Christine and Richard
Age: 41 to 50
Number of Cruises: 11 to 20 Cruises
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Legend of the Seas
Sailing Date: December 1st, 1999
Itinerary: Singapore to Sydney
Day 1 – Singapore. After Royal Caribbean processed documentation at the hotel, passengers were given a two-hour city orientation. The tour guide’s informative talk provided useful background for our stay. We toured Ming Village – where porcelain reproductions are hand-made, and another complex housing Buddhist and Daoist temples.
The Legend was docked at Brani Naval Base, which had no passenger terminal; boarding cards were issued at the gangplank. The card is now all-purpose – boarding pass, super charge card and cabin key. After the welcome aboard lunch in the Windjammer, we chatted briefly with Executive Chef Thomas Barth. We had sailed with Chef Barth last December for two weeks on the Enchantment of the Seas. It was nice to see a familiar face so soon after embarkation. He had an interesting tale about a flat received in Dubai. A shipment of wine and beer was to have been transported in a refrigerated container, instead it was sent in a freezer. Needless to say, all bottles were destroyed; some passengers traveling between Dubai and Singapore were dismayed to learn stocks on the ship were low because of this mishap.
At dinner, we met our fellow tablemates and servers and were instantly delighted to know one would be spending the next weeks with such a lovely and diverse group of individuals – a couple from Montreal who had been aboard since Athens, a couple from Hawaii, a couple and her aunt from Arkansas and a single woman from Switzerland. Marlito (waiter) and Toli (assistant waiter) made a nice team; their efficiency, warmth and sense of humor added very much to each evening’s ambiance. The sommelier, Erika, was fondly remembered from the Champagne Terrace of the Splendour of the Seas on our 1997 Trans-Atlantic voyage.
Day 2 – Singapore. The complimentary World Trade Centre shuttle was convenient, but connecting to the Chinatown bus was somewhat time-consuming. We soon learned the ease of using Singapore’s taxis. Chinatown was disappointing. An area geared mainly toward tourism – souvenir and tailor shops – one was pressed to find a dining opportunity commensurate with experiences in other worldwide Chinese communities. The food market there was working class, the smells not inviting. However, Sri Mariamman Temple – the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore – was an interesting diversion.
A brief walk to the financial district brought us to Lau Pa Sat for the hawker experience we had been seeking. Richard ordered so much food from one stall that the vendor refused to sell us more claiming we already had too much for two. Shrimp wonton soup, roast duck, roast pork tenderloin, Chinese greens with garlic and oyster sauce and heaping plates of steamed rice were had for about $15. We stopped once more for an iced lemon tea before returning to the ship.
The evening entertainment treated passengers to Singaporean, Japanese, Indonesian and Malay dance. The troupes provided quite a unique and interesting cultural experience.
Day 3 – Singapore. There had been scattered rain daily, but today it was torrential. A small break at mid-morning allowed us to take the shuttle to the World Trade Centre. Starbucks beckoned – an excellent cappuccino would be Christine’s last for a while. We settled down for lunch at 88 Restaurant at the top of the tower. The chili shrimp and steamed sea bass were perfectly garnished with a fantastic view of Sentosa Island.
Bidding farewell to Singapore from the Viking Crown lounge as the Legend sailed away was sad. This was a relaxed and inviting city; yet we were anxious to explore the other ports of call. We settled down comfortably with our tablemates to enjoy superb racks of lamb while comparing notes on our Singaporean experiences. The Wave Review Singers and Dancers presented an exciting show entitled, “One Moment in Time.”
Day 4 – At Sea. Somehow in the early morning hours, the Legend crossed the Equator without permission. King Neptune was not pleased and beckoned all poolside to witness the punishment to be doled out to those responsible. A parade of mermaids accompanied by a pirate musical ensemble preceded the arrival of the king and his queen. In turn, two passengers and then Captain Ronsen were ordered to kneel before King Neptune to confess. Cracking raw eggs over their heads and declaring them guilty, the king banished them to an operating table, where a mad doctor literally made sausage and spaghetti out of them. As a final punishment each of the accused were tossed into the pool. It was a fun time for the participants as well as the spectators.
This morning’s informative talk and video on Bali were helpful introductions to the island and its people. Something new, Royal Caribbean now offers “Academy at Sea” on its longer cruises. The four courses offered included: photography, nutrition and fitness, beauty, and hospitality and beverage. We enrolled in the latter and would have our first class on a future sea day.
While Richard napped, Christine continued reading Road from Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway. This interesting autobiography of the life of a young girl on an Australian sheep station offered a vivid glimpse of life in the outback. Ms. Conway went on to become the first woman president of Smith College.
The Captain’s welcome aboard cocktail was an occasion for dressing in one’s finest. Richard used the opportunity to show off his new white dinner jacket and a silk brocade dragon vest fashioned by Christine – quite a handsome set. After dinner, the audience was captivated by tenor Renato Pagliari in the That’s Entertainment Theatre.
