cruises

Silversea Cruises Silver Spirit Review

Silversea’s elegant boutique ship Silver Spirit coddled and indulged us on a memorable Mediterranean sojourn.

October 10, 2013
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Dining Overview

For most of us, the luxury cruise experience corresponds closely with gourmet, and on this front Silver Spirit delivered—for the most part. Many of our meals were excellent, and the range of menus available on any given night was surprising. Further, though it’s not heavily promoted, kitchen staff worked to accommodate special requests, especially when local or seasonal items were brought on at certain ports, allowing the chef to veer from the usual menu.

In addition to the main dining room (The Restaurant) and the ship’s buffet (The Veranda, which doubles as a full-service Italian venue at night), there are two specialty restaurants that require an up-charge—one with French the other offering Japanese gastronomy, both were superb. Other options were not as consistent, but the sheer variety on offer meant these could be easily dodged. Throughout Silver Spirit, all dining venues had a sufficient number of two-top tables so that we were never expected to share with other guests. In addition to the venues below, self-serve continental breakfast was set up at The Bar and the Panorama Lounge each morning.

The Restaurant

The main dining room of Silver Spirit delivered delicious meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, in a functionally elegant, one-story dining room on Deck 4. The atmosphere was subdued, especially at breakfast and lunch, with deferential service at all hours. We loved our meals here. The menu highlighted regional dishes, prepared with local ingredients, and every night there were vegetarian appetizers and a meatless entrée.

For dinner, the menu was divided into two sections—one side included items available throughout the cruise, primarily grilled fare such as the New York strip, charred pork chop, whole roasted free-range baby chicken, and a fish of the day. Various condiments and sauces topped these items, and sides of cooked vegetables could be chosen to accompany. The short list of starters from this side of the menu included beef tartare, swordfish carpaccio, lobster bisque and tomato velouté.

We usually chose from the other side of the menu, which offered a nightly chef’s selection that was often more adventurous. On Formal night this included an assiette of artichoke, escargots, and a fabulous porcini mushroom velouté that was rich without being heavy. Our mesclun salad was underdressed—typically our preference, but this one needed a dash of salt and pepper. For palate cleanser, a pink champagne sorbet was offered with a sparkling sliver of sun-dried lemon. For mains we tried the Black Angus Wellington, which was unsurprising but competently prepared, the flesh perfectly rare. Souvlaki was good but we shouldn’t have expected much from this—we could have opted for the grilled Maine lobster or Dover sole.

Another night, a mille-feuille of asparagus was delightful, and the rack of lamb with caponata and pine nuts was flawless. Other dinner entrées that caught our eye included steamed black mussels with vegetables, Wiener schnitzel, and fresh cod in green peppercorns. Desserts were a real highlight—we adored the Sicilian sponge cake studded with candied fruits, marzipan and ricotta cheese, but even an old war-horse like tiramisu was given new life with an elegant presentation. Only complaint: The cheese sampler seemed a little tired and ordinary.

Breakfast was calm and pleasant, never busy, and a bottle of Champagne Pommery sat chilled at the entrance. We had good blueberry pancakes with nice plump berries, and the cumin scented egg white Florentine omelet was tasty. There was a grilled half peach, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with pistachio, providing a Middle Eastern touch. Other left-of-center breakfast offerings included a Vitamix fruit and vegetable blend of the day, buckwheat pancakes, rye French toast on mango and strawberries, breakfast couscous with honey and dates, and a “full English special.”

The lunch menu was a bit shorter but, like the dinner menu, changed daily. To have a full-service dining room available with excellent lunches daily—even on port days—was a real luxury. Options included tried-and-true favorites like broccoli and stilton soup, a proper cobb salad, delicious pistou soup and a minute steak. We particularly enjoyed the spaghetti alle vongole (clams), just like mom used to make. The pastry chef was on the ball again, with irresistibly decadent creations that were as good to eat as they were to ogle.

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La Terrazza

Pulling double-duty as both the ship’s main buffet venue as well as being an unexpectedly satisfying full-service dinner option nightly, La Terrazza occupied the aft portion of Deck 7. Though most tables were inside, there were al fresco options—when the weather cooperated, these were quite busy during breakfast and lunch. But we also had a memorable dinner outdoors one moonlit night, shared with only a few others.

