses served with crackers, red grapes and lashings of truffled honey.
Salt Grill setting for lunch
Barely two days later we're back again for lunch. We had squeezed in another sneaky cheese platter at 11pm the night before, but really, who's counting?
House-baked bread; natural and tempura oysters ($2 surcharge each); and
charcuterie plate of bresaola, cappicola and prosciutto
It's surprising how easy it is to get used to three course lunches and dinners every day. We feast like royalty. Because we could. I mean, because we had to. Lunch commences with a mix of dishes to share, and we slide plump briny oysters down our throats followed by oysters coated in a crunchy tempura batter. There are shavings of bresaola, cappicola and prosciutto to savour and then delicate fillets of Ortiz sardines which we perch on rounds of garlic toast.
Spanish Ortiz Ondarroa anchovies served from the tin with garlic toast
Roasted beetroot with white anchovy and buffalo mozzarella panzanella
Here we move onto entrees, and between us all we've managed to cover almost the entire menu. Fat succulent scallops are seared to a caramelised crust and served on a bed of creamy blue cheese polenta. Char-grilled quail is crisp but tender, and tempura Spencer Gulf prawns are audibly crunchy.
I tuck into my salad of seasonal vegetables with a runny poached egg on top, but Minh's roasted beetroot salad with white anchovies, buffalo mozzarella and croutons is the table favourite.
Seared sea scallops with blue cheese polenta and truffle oil;
char-grilled quail with zucchini, currants, pinenuts and basil;
Grilled barramundi with mushroom sauce
Luke arrives at the table to serve up the two portions of grilled barramundi with mushroom sauce.
Sides: truffle and parmesan french fries; curried pumpkin with feta and coriander; rocket, blue cheese, pear and walnut salad; zucchini, bacon, parmesan and basil; green beans and shallots
I've gone for the T-bone steak, which comes with as many mustards as you like. I naturally ask for some of each. Our orders are rounded out with a Black Angus fillet steak, lobster tails and more side dishes than you can poke a fork at.
Pouring red wine jus onto the steak
Coconut rice pudding and mango
There's only five minutes until the start of Luke's stage show, but we still manage to find time -- and space -- for dessert. The coconut rice pudding with mango provides the perfect conclusion, splodges of comforting rice pudding scattered with fresh mango and a fruity mango sorbet.
We roll out the door and ponder... how long until dinner?
Grab Your Fork travelled on the Pacific Pearl as a guest of P&O Cruises.
Behind-the-scenes kitchen galley tour on the Pacific Pearl, P&O Cruises
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8/24/2011 12:18:00 am