Luke Mangans Salt Grill – P & O Cruises Pacific Dawn

May I have your attention please! T bone Steak for two from our favourite fine dining restaurant. As I started with the Chefs Table, let’s continue with the dining on this series of cruising blogs.

Why is this our favourite fall back, fine dining experience? Well has a lot to do with service, atmosphere, food quality, but, I think it also comes down to the fact, a visit here usually means we are indulging in a cruise break.

The service here goes above and beyond, to the point that if you treat yourself more than once on the same cruise, staff will remember you and your favourite drinks. The job of the staff is make you relax, and enjoy an meal which is not just a meal, but an entire experience in itself. Is it worth the cover charge per person? Well yes, we believe it is.

Every meal is going to commence with this delightful bread starter. You then choose, your appetiser, entree, main and desert.

Now I suggest you decide before boarding your cruise, if you have any important nights you wish to celebrate with a fine dining meal, or, any evenings you feel might be best for you to dine out. Make a Salt Grill booking when you board, either by dropping past the restaurant, or calling in your booking from your cabin. Be advised though, many people like to call through bookings upon boarding, we find it much quicker and easier to head to the restaurants direct to make our bookings. When you book, staff will enquire as to allergies of any patrons at your table. Be sure to advise as they are very careful to ensure those with allergies are looked after too.

Through the softly veiled windows, we were treated to superb horizon sunset. Order from the drinks menu, take your drinks in from the bar if you still have them in hand. We had preordered some packages which included a bottle of wine in the weeks prior to the cruise, hence myself arriving with the ice bucket and bottle in hand! No problem doing that either.

Tempura prawns and carpaccio pictured above. It’s really very difficult to describe the dishes as they are all simply superb. Upon ordering you will have been asked to order sides for your table. There’s quite a selection to choose from, don’t be shy! Order to ensure there are sides enough for everyone.We always say if the sides are for one or both of us. We don’t often share sides as we both have different preferences, hence advising the staff so we are not inundated with plates of sides.Dessert is always a nice finish to the your dining experience. If you can fit it in!

Another tip for this restaurant, let them know when booking if you want to take your time to dine. Staff are trying to accomodate many different bookings, you need to be fair to the staff and clear on your intentions.

We have referred a number of cruisers to Salt Grill, every one of them has always enjoyed and remarked on on the outstanding ambiance, food quality and service.

I’m hoping one day to run into Luke Mangan himself on one of the cruises. As a hint I hear he does tend to favour the shorter food & wine cruises. One day we hope to have the opportunity to personally thank Luke. We have probably dined more than a dozen different times now, and still the experience does not wear thin.

Well done to Luke and the staff. You all do a fantastic job!

An Exclusive Chefs Table Showcase – P & O Cruises (Pacific Dawn)

So much to tell you about, I really don’t know where to start!

Firstly, we have just enjoyed our first short cruise, a mini break. Wow! After having always cruised on longer holidays, this one was a superb, refreshing, clear the mind sort of cruise. Oh and did I mention the theme was Food & Wine…aaah wonderful!

Ive decided to start with the Exclusive Chefs table dinner we attended. Limited to 14 lucky cruisers, my first mission onboard the ship was to book. First names down, nailed it!Yes there is a cover charge, yes it is over $100 per person, BUT! the charge does include the matching wines, superb food, with everything fully explained by your wonderful hosts.

On this occasion, we were fortunate to have our culinary creative Chef, Prue Daly who started out with the purchase of a unique inverted bakery in Deagon Qld. Prue had partnered with Peter Gross who was representing Black Pearl Epicure, Brisbane, and last but definitely not least, Tim Davidson representing Wirra Wirra Wines, South Australia.Located near the entry of the Waterfront restaurant, a wonderful wall of wine, provided the backdrop for this highly anticipated evening.

Our hosts were not only engaging, extremely informative, but also very entertaining. The three personalities blended well and provided the guests with an outstanding evening. A mention here to the staff, both back and front of house. Their skills and assistance were above and beyond expectation, for that, I give you a big thank you!Lets get down to the business at hand, indulging in this delicious degustation feast.

Our starter dish consisted of oysters, au naturel. Simple, yet eye catching presentation, they did pair wonderfully with Wirra Wirra’s Hiding Champion Sauvignon Blanc. Prue offered a little tip here, try one of the oysters after pouring a little bit of the Sauvignon Blanc over it. She was right! This completely changed the taste of the oyster compared to the first one. Try it sometime, with this particular wine, it really was a superb little experiment.