The buffet spread was located in a well-defined room to one side of the seating area. This was a great concept, minimizing the noise and congestion that most ship buffets experience at peak hours. It could get busy in here, but at least it didn’t impact the table areas. Waiters were always on hand to carry plates to the table, and while some guests thought this offer presumptuous, we felt it was a smart trick to lesson the congestion. We also appreciated when waiters took note of what we particularly liked, offering to bring us more!

Breakfasts were very satisfying. Egg dishes—omelets, fried eggs, Hollandaise—were ordered from servers only; the plates emerged in about 5 minutes. Beyond the predictable options, there were gluten free breads, trout and marinated herring, and a fruit selection that included sliced fresh peaches, kiwi, stewed figs and apricots.

Choices blossomed at lunch, when we found fare as varied as chicken chow mein, veal Milanese, Greek pastichio, moussaka, panzoti lobster, an onion, tomato and rosemary tart, and leg of lamb at the carving station. The salad bar included the usual greens and accompaniments, and there were prepared salads daily. Pizza was available by the slice at the buffet, but there was a menu of 10 whole pizzas. We looked at the menu of options and licked our lips in anticipation of a Neapolitan-style pie—thin, crackling crust on the outside, limber and gooey center. But the one we received had a moderately thick crust that seemed below-average by Italian standards—our only letdown at La Terrazza.

Dinner was by reservation only, from a traditional Italian menu that changed each day. Our meal started with a breadbasket primped with a branch of rosemary and bulb of roasted garlic. For starters we tried the antipasto—little bites of meats and marinated veggies, artfully presented—and a carpaccio of sea bass with nuggets of tomato and capers. We tried two of the homemade pastas, and both were exquisite: ravioli with sage butter and pecorino cheese, and maltagliati with rosemary butter and parmesan. We could have quit here, but secondi to come included fillets of turbot and lemon sole that were simply, perfectly seared. Desserts were handsomely embellished—and delectable.

We do have a couple quibbles with the dinner arrangements, at least on the outside deck. There’s no background music on this terrace, which might—by itself—be okay, but also the entire deck is illuminated only by harsh fluorescent light. Replace this bit of ugly with another lighting concept and La Terrazza might be the most romantic place to dine on the ship.

Le Champagne

One of Silver Spirit’s two special restaurants that require a surcharge, Le Champagne occupies a very intimate room with just 12 tables, each perched fairly close to another (request one on the end, rather than between two). With just one turnover nightly, a maximum of 24 guests dine here each evening. This equates to only about one-third of the passengers on a typical 7-day cruise, so reservations are essential; most tables were fully booked for our cruise by the first night.

Although good wines were included in our cruise fare, when we stopped by for our reservation there was a light push for one of the high-end (non-included) wines by the maître d’: “If you let me know what wine you want to drink I can have it decanted and waiting when you arrive.” Ahead of our cruise we felt the $30 up-charge for dinner at Le Champagne was a bit nickel-and-dimey, considering the not-inexpensive cost of an “all-inclusive” Silversea cruise. But after our meal, we weren’t complaining. The service was right-on—attentive and never over-bearing—and the food was truly special, as fine a dining experience as we’ve ever had at sea.

The menu offers three or four options for each of five courses. After making our selections, glasses of Piper-Heidsieck Monopole were offered for toasting, along with an hors d'oeuvre plate—tasters of foie gras, a king scallop, lobster and a scintillating porcini mushroom cappuccino. Our taste buds were primed and readied for the first course, a cold appetizer that emerged from under silver domes. The red tuna carpaccio was perfect, laced with dollops and drizzles of three different mustards (even more would have been nice); we also enjoyed the plate of farm-raised Ossetra caviar, with buckwheat blinis, Jersey potatoes and other condiments. The hot appetizers that followed were no less flashy, including grilled king scallops (yes, again—this time perched on a cauliflower puree), and a risotto flecked with edible gold leaf. The gold imparted no taste, but the rice was subtly flavored, served al dente.

Our next course dazzled, led by a bouillon of Dover sole and Camembert, an unusual broth with only the soft, melting rinds of the ripe cheese for texture—we’ve never had anything quite like it. Le Champagne’s lobster bisque offered one of the showier presentations we’ve encountered for this favorite: It was a splendid soup, not overly rich or abrasive like some, with a big succulent lobster tail swimming in the middle of the tarn. For our surf or turf main course we opted for the Dover sole, served Normandy-style, and lobster thermidor—both of which were just fine. Other options for the course included New England venison, rack of New Zealand lamb, and breast of forest pigeon.

