They say that the bathroom scales never lie, but mine seem to have entered a whole new dimension since my return from the Diamond Princess cruise in Alaska. It’s no wonder really, considering the determination shown by maitre d’ Silvio Zampieri in getting me to sample just about every restaurant and every dish in my seven short days on the ship.
He almost succeeded. From the Trident burger bar by Neptune’s pool to the Sterling steakhouse which takes over part of the Horizon Court buffet by night; from the Savoy dining room to Sabatini’s Italian restaurant, I was faced with an impressive menu choice at every meal.
And it’s difficult to decide which two mouthwatering experiences were the more breathtaking: Champagne breakfast on my cabin balcony as I woke in Glacier Bay, or the sumptuous seven-course dinner at the Chef’s Table.
The first showed me just how difficult it is to drink Champagne and eat smoked salmon, king crab quiche and muffins while gazing with open-mouthed awe at the black bears on the beach a few hundred yards away.
The second taught me there are times when I should say no to dessert, in the interests of not having to let my belt out yet another notch. This was an opportunity for executive chef Gaetano Patania to show off his skills, and he really went to town.
I was one of 10 guests provided with a white coat and strict instructions about not touching anything before being escorted into the galley where we were presented with more Champagne and four – yes four – appetisers.
Ceviche of wild Alaskan halibut was followed by foie gras terrine, a mini quiche Provencale and then roasted new potatoes filled with sour cream and caviar.
Then we were taken to our restaurant table where Gaetano described what was to follow, before disappearing to prepare the next course, a creamy Italian risotto with Dungeness crab and garden peas.
A strawberry and cracked pepper sorbet provided a brief chance to relax before he returned with his piece de resistance, pot-roasted veal shank, basted in Alaskan ale and veal tenderloin with a shitake mushroom glaze – all carved at the table. It was a mountain of meat and I hope the left-overs found a good home because, try as we might, the 10 of us could not polish it off.
Baked Camembert with pine nuts and walnut bread came next, and then that trio of desserts – iced Amaretto parfait, vanilla apple compote, and brandy snap tuile – that I really should have passed.
It would have been excusable if that was the only evening when I ate far more than was good for me. But Silvio insisted I sample Sabatini’s, the ship’s trattoria and – in the absence of a Crown Grill which has become a feature of newer Princess ships – the premier dining venue on board.
I was puzzled when our waiter told us not to worry about choosing an appetizer, and just to select a soup and a main course, but all became clear when we were presented first with a selection of all the cold starters, and then a plateful of the hot ones.
Then the soup – I couldn’t be sensible and select a salad, could I? – a small portion of pasta, and onto the main. I hope the relief on my face was not too obvious when my chosen seared scallops turned out to be just that – six succulent scallops with a small salad garnish.
If there had been any more pasta, or rice, or potatoes, I would have been in danger of following M Creosote’s example in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, and they would have been scraping bits of me off the murals.
And yet, once again, I could not decline dessert, and I’m glad I didn’t. The berries topping the raspberry frangipane were so refreshing, my wife – who never, ever eats dessert – had some on their own.
Diamond Princess has five main dining rooms. The International is reserved for passengers choosing traditional club dining – at fixed times and at the same table, with the same companions and the same waiters each evening. The Savoy, Vivaldi, Pacific Moon and Santa Fe cater for passengers choosing Anytime Dining – which hardly needs an explanation. The same menu is provided in each restaurant , although each has its own speciality dish each evening.
And if you’re lucky enough to bag a table by the window, dinner entertainment might come in the form of dolphins swimming alongside the ship, or humpback whales spouting a few hundred yards away – we saw both.
Sterling’s steaks are as man-sized as you would expect, from my 14oz rib-eye to my wife’s 8oz filet mignon. The chips came with cheese and herbs, and the view from deck 14 as we sailed from Skagway was entrancing. I have some sympathy, however, with friends who found the venue a bit soul-less – it is, after all, part of the buffet by day.
Lunch for me was usually a casual affair, taking a (small) selection from the Horizon Court buffet, or burger and chips (just once) from the Trident Grill.
I’m never sociable enough to join other passengers in a restaurant for breakfast and usually seek out a table on my own in the buffet. On this cruise, however, it was room service almost every morning. The Champagne version cost $32 (for two) but it was free every other day. Still hungry after breakfast in bed? The buffet continues serving all morning, so there’s always an opportunity for seconds.
Prompted by Silvio, we sampled Sabatinis’ breakfast one morning, along with suite guests who can use it each day. Fresh orange juice instead of concentrate, and my eggs were poached to perfection; and because they didn’t have to travel far from the galley, the yolks were as runny as they should be.
Now it’s back to normal, sensible portions of food so that I don’t have to buy a whole new collection of elasticated trousers before my next cruise.
But thank you, Silvio, for a gastronomic treat to match the splendours of the Alaskan scenery.
- There’s a $20 cover charge for dinner in Sabatini’s, $15 for the Sterling steak house. Dinner at the Chef’s Table is $75 a head, and there’s a rose for each woman at the table and a copy of a glossy Princess Cruises recipe book for each couple. Meals in the five main restaurants, the buffet and other venues are all included in the cruise fare.