Starry, Starry Night


On board the cruise ship, Zaandam, I’m enjoying some quiet moments in the library during our days at sea. It’s a great library, certainly the best of any of the cruise ships I’ve sailed on.

I’m not so enamoured of some of the other venues on the ship – the seats in the main theatre, the Mondriaan Lounge, are untiered and not very comfortable, while the Canaletto purports to be a fine dining Italian restaurant but, cheekily, the space has simply been carved out of the buffet restaurant and the food is better at my local Italian in Canberra.

The library, however, is a class act. It’s got great big leather lounges poised in front of big glass windows so you can be lulled by the ship’s rhythm as you watch the great expanse of the ocean gently unfold. Each picture window has a poinsettia on the ledge, a nice festive touch.

There are plenty of computers to help you stay in touch with the outside world and the neighbouring Explorations Cafe sells a range of specialty coffees – a great idea if the coffee wasn’t so ordinary!

The shelves are crammed with a wonderful selection of board games, magazines and books on a diverse array of topics – travel, art, food etc etc. I could happily sit here all day if there weren’t so many other things to do. Ah, the demands of shipboard life…

One of the books I’ve borrowed from the library – how cool is it to be able to borrow books? – is Far Flung and Well Fed: The Food Writing of R.W.Apple Jr. It’s a collection of stories by the late New York Times reporter, R.W. (“Johnny”) Apple, who wrote so eloquently about his epicurean adventures around the globe.

It’s the perfect book to read on board as each story is a bite-sized morsel that can easily be devoured when you can barely stay awake after a shore excursion to some exotic port of call or a busy day on board the ship – I did say this shipboard life is a demanding one, didn’t I?

In his introduction to the book, Apple writes that the French are the world’s master chefs, “although the Australians, with their magnificent raw materials and stunning ability to blend East and West, are giving the French a run for their money lately”.

I’ve had cause to reflect on that over the past week of sailing on board the Zaandam because I think we Aussies have come to expect a high standard of dining as a result. And I don’t think the ship has always delivered the 5-star experience that its price tag suggests.

Certainly the menus are pretty amazing with a wide choice of beautifully presented dishes – including roast goose on Christmas eve – but there’s a blandness to many of the dishes (without the robust Asian flavours that Aussies have come to love), too many dishes have been overcooked and I’m not sure how much sourcing of Australian product there’s been.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such tiny scallops and the shrimp are small, watery things – not the big succulent sweet prawns that would be more fitting as we sail these tropical waters.

Some of the best dishes on the menu have been the simplest, like the French onion soup which is a menu staple. And despite all the elaborate dishes, like the lobster thermidor we had on New Year’s Eve, I reckon the best meal we’ve had so far was the one we had last night.

A simple rib eye of beef, it was perfectly cooked with a nice crust on the outside and nicely pink on the inside. Succulent and juicy, flavoursome meat with a delicious jus.

Dessert bowled me over too. A delicate raspberry mousse, it wasn’t too sweet or creamy but just a lovely wobbly little number with the unmistakable taste of summer raspberries. It was served with a little chocolate soldier – a sweet touch and a nice surprise.

The Rotterdam dining room is very grand and its name is significant for me, as my late dad was born in Rotterdam. We shared a big table with strangers who had interesting stories to tell, and in the centre of the table was a gorgeous flower arrangement of fresh carnations and lillies.

High above us, the ceiling twinkled with little stars. This is definitely the good life.


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