I’ve cruised into a foodie Heaven

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explorer3.jpgIt’s not just the long-awaited change in the weather, this week is turning out rather well, thank you very much, especially for a food-loving cruise addict. Two meals in Michelin-starred restaurants – each introduced by the chef himself – is already a new personal best.
Monday dawned with a train journey to one of my favourite parts of Britain, and the brief journey from Totnes station to the quayside at Dartmouth must have been one with which my grandfather would have been familiar when he was a bus driver before the war.
But I wasn’t here to start rooting around under my family tree; this was a chance to take a look at Silver Explorer, a luxury expedition ship operated by Silversea and taking a break from voyages to the ends of the earth. Instead of braving polar bears in the Arctic or watching whales and penguins in the Antarctic, it was moored for a day in the sheltered estuary at the heart of the English Riviera while on a cruise along the UK coast.
A day earlier, the vessel was the cause of much excitement when she became the first cruise ship to visit Lyme Regis. The welcome party included the Town Crier and the Mayor, and eager locals were paying £5 a head to a Del Boy boat owner who ferried them out to take pictures.
As we arrived in Dartmouth, passengers were returning from an exclusive tour of the Britannia Royal Navy College where, they had been intrigued to learn in this Jubilee year, the Queen met the Duke of Edinburgh in 1939, and which has also trained royalty from Kings George V and VI to the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York.
explorer4.jpgSome of Explorer’s eight-strong fleet of Zodiac inflatables were on hand to ferry everyone to the ship and we had time for a quick look round and a refreshingly light lunch including crab, turbot and silky steak before we had to abandon thoughts of dessert in order to dash up-river for our own exclusive tour.
Greenway, once a holiday home for Agatha Christie and now in the care of the National Trust, is usually closed on Mondays, but it was opening specially for us, and there wasn’t a moment to lose.
Home to a library of 4,000 books, including a full set of her own novels and short stories, the interior of the house is frozen in time, with a fascinating collection of bric-a-brac and household items, and a moving frieze painted by a USA Army officer during the period it was requisitioned before the D-Day landings. It’s not complete; when she moved in, Christie insisted that a centrepiece depicting Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin be painted over.
gidleigh.jpgSoon we were on our way again, this time to Gidleigh Park hotel (above) on the edge of Dartmoor, whose restaurant – under the direction of Michael Caines – has held two Michelin stars since 1999.
I was expecting an unforgettable dinner, but just a regular Monday evening’s fare. What we got was something far more special. As luck would have it, this was one of the three nights a year when the hotel holds “an evening with Michael Caines” for a lucky 32 guests.
The chef greeted us while we were having a pre-dinner glass of Champagne, and promised he would be back “to introduce the bread.” I have never had the experience of being introduced to bread before, but after Michael’s passionate explanation of how each of the three types on offer was mixed, proved and baked, I began to realise what I had been missing.
Before each of the next six course, Caines left the kitchen, wiped his hands on his apron, and stood swirling a glass of wine as he gave a detailed description of every aspect of the food that was about to be brought out for us. At his side stood Master Sommelier Edouard Oger, cradling the bottle as tenderly as if it were a new-born child.
A couple of the courses had a familiar ring from lunch, but a clear tomato consomme took Caines’s crab into a different league, while the turbot, together with langoustine, had been turned into a sausage made in heaven.
Two more dishes, of foie gras and pigeon breast, preceded a main course of Dartmoor lamb (my descriptions are wholly inadequate) before – with the clock ticking round towards midnight, and after more than four hours at the table – we reached dessert. Apple mousse and cider ice cream is what it said on the menu, but it was much, much more than that. A true celebration of English apples – even at the very end of their season – it concentrated the flavours of an entire orchard onto one small plate.
apple.jpgUnthinkably, I had to leave at an unspeakably hour early next morning to catch a train to London – for this year’s first meeting of the Cruise Awards’ judging panel. My fellow guests could have a lie-in, luxuriate in the hotel’s giant baths and stroll through the 170 acres of grounds before tucking into breakfast. I had coffee, orange juice and toast delivered to my room at 5.30 before jumping – sorry, make that crawling – into a taxi at six.
A memorable start to the week then. Matched by lunch today, this time courtesy of Crystal Cruises, and held at Nobu in Park Lane. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa possesses a Michelin star for his Peruvian-influenced new-style Japanese cuisine and particularly for his signature dishes such as blackened cod.
He had to be dragged away from his new iPhone, but chef Nobu joined us at the table before lunch to tell us how much he was looking forward to taking his family – including his first grand-daughter – onto Crystal Serenity at Dover tomorrow for a cruise to the Mediterranean.
He has his own Silk Road restaurant and a sushi bar on each of Crystal’s two ships, Serenity and Symphony, and unlike many celebrity chefs who lend their names to cruise ship menus, he hires his own chefs.
pryke.jpgAlso at lunch was florist extraordinaire Paula Pryke, who supervises the displays on board, and travels each year to give demonstrations and talks to passengers. Her stark white arrangements looked stunning against the restaurant’s black tablecloth, and each guest also got a posy of sweet peas to take home (left).
Nobu’s lunch dishes were all presented as sharing plates and it’s a good job I knew my neighbour at the table otherwise we could have got into a big fight over one of us being too greedy. The white fish tiradito and tuna tataki were a revelation; lobster salad preceded the black cod, and even after a succulent grilled beef tenderloin there was a plate of assorted sushi and a heavenly dessert of hazelnut mousse.
I can’t wait to book my table at Silk Road when I travel on Crystal Serenity in the eastern Mediterranean later this year.
In the meantime, it’s time for a crash diet – though there’s not much chance of that with a gala dinner looming on Saturday when Sophia Loren will christen MSC Divina in Marseille. What’s the weather looking like for the weekend?

By | 2017-06-15T15:59:49+00:00 23 May 2012|Cruise fun, Cruise news, Cruise people|0 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.

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