You may know him best from the Coles supermarket television ads, but Melbourne-born chef Curtis Stone is quite the hit among culinary circles in the United States via regular guest appearances on the Food Network. More recently, the affable kitchen guru has been winning plaudits on the west coast through his debut restaurant ‘Maude’ in Beverly Hills and will ride this wave of success into his second eatery, known as ‘Gwen’ in Hollywood, opening soon.
Surprisingly, the wide-grinning cook has never before offered his personalised fare to local palates, until now. In partnership with Princess Cruises, Stone has developed his new dining concept, known as ‘SHARE by Curtis Stone’ on three ships to begin with – Ruby Princess in the United States and on two ships to sail in Australia in Emerald Princess and Sun Princess.
The first SHARE by Curtis Stone restaurant in Australian waters arrived here recently on Sun Princess following a major drydock refurbishment, and during a visit to Sydney, Cruise Advice was welcomed onboard to put Stone’s SHARE philosophy to the test.
Curtis Stone’s restaurant on Sun Princess is quite subtly positioned, mid-ship at the top of deck eight. You could easily walk through the central plaza and have no idea it sits directly above. Tables of various sizes and the kitchen itself nicely wrap around three parts of the four-sided atrium. Due to its internal location, the restaurant doesn’t offer a view of the ocean or the outside decks however this adds to the aura and the venue’s intimate atmosphere, further helped along by music emanating from the lower decks.
As the name foretells, the overall theme for the restaurant is about bringing people together over a high-quality meal. Tables cater to groups of two and four as well as larger numbers, so it’s definitely a venue you can enjoy with your fellow passengers or just with your significant other on a more romantic occasion.
The menu is laid out into four categories – ‘Charcuterie & Cheese’, ‘From The Oven’, ‘From the Garden’ and ‘Something Sweet’, with more items featuring in the former two categories than the latter two. CLICK HERE to view the menu in its entirety.
Reservations are essential to secure a table at SHARE, which is only open for dinner. There is no single fee or cover charge for this restaurant, but rather a two-pronged pricing format.
Diners can either order as many plates as they like from the menu, each charged individually on an a la carte basis per dish, or the option exists for a fixed $39 price per person which allows you to select one or two items from each section of the menu, to a maximum of five. It does work out a tiny bit cheaper to select items individually, with the five most expensive on the menu coming in at around $3 cheaper per person than the fixed price. Of course, this all depends on the hunger level of you and your party.
Stone appears to have gone down the path of designing a menu more about making finer use of familiar, everyday comfort dishes and ingredients rather than serving up ultra-fine cuisine not widely available. The menu certainly reflects Australian tastes through items you would be likely to find in many household kitchens, such as Beef Cheek Pie, Macaroni and Cheese and Warm Bread & Butter Pudding. That said, Stone is known for his generous use of truffles in his cooking, but there is the odd exception to every rule.
Our seating saw us enjoy an option or two from each of the four segments of the menu, beginning with a serve of Hungarian salami, Bethmale cheese and olives (above) and soon followed by shrimp with lemon gel, turnips, citrus salt and brioche, thus representing the Charcuterie, Cheese and Garden elements. Each of the dishes are small but there is enough on the plate for at least two people to sample its contents.
Items more suited as main courses followed soon after in the form of roasted crab legs with tobanjan aioli – a personal favourite of Curtis Stone himself. Also served was a beef cheek and porcini mushroom pie, filled with Australian beef (which on delivery is pierced in the middle and infused with gravy in front of you) and potato gratin as a side. The Irish ancestral blood through my veins flowed strongly for the gratin, which was golden brown on top, creamy in the middle and nicely seasoned with Curtis Stone’s signature Black Winter Truffles.
Ahead of the event, we were warned about dessert and how good the Bread & Butter Pudding actually is, and this heightened anticipation was lived up to in every sense of the word. Upon delivery to the table, some observers might say it looks like a bit of an unorganised mess, dusted with powdered sugar, and one which is mere seconds from spilling over the side. But the dish holds together nicely, even if you’re bound to lose a piece or two over the side while moving it to your plate. One serving will easily suit two people at least – just make sure you get a decent portion of the toffee sauce, which is nicely soaked up by the pudding itself.
To help wash everything down, SHARE boasts a 22-strong list of local wines, along with all the normal drinks the ship offers.
In addition to SHARE, Princess Cruises guests will also find a number of “Crafted by Curtis” menu items in the Main Dining Room across the entire fleet and an exclusive Chef’s Table by Curtis Stone experience where guests enjoy a specially crafted, personally developed menu.
To use the man’s words exactly: “Sharing food and conversation with family and good friends is the best way to eat. It’s these moments that create memories we treasure forever.”