Dine and brine in new-wave style

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

The no­tion of ship buf­fets with elab­o­rate ice and but­ter carv­ings and pyra­mids of iri­des­cent crab ex­ten­der is fast be­ing tossed over­board by lead­ing cruise lines in favour of spe­cial­ity restau­rants and smaller spa­ces with table service.

Lead­ing the charge in the lo­cal mar­ket is P&O Aus­tralia, which has re­de­fined on-board din­ing by junk­ing smor­gas­bord spreads in favour of a day­long din­ing tem­plate known as The Pantry. It’s sim­i­lar to a food court, with stands where pas­sen­gers line up to be served and then take their laden trays to dine at as­sorted seat­ing, from tall benches and bars to so­fas, stools and clus­ters of ta­bles. In tan­dem with this ca­sual ap­proach, the food is health­ier and lighter, too. Ahoy there, nu­tri­tious sal­ads and just-made Asian stir-fries, deli charcuterie and cheese boards.

Lead­ing Syd­ney-based chef and restau­ra­teur Luke Man­gan, who runs 21 out­lets in four coun­tries, has been part of this new culi­nary wave since he launched his Salt Grill con­cept aboard Pa­cific Dawn and Pa­cific Jewel al­most a decade ago.

Man­gan agrees it was ini­tially a bit of a risk to pair a gourmet res­tau­rant with a mass-mar­ket prod­uct but the ex­per­i­ment has been a suc­cess and sis­ter ships Pa­cific Aria and Pa­cific Eden also carry pop­u­lar Salt Grills, with ad­join­ing lounge bars that could have been air­lifted from five-star city ho­tels. This brasserie-style con­cept, with a high-end de­signer fitout, fea­tures Man­gan’s sig­na­ture dishes such as crab omelet with miso mus­tard broth and licorice par­fait with lime syrup. There’s a sur­charge of $39 for lunch and $49 a head for a three-course din­ner and side dishes.

Salt Grill is be­ing taken to the next level aboard Pa­cific Ex­plorer, which joins the fleet this month, with an ex­clu­sive Chef’s Table op­tion of­fer­ing of a Taste of Salt seven-course de­gus­ta­tion din­ner menu ($99). Man­gan is also launch­ing a ca­sual, semi-al­fresco diner named Luke’s over­look­ing the pool on Pa­cific Ex­plorer. He calls the a la carte con­cept “cre- ative, fast and ca­sual” and tells me there will be wines by the glass and burg­ers with fill­ings such as bar­ra­mundi, soy-spiced chicken wings and a dis­tinctly Aus­tralian dessert of a wagon wheel ice cream sand­wich. Black­board spe­cials could in­clude the likes of buck­ets of prawns and oys­ters. Fans of Man­gan’s Syd­ney-based Chicken Con­fi­den­tial gourmet burger project can ex­pect to find his Gang­nam-style Korean-in­spired chicken and kim­chi-filled buns on of­fer. The food can be taken away, in Man­gan-branded pack­ag­ing, of course, to eat else­where on the ship or in pas­sen­ger cab­ins, which is an­other stretch be­yond typ­i­cal ship­board din­ing. The newly trans­formed 1998-pas­sen­ger Pa­cific Ex­plorer, for­merly badged as Dawn Princess, fea­tures an Ad­ven­ture Park with all man­ner of dare­devil op­tions, a grassed area for bare­foot bowl­ing and other lawn games, zip lin­ing, rock climb­ing and myr­iad en­ter­tain­ment venues, in­clud­ing a sup­per club with cabaret. The 400 Gradi Neapoli­tan-style pizze­ria will be over­seen by award-win­ning Melbourne chef Johnny Di Francesco while the Archie Rose Dis­till­ing Com­pany of­fers mix­ing classes in The Bonded Store.

Add these to the Man­gan line-up, plus the cool bev­er­age and mu­sic scene and ship­board life 2017-style sounds rather like a day (and night) out in the hip­ster sub­urbs of Aus­tralian cap­i­tals. Cruis­ing has in­deed come a long way since for­mal din­ing halls the size of air­craft hangars, prepre­pared prawn cock­tails and sparklers stabbed into cus­tardy pud­dings. Bon ap­petit.

An artist’s ren­der­ing of Salt Grill aboard Pa­cific Ex­plorer; chef Luke Man­gan; and a Salt Grill crab omelet

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