Desserts ranged from a subdued, slightly underwhelming Grand Marnier soufflé to an over-the-top trilogy of Valrohna chocolate lava cakes—one of which erupted with a chocolate plume. The latter was a bit of overkill considering the subtle Dover sole that preceded, but flanking the dessert course were lollipops of chocolate-dipped green tea “ice cream” and a tray of chocolate truffles and vanilla macaroons. That macaroon was exquisite, collapsing gently in our mouth with a creamy surrender.

Seishin

Unique in the Silversea fleet, Seishin is the second of Silver Spirit’s specialty restaurants requiring a surcharge—in this case $20 for the standard menu or $30 for the 9-course degustation menu. We tried both options, and very much enjoyed the array of Asian tastes, some of which represented truly high-quality seafood. As at Le Champagne, the tables at Seishin are very close together, and there are just 13, turned once nightly (reservations are required). We recommend dining early or late to minimize chances of someone being seated next to you for the entire meal.

From the standard menu we started with the sushi and sashimi platter, artfully arranged and satisfying. We followed with a waterpaper roll of spider crab, which came with au jus of green pea and lemon-grass infused olive oil. The main course was a stunning tiger prawn tempura—moist, melt-in-your-mouth creations accompanied by a Japanese chili sauce. A dollop of green tea sorbet rounded out the meal. While satisfying, we’ll note that the standard menu does not represent a large dinner.

Following a provocative caviar sorbet for amuse bouche, the degustation menu also featured the sushi and sashimi platter and moved on to black cod sashimi and a sample of exquisite little marinated clams. There was flying fish roe (who knew?), and crispy grilled amadei (a fish we weren’t familiar with), leading to a couple fine legs of royal crab. The degustation took a surprising turn for a plate of tepan Wagyu beef with wasabi that was tender and rich.

Lunch was also served on some days at Seishen. We didn’t try it, but eight different bento box options were available, and there was no up-charge for lunch.

Stars Supper Club

We love the idea of an intimate supper club on board a cruise ship, and although we enjoyed some aspects of our dinner and show, we ultimately felt Stars needs some polish. The venue is located next to La Terrazza (and utilizes the same kitchen). It’s a dimly lighted room designed with a few 1930s art deco curves and angles; there’s a stage with a small dance floor in front. With seating for just a few dozen guests, reservations are essential. The pianist played solo till 9 p.m., which was then followed by 45-minute sets with a jazz vocalist till midnight.

The five-course set meal is made up of smaller, tapas-style portions. An appetizer of bread sticks, dips and generous hunks of parmesan came out first, and was soon followed by two of the courses, featuring somewhat larger than bite-size portions: raw tuna with a dollop of curried aioli, mozzarella with diced tomato, pata negra, prawns. But following these plates, service slowed to a crawl—presumably backed up in the kitchen. The next course was seafood, followed by meat, and some delicious hot items were showcased, including a pair of scallops sitting atop raisin brandy, sea bass, venison and veal, eventually leading to a trio of desserts.

We sat down for our reservation promptly at 8:30 and that dessert did not land until 11:40 p.m. There was no reason for the meal to be drawn out, and for most of that time, empty plates sat on our table. It was an unreasonably long time for dinner to unfold.

The jazz pianist and vocalist were well equipped for the venue. The singer had a broad repertoire of American standards under her belt and took requests (between sets they mingled with the audience—a nice touch). There was a bit too much echo on the singer’s audio, though this became less obvious as set went on and dining voices got louder. It’s also possible to sit at the bar without ordering dinner, though limited seating—a good option if you don’t get a reservation or prefer not to have a drawn-out meal.

The Pool Grill, Hot Rocks

Flanking one end of the pool, this was our most disappointing dining venue. By day, the Pool Grill selection is fairly predictable, but some of the most basic items like a cheeseburger and fries were presented with as little imagination as possible—dried out burger, tepid and limp French fries, unpalatable onion rings, and cole slaw lathered in mayo. But the catch of the day—mahi mahi—was nice and light, with citrus-y sauce and little salad. The crab Caesar was fine for the crab, but it didn’t taste much like a Caesar. There was a decent salad bar. When we ordered drinks, the waiter didn’t know much about the beer or wine selection, and when delivered they came in plastic mugs. Even a martini came in plastic-ware.

