Polo Grill: Dining On The High Seas
Thinking about spring break with the family but mindful of the various age categories in the group? Travelling via ship does come with certain advantages, most of them in favour of pandering to the sometimes, cumbersome needs of the less-mobile elderly or the impish children in tow.
This January, Oceania Cruises has introduced a whole slew of cruise itineraries that explore the highlights of the Asian region. From Hong Kong to Bangkok, guests will cruise through picturesque Ha Long Bay in Hanoi before stopping at the beautiful coastal city of Nha Trang and the historical Ho Chi Minh City. Singapore is its next port of call, so be sure to indulge in some local hawker fare on this leg before coasting through the Gulf of Thailand to soak in the sun on the exotic island of Koh Samui. Dock up at the land of smiles: Bangkok. If you fancy the idea of working your way through the hidden gems of Asia without the hassle of backbreaking overland transport, we’re pretty sure one of Oceania Cruises new voyages will pique your interest. Why fly when you can simply cruise?
To be absolutely honest, I had my initial doubts. Suffering from claustrophobia, I would go to great lengths to avoid being stuck in small spaces, to further elaborate on the direness of the situation—riding an oldish elevator down from the 21st floor can be an excruciating ordeal, leaving me breathless and covered in cold sweat. The idea of travelling in a floating vessel, purposefully compartmentalised and fashioned into boxes, suffice to say, could potentially nudge me into panic mode. I approached the vessel tour with much apprehension; lest for the lounges, decked out in tired mural carpeting and overtly varnished surfaces, the entire feel of the compound was breezy and spacious enough not to provoke discord in my internal peace. It helps that the structured excursions, driven by immersive culture and history intentions were sufficient in motivating the voyage from the get-go. Exotic destinations such as Sihanoukville and Nha Trang really cater to the seasoned traveller looking for a more curated local experience, yet cushioned with the luxuries of hot showers and white linen in between.
Seeing that ports of call are separated by a huge amount of travelling on the high seas, it’s crucial to keep the guest’s palate entertained on board the ship. Food, after all, is at the base of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Over the year, cruise ships have recognised the importance of upping the ante on their food programmes and included in their in-house restaurants, international cuisines, innovative drinks and food pairings as well as partnerships with celebrity chefs—case in point, world-renowned French Chef, Jacques Pepin, who is also the culinary director of Oceania Cruises. He has recently unveiled an elaborate seven-course affair La Cuisne Bourgeoise that is only exclusively available to 24 guests on the Marina and Riviera. This gradual shift in culinary muscle means that cruisers don’t have to leave dining choices behind on dry land when they set sail.
I, for one, was fortunate to be able to dine at Polo Grill on board the Oceania Nautica. The best of New York City is displayed in this classic steakhouse. The decor reads like a textbook—think crisp white linen tablecloths, dark wood furnishings and supple, heavy high-back Burgundy leather chairs that will have you working out before your meal. The menu satisfies both seafood and meat lovers with time-honoured favourites such as USDA Dry-aged Rib Eye, Whole Maine Lobster and sides such as New England Clam Chowder and Oyster Rockefeller. The restaurant, down to their bow-tie dressed servers, do nothing to hide that they are your quintessential classic steakhouse roots. And sometimes, that’s exactly what you want.
Take for example the Chesapeake Bay Lump Crab Cake that’s cheesily moulded into shape and flanked by a splodge of Pommery Mustard Sauce. It’s transparent and exactly what it says it is. Polo Grill has a ploy to win over its diners, and that’s by being predictable. Predictable and well-executed, that is. The crab cake maintains a creamy albeit loose texture with an ever-so-slight browned exterior from a quick sear. It works and after I had cleaned the plate, I dug into the butter holders, ciabatta in hand, with gusto, in appreciation of the Chef’s efforts. The Florida Lobster Tail is skilfully deshelled tableside and served with lashing of dreamy garlic aioli sauce spiked with enough lemon to provide a punch of acidity to brighten up the dish. And, of course, there’s the New York Strip. Bejewelled with my choice of blue cheese crumble, the chunk cuts like butter, revealing rosy pink meat dripping with fats beneath a serious tanned crust. It’s a tall order trying to maintain your decorum as you tear through the prized cut with only spoonfuls of creamed spinach to interrupt the lardaceous affair.
Amongst the plethora of sides which includes Lobster Mac and Cheese, Truffle Mash Potato, Steak Frites, Haricots Verts Amandine and more, the creamed spinach reigns supreme. It’s a winner, even if the shallow dish pools an unappetising shade of green.
It’s a pity, then, that desserts fell short like the Seven Layer Belgian Chocolate Fudge Cakewich which was to dry, while the Chocolate Mousse Burger was tooth-achingly sweet. But stick to the red meat and this is a perfectly plush spot to enjoy a memorable dinner with a special someone. In fact, as far as a cruise ship dining novice goes, Polo Grill hits it right out of the ballpark.