I’ve seemingly become a bit of a cruise ship expert, having sailed on the P&O Pacific Sun, P&O Pacific Pearl and Sea Princess. Holland America Line is a step up from those, marketed as the Lexus of cruise liners.
So I was most excited when they invited me onboard ms Amsterdam during the ship’s call in Sydney, while sailing on its 115-day Grand World Voyage. We knew they were going to announce a hatted chef as their first Australian culinary council member, but who, was kept a mystery. Even at the cocktail reception, it was all still hush hush.
Approaching ms Amsterdam
Entry was via the new White Bay Cruise Terminal
Shiny and new, inside White Bay Cruise Terminal
However, as soon as I saw the canapes, I instantly recognised Mark Best’s (of Marque restaurant) creative flair – what a delight!
Potato maxims with oyster and wakame seaweed
Sydney harbour views from ms Amsterdam at White Bay Cruise Terminal
Cocktail reception on board ms Amsterdam
We were then guided to the culinary arts theatre for the announcement. In the lift, it is pointed out that the carpet changes daily to reflect the day of week; just one of the many little thoughtful touches that define the Holland America Line experience.
ms Amsterdam atrium
Mark will join Holland America Line’s Master Chef and Council Chairman Rudi Sodamin, and prominent international chefs Jonnie Boer, David Burke, Elizabeth Falkner and Jacques Torres on the Culinary Council. He will add a selection of his French-inspired signature dishes to the line’s menus and work with Sodamin and other council members to shape the culinary direction aboard Holland America Line’s fleet.
For this launch event, Mark had closed Marque for the night and brought his entire team on board to give us the full Marque restaurant experience on board ms Amsterdam! Holland America Line’s head office in Seattle even sent out a member of their culinary team to work in Mark’s restaurant for a few days leading up to the event, where he would later be responsible for visiting each ship to train the teams in the kitchen, the techniques and skills required to recreate Mark’s dishes.
Pinnacle Grill dining room
For those unfamiliar with cruise life, essentially all food is inclusive, but there are premium options that attract a small surcharge. At the Pinnacle Grill, where Mark’s dishes will be alternated with the other Council members dishes, the surcharge is just $25 USD. If the menu is executed accurately, it’s no doubt a small price to pay for fine dining of this calibre. (For a decade, Marque Restaurant has held a prestigious Three Hat, awarded by the SMH Good Food Guide)
The dining room was intrinsically decorated with plush wallpaper and a mix of art-deco elegance and Roman sophistication. We dined on Bvlgari china plates.
We sampled 4 dishes out of 9 that will feature on board.
First course was smoked eel with parmesan gnocchi and pumpkin. I’d normally associate all those flavours with being quite strong and hearty, but this was the complete opposite – subtle and delicate, yet still comforting.
Second course was bass grouper with fish milk, green tomato and potato paper. We were all fascinated by the translucent potato paper on the night; according to the Marque cookbook, this is achieved by rinsing potato slices under running water for 1 hour, then storing it in a bowl of fresh tap water in the fridge for 2 hours, replacing the water once to rinse away any starch – and then baked in the oven. It takes an amazing mind to turn an ordinary spud into something like this. I also loved the pop of saltiness from the sea bananas and the contrasting slight sourness from the green tomato. The bass grouper was exquisite also. However, I’m not sure I want to know what fish milk is!
Main course was Red Gate Farm quail with carrots and miso. The quail was well seasoned and juicy, served with carrots three ways, the sauce was intense, both in colour and flavour. The braised baby carrots were sweet and buttery but the standout were the carrot tops, cooked in dashi, then deep-fried. It tasted like a cross between Japanese/Korean roasted seaweed, and chrysanthemum leaves (the edible sort you get in hotpot).
Dessert was a mango, mustard and coconut combination that Mark had been playing around with the last few days. The wafer was a fun guessing game, but in the end, our table settled on agreeing that it was made of mustard. It was surprisingly salty for something which supposedly didn’t contain any added salt. Perhaps mustard seeds are naturally salty? The coconut sorbet was a critical element in binding this unusual pairing, but you know what, it kinda worked.
We finished with tea and coffee, it is then that I’m reminded that we were on a cruise ship. They couldn’t do a macchiato because there wasn’t a setting for it on the machine. Face palm. But I had tea instead as it was a safer option.
Since the launch event, Mark’s dishes have also appeared in a one-off special event for guests on the Grand World Voyage cruise. There may be other evenings like this further down the track but nothing is confirmed yet. Mark’s dishes will normally appear at least once per cruise.
Mark’s focus on local ingredients will be an interesting one, particularly within the limitations of a cruise ship’s cool room. Regardless, I think the Marque-flair and molecular gastronomy techniques will translate into an innovative experience for cruisers.
For more information on Holland America Line’s voyages, consult a travel professional or call Holland America Line at 1300 987 322 or visit www.hollandamerica.com.au