In the evening, the Pool Grill evolves into Hot Rocks, and although we love dining under the stars, we’re not big fans of doing the cooking when we’re on a luxury cruise. The menu is fairly simple—a few salad options that were merely perfunctory, followed by cuts of meat and fish, ranging from 6-oz center-cut filet mignon to 14-oz Berkshire pork chop and Atlantic salmon to Madagascar prawns. Hot stones were delivered to our table to grill the entrées and we set about tending to our steaks. On the side were a baked potato, a skewer of already-grilled veggies and steak sauces such as peppercorn and Béarnaise. But, sorry, despite using decent quality Sterling Silver meats, what comes off a proper grill in the kitchen will be better than the best steak a master griller throws onto a hot rock. To our mind, the hot rock grill-it-yourself gimmick is a bit passé, and we’d give it a pass on a future cruise.

Midway through our cruise we discovered that the Pool Grill also serves a limited breakfast selection, and this proved to be a nice alternative when La Terrazza was crowded one morning. The menu included such items as rye French toast, cumin-scented egg white omelet Florentine and a grilled half-peach with honey—items available at The Restaurant—plus a trio of smoothies and Vitamix drinks. Very few other passengers seemed to discover breakfast here, so it was a quiet option.

In-Room Dining

The breakfast menu could be delivered within 30-minute windows from 6 to 10 a.m. Menu options included most everything offered on the breakfast menu at The Restaurant. We ordered ours for 7:30-8:00—it was delivered at 7:41 a.m. An extension that fitted over our coffee table provided a simple solution for our lack of proper dining table.

The scrambled eggs and an artichoke-spinach soufflé arrived fairly warm. Toast wrapped in linen came with butter in a silver bowl and marmalade and cherry jam in glass jars. An order of pain au chocolate was also wrapped in linen. The fruit plate was just okay—the melon was neither flavorful nor sweet. The tray came with salt and pepper shakers, coffee in carafes, and sugar in packets; there were no flowers or other embellishments. Apparently we neglected to check off cream for the coffee, so there was none; we called our butler and it was delivered about 15 minutes later.

An additional in-room dining menu was available 24 hours, and included an array of hot and cold choices. This included such lighter fare as sandwiches (a tuna Niçoise wrap, veggie ciabatta, panini), salads (chicken Caesar, strawberry and baby spinach), burgers (traditional, turkey or Thai crab), hot dogs (New York, Mexican chili), and pizzas (crudaiola, Napoletana, quattro stagioni). There was also pasta (ravioli with sage butter, penne with herbs and tomato sauce), and a selection of entrées, including grilled salmon, grilled chicken breast, and a 12-ounce New York sirloin steak with Béarnaise, green peppercorn or mushroom sauce; all of these were served with garden vegetables and potatoes. The desserts included crème brûlée, cheesecake with caramel sauce, bitter chocolate mousse, ice cream or frozen yogurt, a fruit platter, and a cheese plate served with celery sticks, dried fruit, nuts and crackers.

We called to order lunch one afternoon and were advised of “approximately 25 minutes” for delivery; the knock on the door came 36 minutes later. The waiter who delivered our lunch did not put the table extension on the coffee table (he forgot to bring a table cloth), so the four oversized plates our meal came with spilled past the edges of the table. We ordered crispy corn cakes served with baby leaves and garlic dip, maltagliati pasta with zucchini and shrimp, a spring roll Provençale, and a club “triple-decker” with roast beef, turkey, ham and cheese. The pasta had started to cool by the time we could get to it, and the pasta stuck together as we ate it—not good. The spring roll salad was okay, but the fried roll was also cool. For the triple decker club bacon was substituted for the ham. Overall, our in-room lunch left much to be desired.

In addition to the breakfast menu and the 24-hour menu, we could also order from the day’s breakfast, lunch and dinner menus at the Restaurant, during its operating hours. The options were so extensive that one could easily have every meal delivered to the room and never have the same thing twice. But we decided to venture out now and then.

There was a selection of fine Petrossian caviars that could be delivered to our room. These ranged from Chataluga “Prestige” (1 ounce, $50) to Beluga “Royal” (1¾ ounce, $550)—each accompanied by buckwheat blinis and condiments.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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