published September 25
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome on stage, all the way from England, celebrity chef . . . Valentine Warner.”
Rather an unusual introduction for the very British TV cook who recently featured in Alan Titchmarsh’s Love Your Garden, and whose latest book, The Good Table, has just been released. Unusual because unlike most of his fellow passengers on board a cruise ship crossing the North Sea to Scandinavia, he hadn’t actually travelled a long way.
The 39-year-old chef, once described imaginatively by a Mirror colleague as “the Russell Brand of the kitchen,” had boarded Holland America’s Eurodam in Dover the previous afternoon and was now appearing in the ship’s Culinary Arts Centre to demonstrate a trio of fish dishes.
Most of his audience, drawn from the 2,144 passengers on board, had ventured rather further from home; the 235 Brits were heavily outnumbered by the 1,238 Americans and even 278 Canadians.
Which explains why the Q&A session after his demonstration had ended was dominated by questions such as “What’s harissa?” and “Could I use corn oil instead of olive oil?”
During the 12-night cruise, Warner had two cookery sessions open to all and spent a couple of hours on another day with 12 passengers who each paid $50 for the opportunity to cook with the master (and a little help from me, above).
Although he was impressed by the container-loads of fresh ingredients brought on board the ship in Copenhagen, he went foraging for fresh ingredients on a shore excursion from the southern Norwegian port of Kristiansand, and was tempted by the fresh fish on sale in the quayside market at Bergen.
He could have spent an afternoon signing books if only he hadn’t left two boxfuls of them in the terminal at Dover, and sadly, he had left the ship by the time we arrived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, so he was unable to advise the open-air Beamish Museum which this summer opened an Edwardian fish and chip shop with coal-fired fryers.
But his presence on board was part of a popular cruise ship fascination with food which almost amounts to an obsession on Eurodam.
The ship, launched in 2008, caters for almost every taste.
Take breakfast, for example, in the Lido buffet restaurant. Orange juice is freshly squeezed, a rarity these days when volume caterers seek to cut costs by offering reconstituted concentrate.
You can order fried eggs any way you want and there’s a whole servery devoted to a bewildering number of variations on a theme of Egges Benedict. Or you might find yourself in a queue alongside Captain Jeroan van Donselaar waiting for an omelette cooked to order.
At lunch-time there’s another array of options. A deli sandwich counter; a pizza bar, a section serving pastas and fajitas, and a daily-changing Flavours of the World which provides specialities from Indian, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian and Filipino cuisine. There are always four or five main course selections, a vast salad bar, and a dessert counter which doubles as the ice cream bar.
The Lido is a casual option for those who prefer not to dress for dinner, even though the dress code on most nights is smart casual, and there are only two formal evenings. A section also converts to become the Canaletto Italian restaurant at night, with waiters dressed like they just stepped off a Venetian gondola.
Waiter service is available in the Rembrandt restaurant, which provides traditional fixed-seating meals at 6.00 pm and 8.30 pm, or open seating at any time from 5.15 pm to 9.00 pm.
The menus are mouth-watering. On any given night there may be pate de foie gras, escargots, and Alaskan crabs legs among the starters, and surf and turf – filet mignon and lobster tail – rack of veal, and chicken Marsala among the main courses.
Pinnacle Grill is the venue for serious carnivores, with steaks so big they hang over the side of the plates, and once a week it is transformed into Le Cirque – based on the fames French restaurant in New York – with a change of tableware to match the alternative menu.
Best of all is the Tamarind restaurant, serving Asian fusion delicacies, and its adjacent Silk Den lounge – a favourite bar to relax and enjoy the view with a cocktail in hand.
If all those restaurants are not enough, you can pick up a plate of chips, a burger or a hot dog from the Terrace Grill; there are late-night snacks available in the Lido from 11.0 pm to 12.30 am, and 24-hour room service for those awkward moments when you feel peckish at four in the morning.
Don’t run away with the idea that a cruise is all about the food. On this Fjords and Highlands voyage – where we actually saw few fjords and even less of the Highlands – there were visits to three capital cities: Copenhagen in Denmark, an overnight stay in Norway’s Oslo, and a day in Edinburgh, where I visited the Royal Yacht Britannia, now moored alongside a shopping centre in Leith and rapidly becoming one of Scotland’s most popular visitor attractions.
Kristiansand provided an opportunity to leave Eurodam for a smaller vessel to sail among the exclusive holiday homes on the islands of the Ny Hellesund archipelago. While Warner was shopping for fish in Norway’s second city, I joined an excursion to the home of composer Edvard Grieg; from Invergordon in the north of Scotland, tours to Loch Ness were popular among the American passengers; and that Beamish museum was the unexpected highlight when our boat came into the Tyne.
In fact plenty of food for thought wherever we went, on or off the ship.
A 12-NIGHT Fjords & .Highlands cruise on the Eurodam departing June 2, 2012, starts at £1,589pp including flights from Amsterdam. Seven to 13-night Norwegian Fjords cruises will also be available as round-trip from Dover on Ms Ryndam from £699pp. For more information visit www.hollandamerica.co.uk or call 0845 351 0557