Until very recently, no one would have thought of reviewing a cruise ship restaurant: they were the traditional purveyors of Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska (not to mention the infamous midnight buffet). Times have changed, though, and many cruise lines now offer food that rivals or excels the better restaurants on land.
We recently sailed on the Celebrity Equinox in Aqua Class, which gave us access to Blu Restaurant for breakfast and dinner. Blu was designed to deliver cleaner and less fussy fare than either the main dining room or the specialty restaurants—not spa cuisine exactly, but a style of cooking that emphasizes freshness and puts a premium on sauces that are reduced rather than enhance with butter and cream.
Celebrity consistently wins awards for having the best large ships afloat, but large is relative. The Equinox carries 2850 passengers, compared to well over 5,000 on three Royal Caribbean ships; Crystal, by contrast, tops out around 900, and lines such as Seabourn carry half that many. One of Blu’s advantages is that it caters only to the 230 passengers in Aqua Class, leaving the other 2,520 in the main dining room (and when dining in Blu, you have access to the main dining menu as well).
Breakfast was less remarkable than the evening meal, save for an intensive level of personal service—after the first day, guests are addressed by name and preferences are remembered. Along with smoothies and parfaits, plus the standard made to order omelets and frittatas, there is muesli prepared tableside. This buffet of assorted grains, nuts and fruits is accompanied by a high level of theatrical panache.
Dinner is where Blu really shines. You might begin with a salad of heirloom tomatoes or pickled beets, sweet yellow corn velouté or butternut squash bisque, smoked trout or tuna Niçoise. Entrees ranged from oven roasted lobster tail to seared duck breast, and entrée salads featuring octopus or lamb chops were offered nightly. While desserts were decadent and didn’t fit neatly into the spa cuisine category, they were elegantly presented and rotated nightly.
One of the best aspects of Blu is the intimate, personal setting that lacks the institutional feel of the main dining room. When you add in the crisp yet soothing décor and the view of the water, you have an unbeatable combination—a long way from Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska.
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. Friend of the Devil, his first novel, was released in 2016; his second novel, The American Crusade, a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq, is now available on Amazon.