The pale straw colour of the wine, with the odd glimpse of green, added to a bouquet bursting with lime, passion fruit, grapefruit and gooseberry, created a wonderful mix, which saw lime juice, enliven the mouth, finishing eventually with the grassy lemon and fruity palate. Yes, I’ve spend a bit of time describing this wine, as you will find it paired with a couple more dishes on this menu.

We moved onto the Chicken Pate and Goats curd. Hiding beneath the thick layer of melted butter, which, as Prue advised, was entirely your choice of eating or moving aside to indulge in the mouthwatering pate lurking underneath. The butter was to provide an interesting touch to presentation. Most certainly did that, with its bright colour and smooth finish.

The light, creamy texture of the goats curd, provided a fresh, clean flavour to match the delicious pate. Team this with the Hiding Champion Sauvignon Blanc, and we have another winning dish.Beautifully soft Gorgonzola Gnocchi followed, delivering a wow factor to the taste buds and teaming exceptionally well with the Scrubby Rise Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, hinting at mulberry, dried herbs and raspberry. A bold wine, enhanced by the delicious creamy, cheese enriched gnocchi. Another superb match, perfectly showcasing the produce of all our hosts.

Time to cleanse the palate. Exactly what this Green Bean, Cow Feta, Hazelnut and Fennel Salad was designed to do. Would have to say, this delightfully simple dish, served its purpose well. Enticing cow feta, followed by the soft fennel salad and finished with a crunch of green bean and hazelnut, was just superb. Match this with the zesty lime of the Hiding Champion Sauvignon Blanc and again we race past the winners post!

Palates now cleansed, we moved on to the main dish of the evening. A wonderfully superb Peppered Lamb rack , resting on a Wild Mushroom and Leek Risotto. The intense, ripe tannins of the blended Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot, boldly marched on the palate, providing an extra zest to the succulent peppered lamb and superbly blended softness of the risotto.

How did we finish? Well by now everyone was overflowing with an overwhelming amount of good food & wine, as well as great company. Wth much laughter, hilarity and camaraderie, we moved on to the final dish.Time for the sweet, savoury finish. The visually appealing Berry Cheesecake tasted as good as it looked! Simply delicious! Paired with the deep golden sweetness of the Margan Botrytis Semillon, the burst of berries from the creamy cheesecake was certainly an awesome finish to what can only be described as a superb meal and evening.

But wait there’s more! Black Pearl Epicure supplied some vastly different cheese blends to end the meal. Cream and a dash of sharpness were really the final taste sensations of the evening.

Thank you to our engaging hosts who provided us all with a superb evening of insider knowledge, wining, dining and hilarious entertainment. Support all of their businesses, and don’t forget to book yourself in to this awesome opportunity on your next cruise.

We received a copy of Prue’s the Grass Tree Kitchen Cookbook, autographed by all three hosts, a special copy of the menu and a wonderful group photo to keep the memory alive.

Oh for those of us celebrating our special day, a surprise little plate!

Make sure you treat yourself! Not only are you creating an enriching memory, these experiences are great for the soul!

Summit Restaurant & Bar – Sunday lunch

A definite favourite, we love coming here.   The fabulous quilt work of Brisbane City laid out before your eyes, never fails to impress.  Even on a cloudy, moody day, the breathtaking, birds eye view of Brisbane gong about daily life, is not dulled in any way. 

 Our table was near the window, with this framed view through a low window pane, next to the where we sat.   An interesting moving picture, with planes  clearly visible as they arrived or departed Brisbane airport.  

The larger windows around the room were wide open, allowing the fabulous cooling breeze, swaying the tree tops next to the restaurant, to keep you cool during lunch.  Natural air conditioning has to be the best around.   Huge fans around the room, caught the dancing breeze and spread it across the entire restaurant area to benefit all the diners.

 
What do we like about this restaurant?   Location, food quality, presentation, high level of service and the choice in value.   Definitely ticks the boxes and covers the reasons why we keep coming back.   Today I decided to trial their $30.95 two course lunch menu.  This one gives the choice of the mixed entree and main, or a main & dessert.   For $39.95 you can have all three, or, if you’re not particularly hungry, choose the main only for $19.95.  

The mixed entree arrived first, with a most delicious demitasse of cold soup , sitting alongside the spiced pork & glass noodle spring roll, warm ciabatta, and a flavoursome chilli lime syrup, zucchini & corn fritter.  A delightful mix of entrees, not overly spicy, in fact very much to my taste, providing a wonderful pop of flavours between all the foods.   Most enjoyable.  

Next were the mains.  Hubby had chosen to go with the Ål La Carte menu.  Here you have the choice of full size or small plates.  Today he had chosen the small plate of seared wagyu rump cap to follow his entree choice of natural oysters.   Certainly well enjoyed as every morsel of the both dishes were completely demolished! 

