Thomas Keller for Seabourn - worth the hype? (including video)
There is nothing that I can say about luxury cruise company Seabourn that hasn't already been said. There are no superlatives left to describe their six star mega yacht experience so I won't try and think of any, only to say we are avid fans of their service, fine ships and exceptional food.
So it comes as little surprise that they would eventually team up with some huge name in the culinary world to give the guests new gastronomic experiences they can crow about to their shore stranded friends, and also to further enhance the Seabourn brand with someone who shares their insistence on expertise, precision, and uncompromising quality.
So what better partner for an American luxury brand than an American luxury chef with seven Michelin stars: Thomas Keller.
Keller needs no introduction - his notoriety as an innovative and exemplary craftsman is globally celebrated, no, RAVED about. Have Seabourn pulled a huge, tasty rabbit out of their perfectly fitting hats?
We were lucky enough to sample some of Kellers Seabourn creations ourselves on a cruise on the Odyssey. Seabourn were trying new ideas with an intention to rolling out a full Keller experience fleet wide in the coming year. So, as well watered and carefully pampered Guinea pigs, what did we think of these initial dishes?
Our first tasting was a special menu in the Restaurant, Seabourns default evening venue. The menu promised much, but did it deliver?
First, the terrine of moulard duck fois gras. You don’t expect fois gras to be wrapped in cake, do you? Being grainy and a little too sweet, the Black truffle pain de genes outer was perhaps a texture too far? For me didn't sit well with the salty and smooth fois gras. The compressed Asian pears and its compote were a creamy and delicious addition.
The poached Lobster was challenging. The vegetable bisque it rested in was delicious and the huge salty lardons suited the lobster well. But, the Lobster itself was naked and almost too soft, the claw meat verging on slimy. This was a hit and miss dish.
The presentation of the champagne and granny smith apple trifle was immaculate and much more like we’d come to expect. The paper thin freeze dried apple was strong flavoured and dissolved satisfyingly in the mouth. The trifle was, well, a trifle! Delicious, fruity but only slightly transcending the ordinary.
What does it take to get a high score? Innovation or taste or both?
Overall, mixed feelings about the combinations and taste of each of the courses.
Next, Seabourn laid on a trio of special 'family style' dinner evenings in The Colonnade, their alfresco focussed dining venue mostly used for breakfast and lunch.
The menu was simpler, focussed on homely food that eschews delicacy for function and bolder taste, prepared in front of your eyes by an army of bustling chefs.
The concept is refreshing, but may have alienated some of the more seasoned Seabourn travellers with its 'dive in' approach to serving yourself from a large bowl placed in the middle of your table. This was definitely 'family style'. It worked OK for us as we were on our own on a table for two. It would also work well if you were, say a family of five, used to sharing together. But for a table of six people who barely know each other, each with their own customs, habits and dining requirements? Hmm, not so sure.
The food was a mixed bag for sure. As you can see from the above video, it was certainly simple and as individual components, each serving was tasty but some we found to be strange bedfellows. It didn’t feel like food from a world renown chef. It didn’t feel special enough. If ordinary is what they were aiming for, they hit the target perfectly.
Onto dinner three, back in The Restaurant. Keller is definitely more at home in this venue.
The yellowtail starter was a definite step up from the fois gras. Certainly a Michelin star starter as we would recognise.
We were advised the pork tenderloin would be very pink but cooked thoroughly. It indeed looked almost raw, but without a doubt, this was the best pork I've ever tasted. Soft, salty and utterly delicious. The spiced French prunes were delicious too. Melt in the mouth and full of sweet flavour.
Lastly the frangipane tarte was, well, a frangipane tarte! It didn’t last long on the plate!
All great ideas take time to bed down, time to settle in and establish. The Thomas Keller for Seabourn concept is a good idea but is not yet fully realised. What it is though, is a pairing of two world famous partners, both at the top of their game, like a musical supergroup or a celebrity marriage. They can’t afford for it to fail. Given time, I'm in no doubt that it will be fabulously executed and the sum greater than its already fabulous parts. But ultimately, will it suit the Seabourn faithful? I wouldn’t like to call that one!