Day 5 – At Sea. Gottfried Alois Bogensperger, a guest chef from the Hyatt Singapore, and his assistant, Sally, were invited aboard for a cooking demonstration. They prepared Vietnamese shrimp rolls and filet of salmon in spring onion sauce with gnocchi; the audience was rewarded with sample bites. We were told to expect a special menu at dinner where one could order these dishes as well as a couple of additional surprises.
Henry Stedman gave a wildlife talk. His dry sense of humor kept the audience greatly amused as he introduced through a slide presentation Indonesian flora and fauna.
Richard enjoyed braised oxtail at lunch, while Christine preferred lighter fare in anticipation of the evening’s promised treat. And what an indulgence dinner was. For a starter, Chef Bogensperger concocted five-spiced duck enrobed in a rice pancake – moist and flavorful. We moved on to the demo salmon – again perfectly prepared and presented. Although we tend to avoid desserts, one was tempted and rewarded by the chocolate pudding – resembling a very rich brownie – accompanied by an almond tuille.
Day 6 – Bali. The Legend anchored off the shore of Padangbai; we were greeted by a fleet of outrigger canoes from which Balinese vendors attempted to sell agricultural wares. We waited anxiously to see how transactions could be made as the vendors were at sea level, and the Promenade Deck was at least 40 feet higher. We never did witness a sale, but the canoeists were unrelenting throughout the Legend’s 36-hour stay.
We tendered ashore in late afternoon and were immediately mobbed by vendors hawking everything from postcards to hand-carved wooden chess sets. It was not an easy walk to the nearby motorcoach. A particularly adorable young girl, of about six, was most persistent and used all of her best English in an attempt to make a sale. She nearly succeeded when she asked Christine what her name was. But we knew if a purchase were to be made from one vendor, the surrounding mobs would close in for more sales. We were relieved to board the bus; there was instant calm as our guide, Naya, began to introduce us to Bali. During the 1-1/2-hour drive to Taman Burung Bird Park, glimpses of daily life provided the backdrop for all we were to see and experience during our brief time here. We were fascinated by the closeness of homes to the roadway, intrigued by the abundance of temples and curious about the innumerable itinerant dogs – certainly some of the ugliest creatures we had ever seen.
To our disbelief and disappointment, the Taman Burung Bird Park was already closed upon arrival. One of the reasons we had chosen this evening tour was to enjoy the more than 1,000 tropical birds housed among lush gardens. A flock of flamingo-like white birds was near the park’s open-air restaurant; we tried to imagine what other species inhabited the site. The dinner buffet included rather ordinary fare, but we were assured the selections were typical of the region: corn soup, chicken fried wontons, vegetarian spring rolls, steamed rice, fried chicken, mixed sautéed vegetables with squid, lemon grass string beans, fish fritters, assorted tropical fruit and pastries.
Proceeding on foot to the Kecak dance stage, we were captivated by the intricate hand and foot movements and fleeting glances of the elegant dancers who performed surrounded by a 75-member male chorus. Various ornately costumed characters also participated in the dance presentation. The hypnotic choral cak-cak-cak continued until good overcame evil. The evening climaxed with a fire dance, where an entranced member of the chorus danced upon burning coals without scorching his feet.
The Balinese vendors were waiting for us upon return to the Padangbai pier, and the feverish sales pitches recommenced. In a way, we felt guilty that the lure of tourists’ dollars had taken too many of these lovely people from their timeless religious observances and simple agrarian lives to near dependency on tourism.
Day 7 – Bali. The same chaotic swarm of vendors welcomed us on arrival at the pier. However, today we noticed increased military surveillance and an attempt to keep a perimeter open for debarking passengers. Directed to our motorcoach by our guide, Norman, we headed into the verdant hills of Bali. Although we traveled along the same route the previous evening, daylight gave another view of life in the tiny villages dotting the countryside. We stopped first to be entertained by Barong dancers and their gamelan orchestra. The central and most amusing figure was the Barong – a hairy mythical beast that is considered a village protector. Again, we witnessed the power of good overcoming evil. Terraced rice paddies provided a picture perfect backdrop to the stage.
There was a stop in Mas for a wood carving demonstration before continuing to Ubud. This artist colony in the hills above Denpasar was the most colorful and interesting of the villages encountered in Bali. Our lunch break was at the splendid Cahaya Dewata Resort overlooking terraced rice paddies and a meandering river. The buffet was similar to that of the previous evening: onion soup, fried rice or noodles, sautéed mixed vegetables with squid, cole slaw, sliced tomatoes, shredded carrots, beef stroganoff, sweet and sour pork, sautéed tofu with vegetables, vegetarian spring rolls, assorted tropical fruit and pastries.