 
My main choice on the two course lunch special was one of my favourite dishes, Atlantic salmon.   Cooked to absolute perfection with the enjoyable melt in the mouth salmon, a perfect accompaniment to the leek & pea vegetables, potato gratin and a light lemon butter sauce.  A combination to get those juices flowing.  

If you haven’t visited here yet, you should,   After drinking in the amazing tapestry of views surrounding the mountain, take the time to enjoy a lunch whilst still catching glimpses of Brisbane during your dining experience.  Yes there is a little walk to get here from the car park, which might involve a steep incline if you park in the lower car parks, but it is worth every step.   Enjoy!
  

Link Apartments, Portside Wharf Precinct, Hamilton, Brisbane

  For a long time we have enjoyed the odd visit to Portside, usually to enjoy a relaxing meal.   However, on this occasion, we took the time to spend a few nights in the precinct to enjoy the fireworks on New Years Eve and explore the facilities on offer.

Usually choosing the  city for New Year, we wanted to avoid the big crowds this time round. Plus were also,looking for something a little more reasonably priced as city accomodation prices, rise immensely just for the one night.  A little research inspired us to book into the Link Portside Apartments.     For a full, modern, fully self-contained apartment, prices are affordable, with better value if you stay an extra night or two.  Well appointed, with your own balcony, these apartments are certainly clean and comfortable.   Apartment is definitely roomy enough for a couple.   Two fans, one over the bed in the bedroom, plus airconditioning in the main living area, help to cool the apartment. We did find the bedroom was a little hot unless you left the air conditioner to run longer, assisted by the two fans.   As long as you prepared in advance, there was no problem cooling the bedroom down before you retired.   To be fair this was the only point we did notice.   Balance this against all the pluses for this property though, and it definitely receives the thumbs up.

Not a high rise, 4 levels, but to be able to take the lift downstairs emerging a few steps away from the shops, is very convenient.   Your car stays tucked up underground, making use of the free parking attached to the apartment booking.

Supplies are easy from the IGA across from the apartments.   Friendly staff, coupled with a supermarket style shop, make it easy to pick up the items you need for your kitchen pantry. A short stroll towards the river, through the restaurant precinct, and you can take a stroll long the foreshore, or simply enjoy the views offered in this area.   Always someone out testing one of their water sport craft on the Brisbane River. Only takes a leisurely walk and you can catch a ferry to the city as well.

Prefer a movie?  Check out Dendy in this complex.   Good value tickets, plays buy your wine or beer at the bar, and the helpful staff will pop it in an ice bucket for you to take in with you.  Very clean tidy and roomy theatres make this much better value than gold class.

A smattering of retail shops provide an outlet for the shoppers amongst you.   For those cruising, should you need to come to Brisbane before or after  your cruise, consider staying here, as you simply wheel your luggage a couple of hundred metres around the corner and hey presto, there’s the cruise terminal, right on your doorstep. 

Next to the cruise terminal are the infamous Eat Street Markets, where the variety of food is endless.    Latest attraction for the markets, is the outdoor drive (or walk in) movie theatre.

One has to mention, the very helpful, well informed ladies taking bookings and checking you in.   They make the process easy and painless.

Must admit, Portside is one of my personal favourite parts of Brisbane.   😄👍 

Wyndham Cruises, Surfers Paradise

Seated at the iconic bar ‘Howl at the Moon’, I snapped a photo of what was to be our cruise boat for the afternoon.  Today was the opportunity to use a birthday voucher, which included a two hour buffet lunch cruise for two.   Leaving from Cavill Avenue, along one of the many man made canals, the wharf is easy enough to find.  Ticket office for voucher confirmation or to purchase tickets, is located around the corner of the bars, on the street front.  

A few cruises were tied up along this wharf, departing at different times for different purposes.   Boarding is easy enough, with the captain checking rickets before directing cruisers along the ramp to the boat.  Staff onboard then direct you to your table.

Big windows line the sides of the boat, allowing everyone a view of surrounding areas.  Upstairs, an open top deck with seating provided, gives the opportunity to lounge in the sun and enjoy the scenery with the wind in your hair, or a chance to enjoy many photo opportunities for the duration of the cruise.  Your lunch table setting includes a rubbish bowl for the prawn bodies and a water bowl for refreshing the hands after dissecting said prawns.  Bar prices are very reasonable, with beer, wine and basic spirits as well as a couple of jam jar cocktails, slushies and soft drink.  Not an extensive menu, but definitely sufficient for the cruises.  The Captain is seated inside the boat and gives a commentary throughout the cruise, pointing out locations of interest.  Captain Tony had a fabulous sense of humour, popping in added extras along the way, which, unfortunately, were only picked up by a handful of those onboard as most were not really listening.  We on the hand, did enjoy his dry sense of humour.

