Cruise lines, once renowned for groaning buffet tables, are now turning to famous names in food to create innovative Asian dining experiences at sea.
Genting Hong Kong, one of the biggest players in the Asian cruise market, will launch its much-anticipated Dream Cruises later this year. Billed as an integrated resort at sea, Dream Cruises will offer what it calls “the ultimate culinary journey’’ with 35 restaurants and bars “capturing the very best flavours from around the world”. There’s the casual Makan Makan cafe, locally translated as “eat-eat” street food found in Malaysia, Umi Uma Japanese created with the award-winning Nobu restaurant, Genting Palace, a fine-dining Chinese restaurant, and Temple Street, a taste of Hong Kong inspired cuisine. There’s even a Boba Cha, offering bubble teas and Malay “kueh” (cakes).
Few who have cruised on one of Genting’s Crystal Cruises ships, Crystal Symphony or Crystal Serenity, would not have tried Nobu Matsuhisa’s world renowned Silk Road and The Sushi Bar. Blending classic Japanese cuisine with a Peruvian and European touch, dishes include lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce, Nobu Box, a beautifully presented sampler of beef, cod and shrimp dishes that can be eaten in the privacy of your suite or at the restaurant. The first reservation at Silk Road is free, but subsequent bookings cost US$30 per person. It’s worth it and many well-heeled Crystal guests book several meals there.
Princess Cruises, an Asian favourite with strong routes through the region, recently recruited popular Australian chef Curtis Stone to develop SHARE. The elegant restaurant, now aboard Ruby Princess and Emerald Princess, features a menu of charcuterie, salads, handmade pastas and premium quality meats accompanied by an array of decadent desserts. Princess Cruises also has a traditional Japanese sushi bar, Kai Sushi, serving up sushi and sashimi expertly prepared before your eyes. Kai Sushi is on board Diamond Princess and Sun Princess.
Star Cruises, the dominant cruise line in Asia, has executive chef Lee Eng Heng heading a wide variety of eateries on board SuperStar Virgo, including the 24-hour Blue Lagoon cafe offering Asian specialties and Chinese restaurants Genting Palace, Noble House and Taipan, which features an ala carte menu. It also has a Lab Made liquid nitrogen ice-cream bar.
Cruising up and down Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River, the boutique Belmond Road to Mandalay has a female Thai executive chef, Paweevasu Ahkkharakitvaikhen, known locally as Chef Imm. She has been working with Belmond for three seasons and previously worked as a private chef for a rich family and in or several hotels in Asia. Chef Imm cooks Western, Asian and Thai dishes, from foie gras to mohinga (rice noodle and fish soup from Myanmar) and lychee sorbet. Her tamarind salad dressing is a stand-out and her grilled river prawns with garlic and lemon juice is hard to beat.
If you like unadulterated Thai food as it is eaten on the streets of Bangkok, Aqua Expeditions has enlisted renowned Australian Thai chef David Thompson as its consulting chef on Aqua Mekong. Thompson has incorporated the culinary traditions of Mekong River cultures with the freshest ingredients to create dishes such as river prawns with ginger, shallots, tamarind and palm sugar served on betel leaves, Cambodian green curry of catfish, and lemon basil cashew nut pudding with coconut cream. This year, Thompson will run chef-hosted cruises on Aqua Mekong with tours to local markets, cooking lessons in the ship’s kitchen and Q&A sessions so passengers can get some tips on his culinary creations.
On Oceania Cruises in the Mediterranean, legendary French chef Jacques Pepin has waved his culinary wand on Red Ginger restaurant, which is known for its Asian classic claypot of caramelised chicken and miso-glazed seabass. Make sure you book ahead and there’s no extra charge. Pepin will personally host two cruises in November this year where guests can dine on specially designed signature menus, and attend lectures and culinary demonstrations. His daughter, Claudine Pepin, is a celebrity chef in her own right and is godmother to Oceania’s new ship, Sirena. She will also be hosting a culinary cruise on Sirena in October.