“You won’t find any foams here” Chef Luke Mangan proudly peppered the middle of one of our conversations. We were chatting onboard P&O Pacific Pearl, in his restaurant Salt Grill. Having eaten regularly at his landlubbing restaurants I knew his culinary style, and was keen to try out one of his restaurants with sea legs. With the different conditions on board, I really wasn’t expecting his ship restaurant to quite reach the same heights. Oh yee of little faith!
All the familiar signature dishes that I know and love were on the menu, plus a few extras. And all of his Pacific rim cuisine was up to the same exacting standards that I’d tried previously at his Glass Brasserie, Sydney and The Palace Hotel in South Melbourne.
The Salt Grill menu has an easy cruising layout – starting with a tapas menu. Not long after embarking (is that the right sailing term?) I noticed Chef had tweeted a photo (a tempting photo) from the Salt Grill tapas menu. That had to be my first choice: pollastrini sardines (Italy) served from the tin, garlic toast.
Simple food. Quality ingredients. Perfect tapas. A beautiful kick back and relax while cruising dish. And a perfect start to the three meals at Salt Grill. Because, with P&O escort Greg Dehn, there were five appetites at the table, we did a good job of eating our way through the Salt Grill menu. Luckily we were also all willing to swap plates and share forks so I also got to try quite a bit of what was on offer.
We definitely sampled all the tapas:
marinated mixed olives & feta
spanish ortiz ondarroa anchovies, served from the tin, garlic toast
pollastrini sardines (Italy), served from the tin, garlic toast
charcuturie plate (bresaola, cappicola, prosciutto)
bruschetta of roast capsicum, sultana, white anchovy
prawn toast, with smoked corn salsa
Or maybe we might have missed one of them? Anyway, it was all good.
The main galley of the Pacific Pearl feeds up to 2,500 people (including 700 crew) each day. So an escape to this very fine forty seater restaurant is well worth (I feel) the $30 lunch charge and $40 dinner charge.
There were also just a few surcharges – in the next section of the menu – oysters & raw bar. For those who want to indulge the sturgeon caviar carries an additional charge. Our oysters (natural or tempura) were also listed as an extra.
While I wasn’t tempted by the caviar, I do wish I had spoken up and ordered lobster sashimi. In my mind this is truly one of life’s great pleasures.
Kingfish sashimi, ginger eschallot & persian feta as well as rare tuna, with wasabi dressing on soba noodles are also on offer.
In the next section I was enticed by the combination of seared sea scallops, blue cheese polenta, truffle oil. It worked. The blue cheese was lightly creamed and not overpowering. There was balance. The scallops were perfectly opaque at the outside edge, yet remained warmly translucent within. I was pleased with myself, with my winning choice.
Then I realised that the other beautiful offerings from the section – salads & things – were all equally as beautifully balanced. Perhaps roasted beetroot, white anchovy, buffalo mozzarella panzanella was the top pick. As competitive as I am – gulp, that was hard to admit – even if it wasn’t me that ordered it, I did really enjoy eating it. It went down really easily. I think we missed trying pan-fried gnocchi, seasonal vegetables, parmesan but tried all of the other dishes of the section:
salt salad, seasonal vegetable salad & poached hen’s egg
chilled chopped prawns, cos lettuce, avocado, mango salsa
coconut broth, sydney spice & lobster tortellini
glass sydney crab omelette, miso mustard broth
tempura spencer gulf prawns, carrot, daikon & watercress
char-grilled quail, zucchini, currants, pinenuts & basil
I’m always a sucker for an unctious, goo-ey, luscious, runny egg yolk. (as if you didn’t know – and now again I expose my Achilles heel – also the way to my heart – an egg and a neck massage) So, if I go on, it will come as no surprise that this gorgeous, gorgeous, salad, with delicious vegetables ticked another box.
We made such a dent in the left hand side of the menu, you can be forgiven for thinking that was it. We’d had our fill. Yet, still to come from the right hand side of the menu were:
meats from the grill
fish from the grill
We were still at the muster (the gathering where we learnt the safety procedures – how to use our lifejackets, and to call “man overboard” and the like) when I was waxing lyrical about Luke’s liquorice parfait. I wasn’t sure it was on the Salt Grill menu. But I was kind of counting on it. It’s his classic. Then in the restaurant when I saw the desserts menu (oohhh yes I like desserts!) I remembered just how creamy smoothy silky (did I say creamy) his Meredith sheep’s milk yoghurt cheesecake is. If you ever get a chance you’ve got to try it!
Then I discovered two new desserts I hadn’t previously tried. Excitement! It was a voyage of discovery. I’m an old fashioned girl, so rice pudding was a definite plate. Yet as you might expect, it had had the Luke Mangan update – with coconut and mango just to give it that Pacific Islands cruising touch. The other unknown was a soft sticky meringue – poached floating islands topped at the table with Frangelico flavoured custard. Yummm …
Luke Mangan says he’s just an “ordinary bloke” but I beg to disagree. He might be a bit of a lad, but he is also a bloody good bloke with a big heart. And he’s so talented – his food is exceptional. And while it is his vision that provides the menu, the dishes, the flow – there is also a team behind him that delivers, and keeps delivering when he’s not on board. Part of Mangan’s success I feel is the training of his chefs. Salt Grill chefs like Pacific Pearl Head Chef Tom Wells spend time in Mangan’s foundation restaurants Glass Brasserie Sydney or Salt Tokyo. The rotation is two way – as Glass Brasserie Head Chef Joe Pavlovich had a tale or two to tell me about his time onboard P&O.
Thanks Chefs! I’d be happy onboard doing little else than sunning myself on my private balcony, relaxing and eating my way through the Salt Grill menu in its entirity – and when I got to the end of the menu, starting all over again …
Inside Cuisine was a guest of P&O Cruises on the Pacific Pearl and at Salt Grill.