Lunch was superbly fresh, with plenty of salad, prawns, sliced ham, chicken and fabulously fresh buns available.  Tables were directed to the buffet by the staff, to ensure everything flowed, with an opportunity to return for more if you wished.  Tea, coffee and fruit were also available.  After cruising through various canals and past many mansions on islands, you are passing the Palazzo Versace, touted as the most luxurious hotel on the Gold Coast.  Surrounded by millions of dollars  berthed at the marina, the hotel peeks through the masts and various decks, with the canal frontage, not revealing the extent of the luxury inside.

SeaWorld theme park & resort lie along the strip next to the Palazzo Versace.   Beaches were filled with families enjoying the many water sport opportunities available to this area, or just a simple family picnic on this fabulous day.

 As well as views of those multi million dollar homes,  (one including its own canon!), an incredible array of boats, all shapes and sizes, you most likely will pass paraglider, jet skiers and canoeists.   So keep the camera handy!
 To top off this cruise, you are afforded some simply spectacular views of the Gold Coast skyline, showcasing the many high rises piercing the fabulously blue skies we enjoyed on our cruise day.

 Locals, tourists, everyone should take the opportunity to view the glitter strip from a cruise.   There are a number available, however check out Wyndham Cruises.  Aside from the lunch buffet, they do run other cruises including morning & afternoon tea.  

More photos are at Dine Live Travel on both Facebook & Instagram. #wyndhamcruises #dinelivetravel

Remember to take your camera, and listen to the Captains commentary, it could very well put a smile on your dial !  

Port Denarau – Fiji

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Right next to the expensive looking boats bobbing around on their moorings, is a modernised shopping area. This area has been designed with tourists in mind. Port Denarau itself is located close to the Nadi airport, as well as a number of resorts.

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Restaurants abound here, including Hard Rock Cafe. There’s even McDonalds in Fiji which, I to be honest I found a shame.

Maybe I’m just used to Vanuatu where these takeaway places are unheard of. However you are most definitely spoilt for choice with many restaurants in this precinct. If you are coming off a cruise ship, you probably won’t be looking for a meal, although you won’t have trouble finding a table somewhere to watch the world go by as you enjoy a cold Fiji Local beer or cocktail.

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Jacks is one of the popular shops within the precinct for souvenir’s and gifts.
Here, one of the shop assistants will probably carry your shopping basket and accompany you round the store, happily giving you answers to any questions you may have.

Upstairs, on the left of the shopping centre, there is a large duty free shop catering for all you duty free purchases. Just below this shop, you will find the Bula Bus. These are continuous and you can hop on for a very nominal fee, to either take a sightseeing tour around or hop on and off at your leisure, whenever you find something of interest to you.

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Enjoy your time here, this is definitely a tourist orientated spot. Very pretty, clean, tidy and with most tastes catered for.

Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

Another stop on some cruises, is the Isle of Pines. When you first see this island, the number of pine trees spread across the island, does make it seem appropriately named. Pine trees give the impression of a very spiky hairdo, as their tops pierce the sky above,

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Tenders are used to transport passengers to the island where locals greet you with twisted plant headgear for each passenger. Here you may find a few available taxis, if you would like a look around the island.

Water surrounding the island, is beautifully clear, providing ideal snorkelling areas.

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For the best snorkelling, closest to the wharf, take a stroll down the road, past the markets, to the rock. Here, you have a relatively sheltered area, with some fantastic fish to see, especially up close to the Rock. Keep in mind it is taboo to climb onto the Rock. As always it is important to respect other cultures and beliefs when in their country.

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There are a few market stalls, enough to purchase your trinkets without having to much choice. They certainly help to give you a leisurely stroll back to the wharf. AUD are accepted here as well as local currency.

Enjoy the snorkelling- you never know who may be watching !

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Vanilla Farm – Lifou, New Caledonia

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The first and only time we have booked a tour onboard a cruise, was to the Vanilla Factory, Lifou, New Caledonia. A couple of things drew us to this tour, firstly, compared to all the other tours it seemed to be reasonably priced. Secondly, it sounded interesting and we thought would be a good way to have a drive over the island for a look around.

Turns out we were right on both counts. Our minibus took us through the little local townships via some of the island scenery on our way to the factory. Always fascinating to drive through another country and take a peek into their way of life. The most colourful looking area was the local cemetery where flowers adorned all the graves. Most of the traditional huts and houses, did not have windows. We did pass by a couple of the local schools, churches and a few villages, while the factory itself was down a grassy track, next to one of the vanilla farms.

