Over the past few years the cruise industry has seriously upped the ante when it comes to on-board fare. While everyday passengers may have been blown away with the gourmet offerings, the real test lies in what expert food critics have to say about the experience. Brad Johnson, celebrity restaurant critic, professional food photographer and self-confessed cruise addict is one of the latest high profile names to sample what chefs on-board Crystal Cruises have been serving up. This is his experience!
Food > Travel
As a professional foodie cuisine lies at the heart of everything Johnson does, including travel. “Food dictates where I travel. I book restaurant reservations before I buy plane tickets. I choose hotels based on their proximity to where I will eat,” he says. He’s certainly one tough critic and when he booked a Southeast Asia voyage on-board the Crystal Symphony, he admits that his expectations weren’t all that high.
“I’ve learned over the years that my passion for food and my love for cruising are not always compatible. I’ve found myself on cruises where I’ve had to lower my expectations at the dinner table, at least while the ship was at sea,” he explains.
An at-sea surprise
From the moment he booked his ticket Johnson started mapping out his meal plans, with a focus on hitting up specialty restaurants such as Singapore’s Tippling Club, as well as authentic street stalls found in Ho Chi Minh City. The experience was incredible, with Johnson recalling that “I can’t remember a vacation when I’ve eaten so well, every single meal for three weeks.” Yet despite his mouth-watering on-land meals, he was forced to admit that “For all the great food I devoured along the way, the memories I will cherish most might be the days and nights I dined on-board Crystal Symphony.” Kudos to the Crystal Symphony chefs!
Plates that tantalise the toughest palates
Throughout his two week voyage Johnson remained utterly enamoured with the offerings. As well as a selection of classic dishes such as prime rib, steaks and soufflés, he hails the ‘modern selections’ as dynamic, flavoursome and wonderfully creative. “I had taken a Crystal Cruise years ago and enjoyed good food, but I was genuinely stunned and delighted by the Symphony’s cuisine this time around… The evolution was remarkable.”
So what were his favourite dishes? One of the stand-out meals was a colourful mosaic of swordfish and tuna carpaccio, crowned with a tangy orange-chili sorbet, silky smooth ginger confit and purple basil. A steaming bowl of wagyu beef tartare unveiled with a flourish of horseradish-scented smoke was another highlight, as was the broiled Chilean sea bass topped with a garnish of lemon snow. Formal evenings took the concept of culinary indulgence to a whole new level, with Johnson recalling that “Formal nights ushered in even more elaborate flourishes like Petrossian caviar served in eggshells filled with chive custard; fried squares of snapper balanced atop bright yellow ravioli, the fish’s honeycomb-like skin perfectly charred and garnished with soft, golden pearls that tasted like saffron.” Overall the Crystal Cruises dining experience was nothing short of exceptional, with Johnson describing it as “The sort of thing I would expect at some of the world’s top restaurants but not in the main dining room of a cruise ship.”
Crystal chefs learn from the best
After a little research Johnson quickly got to the bottom of how Crystal Cruises managed to pull of such mesmerising dining feats. He uncovered that the in-house culinary team worked closely with none other than Kyle Connaughton, former head chef of the research and development lab at Heston Blumenthal’s world famous Fat Duck restaurant. The passion for molecular gastronomy is well and truly echoed in the fabulous fare that Crystal chefs served up night after night.
With the final leg of the journey seeing the ship dock in Hong Kong for two nights, Johnson had made plans to hit up trendy new eatery, Kowloon. However as soon as the ship pulled into port he called the restaurant to cancel, explaining “I had one last night on the ship, and I wanted to make it count. Cruise cuisine isn’t what it used to be.”
Bon appetit Crystal Cruises!
Images sourced via Brad Johnson. Credits: Brad Johnson