We were next offered a 10-minute stop at the Neka Art Museum. We regretted this constraint. The Neka houses a very extensive collection of traditional and contemporary Balinese art, as well as a compilation of works by Western artists who have painted in Bali over the years and a small photography gallery. Needless to say, a brief sweep through one building in the complex was all one could see in the allotted time.
We drove beside more terraced rice paddies, which offered a final overall glimpse of the island that had enchanted us. In Klungkung, one saw the ancient Kerta Gosa Hall of Justice and Bale Kambang – Floating Pavilion – before returning to Padangbai. On the pier, we found the child vendor who had caught our eye earlier and gave her our remaining Indonesian rupiah coins. Astonished, she quickly disappeared into the crowd.
Day 8 – At Sea. We reveled in this relaxing day at sea. The morning shore excursion talk on Darwin and Cairns by Stefan Rosenfeld previewed the regions we were about to explore. The Indonesian buffet lunch offered poolside was similar to those at Taman Burung Bird Park and Cahaya Dewata Resort. While in Bali, Chef Barth managed to bring aboard wonderful tropical fruit. For the next week, one could savor the fresh sweet tastes of rambutan, passion fruit, papaya, mango and an unusual brown veined, thin skinned, pear-like fruit that no one could identify.
Day passed leisurely to night; the That’s Entertainment Theatre hosted the Wave Review Singers and Dancers in a tribute to Broadway.
Day 9 – At Sea. Stefan Rosenfeld’s second shore excursion talk highlighted Brisbane and Sydney. The accompanying slides brought the cities and environs to life. We were anxious to reach these destinations. Richard never shirks a chance to exercise his voice; a 1940s sing-along in the Schooner Bar gave him that opportunity. There is a deep emotional connection for him as these American tunes were popular in Beijing when he was in junior high school.
The afternoon Academy at Sea focused on the cocktail. From martinis to manhattans, margaritas to piña coladas, the instructor demonstrated preparation of these concoctions. Samples flowed. Later in the Centrum, there was an impromptu musical tribute to Elton John by a quintet of the ship’s entertainers. The 30-minute concert was refreshing – something which should be done more often on sea days. We knew we were nearing Australia, as immigration officials were on board to perform pre-arrival inspections.
Day 10 – Darwin. Upon arrival in Darwin, we were driven to the Territory Wildlife Park. The countryside was dotted with low-lying brush and occasional trees. The termite hills were remarkable, with various chambers constructed to allow migration to areas facing away from the sun for cooler internal temperatures. These towers took on the color of the soil and often stood five or six feet tall. The park was well designed with an electric tram circling regularly. We saw our first wallabies, kangaroos, jabirus up close and personal. Not surprising, the salt-water and fresh-water crocodiles were kept at a safe distance. The heat and humidity were too much for some of the elderly, but we had plenty to drink and were able to see most of the grounds in the time allowed.
Darwin is a small town, provincial and quaint. The lack of sophistication may have to do with the destruction caused by Cyclone Tracy in 1974 and the ongoing rebuilding. With the completion of the new state house, Darwin hopes to draw more Australians to the area and with that the hope of a larger government to occupy the lavish accommodations. As Darwin is Australia’s main support line to U.N. peacekeeping forces in East Timor, it is an important military post. There is a large build-up of military facilities near the airport.
Day 11 – Darwin. As the largest ship ever to sail into any of our ports of call, the Legend received a lot of attention. What a surprise for passengers who awoke to discover a full front page and centerfold special article on the “Monster Floating Hotel” in today’s edition of the Northern Territory News.
A small complex at Stokes Hill Wharf is home to the Indo-----Pacific Marine. Our visit there was the highlight of our stay in Darwin. Privately funded and operated, this marine environmental and educational resource center offers an astonishing introduction to reef life. Helene Pretty has amassed over several decades a huge collection of living coral. One began their visit with an award winning film on the Great Barrier Reef. Afterward, Manager, Jon Ostara, was on hand to take visitors step by step through the displays. Unlike aquariums, the self-sustaining marine eco-system is not filtered; neither the coral nor fish are ever fed; evaporation is contained by the addition of rainwater. The natural ceiling illumination provides the right amounts of sunshine and moonlight to promote coral and plankton reproduction. We continued to be impressed by informative and interesting displays throughout the marine exhibit. Our only regret was to learn too late that one might visit at night to see the coral under special lights. The evening tour also includes a seafood buffet on the deck overlooking Van Diemen Gulf.
The Department of Agriculture set up a display on the pier and offered samples of Australian produce, baked goods and wines. The seafood and fruit were particularly delicious. We also enjoyed artwork crafted by local artisans.
There were more and more passengers succumbing to a flu-like illness passing through the ship. Several of our tablemates were not well enough to share their Darwin experience and to enjoy the delicious Beef Wellington offered by the galley. The Wave Review Singers Dancers ended the evening with the “Sing and Swing Big Band Show.”