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We were escorted through the local farm by our two guides, where we saw the vanilla bean plants as pictured above. After an informative session on vanilla, everyone meandered their way through the farm track, stopping to take photos of the farms inhabitants, coconut crabs, a massive snake and the pigs.

After the farm tour, we entered the factory itself to see the vanilla process. Only eight people work in this factory at its peak. Somewhat surprising when this is a main factory for vanilla in the pacific area.

At the end of the factory tour we were given tastings of vanilla food and drink, a vanilla bean packet to take home, plus we could purchase from the small souvenir shop.

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Highly recommend this tour, not only is it interesting and informative, it is a great way to have a look around the island.

Outside the factory we were all amused by the farmers dog who spent his entire time tailing the goat who was tethered to a high running wire, then leaping in the air periodically to try and catch the buoys on the wire.

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Lifou -New Caledonia

As your ship cruises into the bay, you will spot the lonely white church atop the point of the island. Shortly you will hear the anchor drop as the ship starts the process of disembarking passengers to head over to this uplifted limestone island.

Pretty. This is the word I have most often heard people use to describe Lifou. (Lifu). Tenders transport passengers across to the island. The wharf is over a beautiful beach area where snorkelling is popular. Here there are some colourful fish, and if you are in the right place at the right time, you could swim with large turtles who inhabit the bay.

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The village directly off the wharf, contains a cluster of thatched native huts. Vibrant markets full of locally made and other trinkets, take up a large partially enclosed area. Hair braiding, local foods and other activities are also on offer.

From the dock area you can walk to different areas close by. Keep in mind that although you will see mini buses etc as you land, these are pre booked for tours and your chance of finding a driver to take you around the island would be slim, if at all. The church and snorkelling bay on the other side of the point are a relatively close walk, not flat however with some uphill walking involved.

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As with any of the island stops, there are a variety of tours which can be prebooked. This is the only stop where we have prebooked a tour, to the Vanilla Farm. This one was definitely worth booking and hence a post with write up on the tour will be published in the next couple of days.

We did speak with a family at the wharf, prior to boarding the ship, who were very disappointed after having booked a swim with the turtles, which was not cheap. Unfortunately on this day, they never saw a turtle on their tour. However three large turtles appeared close to the wharf, casually feeding as they cruised around the bay. Somewhat bitter sweet for this family who did get to see turtles, without needing to pay.

Keep an eye out for this whale like point topped with a church, on your cruise, it means you are about to drop anchor at Lifou.

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Mystery Island, Vanuatu

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Straight up I will admit a soft spot for this beautiful uninhabited island. There is something about cruising into the area and seeing this tiny little island for the first time, which helps realign your perspective on life. The sun combines with the aqua blue sea closely surrounding the island, to create gorgeous sparkling diamonds, dancing across the top of the water.

Yes uninhabited, also taboo to stay on the island overnight, however there is an airfield running the length of the island. Perhaps not the most upmarket airport terminal around, but most certainly very cute!

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Ni Vanuatu travel by boat from nearby islands to sell their crafts and provide entertainment to cruise ship visitors. Permanent market huts are set up on the island to cater towards the visitors. Kindy children sit in their groups beneath the big shady tree branches, singing songs, while their curious eyes follow the ship passengers. You can tell when someone has stopped to listen, the volume of the singing increases, as the children throw all their enthusiasm into the songs. A delightful sound as you traverse the island.

Photo opportunities with ‘cannibals’ are provided. I must admit a giggle at this cannibal who was having a heated discussion on his mobile phone during our stopover.

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Our second visit to the island was Christmas Day last year. To spend Christmas Day snorkelling these beautiful waters was an incredibly relaxing experience. One of the hardest decisions for the day, do we walk round the island on the whiter than white sand, or wander down the middle, along the grass airfield. Sand tracks meandering through the shady trees thriving on the island, provide another option for exploring.

A word of warning should you choose the airfield option, this airfield us in regular use, you may need to duck for cover as a plane comes in for landing. Even on Christmas morning, two flights arrived and departed, somewhat unexpected on an island like this.

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Definitely a place for snorkelling, you will no doubt find the beckoning of the gorgeous aqua sea, very difficult to resist. A nice quiet area is located down the opposite end of the island to where you land. Fewer people make the five-ten minute trek down there, preferring to stay close to the landing dock. Leaving you to enjoy a peaceful uninterrupted snorkel. You may even find yourself in middle of a school of darting fish.

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Be sure to take a cruise stopping off at Mystery Island, you won’t regret your decision.