You never have to worry about going hungry on a cruise, but sometimes you want something a little more exclusive than the main dining room or the heaving buffet. Enter the chef’s table, a private dining experience for just a handful of passengers serving a decadent multi-course meal with matching wines. Here are 10 of the best.
Crystal has a reputation for luxury and the Ultimate Vintage Room dinner might just be the most luxurious chef’s table on the water at about $1,000 a head. The menus are impressive (think Yellowfin tuna tartare, seared scallops and olive crusted lamb), but it’s the matching wines that really justify the price tag. This is your opportunity to sample some of the rarest, most expensive vintages in the world, hand picked by a master sommelier and carefully matched to each course. There are just a couple of these sailings a year but, even with this extravagant price tag, there’s never an empty seat.
All five ships in the P&O fleet offer an exclusive dinner party at sea, which includes a cocktail reception hosted by the executive chef, a tour of the galley and a seven-course meal with matching wines. On the new Pacific Aria and Eden, Chef’s Table is held in a glamourous Art Deco dining room, while on Pacific Pearl you’ll eat in the wine room, surrounded by hundreds of bottles. You’ll even get a professional photograph of the evening to take home.
Two of Royal Caribbean’s Australian fleet – Legend and Radiance of the Seas – offer the Chef’s Table experience. The five-course menu includes dishes such as spinach and ricotta blini with gravalax and smoked halibut, miso brushed North Atlantic black cod and pink roasted beef tenderloin with black truffle dumplings. The chef and sommelier will explain each course to the diners, who will also go home with a cookbook containing all the recipes.
Earlier this year, Princess teamed up with Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone to introduce a raft of new menu items, a signature restaurant and a revamped chef’s table experience. Unfortunately, Curtis himself won’t be at the stove, but he does work closely with the onboard chefs to design the menu and the overall experience. The evening starts with a tour of the galley at its busiest time, right before dinner service, with pre-dinner drinks and hors d’ourves served. The private table is in the middle of the main dining room, so you’ll be getting some jealous looks along with your multi-course meal and matching wines.
In 2014, the US cruise magazine Porthole named the Master Chef’s Table on Nieuw Amsterdam the Best Dining Experience at Sea. And on top of that, HAL’s master chef consultant Rudi Sodamin was named Best Cruise Line Chef by the same magazine in 2015. With a menu featuring dishes such as frappe of lobster and porcini bisque served “cappuccino style” and a dialogue of chocolate seduction, the seven-course dinner is an impressive experience.
Carnival Cruise Line
The Chef’s Table dinner onboard Carnival Spirit and Legend starts in the galley with champagne and samples of the entrees, followed by a cooking demonstration from one of the chefs. The table itself is set up in the ship’s closed nightclub, with the long table right in the middle of the dance floor. There’s a distinct Australian/Asian twist to the menu, in line with Carnival’s overall “Aussiefication” of the ships, so expect dishes such as southern Bluefin tuna bahn mi and grilled barramundi fillet.
The chef’s table onboard APT Aria- and Concerto-class ships in Europe operates more like an intimate restaurant than a private table, but still offers the same high-quality degustation menu and matching wines. Because of its size (and because it’s included in the fare), APT encourages every guest onboard to try the restaurant at least once. It will also be included on the new RV Samatha when it launches in January in Myanmar and the newly refurbished AmaLotus will feature a similar concept to be called Indochine by Luke Nguyen when it begins sailing on the Mekong in August 2016.
Scenic runs a pretty tight door policy for its Table La Rive chef’s table restaurant and only guests staying on the Diamond Deck or in the junior suites can dine there. Lucky passengers will receive an invitation from the chef inviting you to join him on a particular night. The six courses focus on seasonal produce and premium boutique wine, with dishes such as mushroom cappuccino soup and beef fillet with foie gras.
Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara does things a little differently, hosting three Chef’s Table dinners per cruise with three different degustation menus, featuring cuisine from Italy, France or California. Depending on when you choose to dine, your starter could be chilled crab panzanella salad, tuna tartare nicoise or a lobster and avocado salad. Each course is matched with a wine chosen by the sommelier and dinners are hosted either by a senior office from the ship or a guest speaker.
P&O Cruises World Cruising
Price: from £150 ($322)
When Britannia launched earlier this year it was with much foodie fanfare, for its huge range of dining venues, cooking school and stellar line up of celebrity chefs. Dubbed the “Food Heroes”, they include Marco Pierre White, James Martin and Eric Lanlard. Each chef has a signature restaurant onboard where they design the menus, but for a select few sailings each year they will be onboard to host an intimate chef’s table dinner. The chef will prepare and cook the meal himself in The Cookery Club cooking school, before sitting down to dine with the guests – and answer all those burning kitchen questions.