Day 12 – At Sea. Another restful day was spent at sea; we tried our hands at doubles “Baggo” – beanbag toss – and failed miserably. The afternoon Academy at Sea continued with table set ups and large-volume punches. One would need many identical tablecloths to accomplish the demonstrated drapings, but results were attractive. Punch samples flowed. While Richard napped, Christine inched forward in reading The Fatal Shore, by Robert Hughes. Hughes presents Australian history in an easy to read tome.
Day 13 – At Sea. Through closed curtains, we were awakened by a dazzling spectacle of dancing lights on the cabin ceiling and walls. The Legend had entered the Great Barrier Reef. These shallow waters were like reflective mirrors, the rising sun sending down cascades of orange flames licking the water’s surface. The show lasted but a moment; how grateful we are for that enduring image. The weather soon turned to rain and the only sights were occasional distant atolls.
A seminar on contemporary Aboriginal art was very enlightening. Slides helped to bring the images to life. We expect to see a lot of these art forms in other ports. Beer and bar set up were the subjects of today’s Academy at Sea lecture. Richard enjoyed these samples more than cocktails and punches; he found the walk through the bar to be helpful. While Richard swilled, Christine played hooky briefly to attend an opal seminar. Royal Caribbean had invited Costello’s – one of Australia’s leading opal dealers – to send a gemologist and a collection of set and unset stones for this talk. The opals were subsequently displayed for sale in the Boutiques of the Centrum. A black opal caught the attention of many; yet at the cruise’ end, the $40,000 pendant was still unclaimed.
Day 14 – Cairns. Upon arrival we boarded a bus for the drive via Port Douglas to the Rainforest Habitat. The surrounding area was hilly and lush with vegetation. Port Douglas could have been a coastal resort anywhere in the world – beautiful gardens, luxury homes, golf courses and private yachts at anchor. Somehow the driving time to and from Cairns was underestimated; a mere 45 minutes was allowed to walk around the Rainforest Habitat. There was time to see only two of the four exhibits – the wallaby, kangaroo, crocodile section and the rainforest canopy walk. The displeasure among all was more than evident; the guide relented and offered us an additional five minutes to see the koala display. The two resident koalas were fast asleep and hidden among eucalypt branches. We returned to Cairns in a torrential downpour.
The weather cleared somewhat by afternoon; we set out to see the town of Cairns. A casino, restaurants, hotels, art galleries, souvenir shops dotted the main street. The Pier Market Place was a comfortable indoor mall. There we spent an hour at Undersea World where, in addition to taking pleasure from the aquarium exhibits, we were spellbound by the shark feeding demonstration. Back on the pier, the Department of Agriculture met us with a display of Australian tropical fruit and wines. Samples of mango, papaya, passion fruit, melons and jakfruit were just the right afternoon snack.
The dining room was very empty tonight. The Great Barrier Reef excursion in inclement weather got the best of most who traveled the three-hour round trip by catamaran. We were somewhat concerned, as we would be doing the same trip tomorrow.
Day 15 – Cairns. With some 250 other passengers, we boarded the catamaran to the Great Barrier Reef. The high winds and rough seas made the passage uncomfortable. There was a brief moment of blue sky upon arrival. As we neither scuba dive nor snorkel, we entered a semi-submersible for a dry underwater experience and a chance to see the reef’s wonders. The ride was short but did reveal a section of the reef, a large sea turtle, and some large and small fish – nice but nothing too remarkable. Still, we are pleased to have had the experience. The return was not as rough because we were sailing with the current. The skies gradually cleared, and there was partial sun by the time we reached Cairns. At poolside today there was a raw bar and seafood buffet. Oysters are one of Richard’s favorite sea morsels; his plate was heaped with this special delicacy.
To our surprise, the Legend was unable to sail as scheduled at 1:00 p.m. High winds would have made the passage through the shallows too dangerous. Our departure was moved to 4:30 p.m. Cheers went up around the ship. Cairns was easy to like, and the unexpected additional afternoon there would be a real treat. A later announcement indicated we would sail at 6:00 p.m. We used the time to further explore the town, to make some last minute purchases and for a walk along the Marlin Jetty for a better view of the Legend among tiny fishing vessels.
The That’s Entertainment Theatre brought the ship’s quintet back to the stage for a super musical tribute to Carole King. Donny Ray Evans followed with his amazing impersonation of Nat King Cole. This look-alike, sound-alike artist astonished the audience with renditions of Cole’s hits, including, of course, the Christmas Song.
Day 16 – At Sea. Cruising today between the lesser and outer reefs, one noted the beautiful granite islands dotting the Whitsunday Passage. We eyed the shoreline of Hamilton Island while downpours intermittently interrupted crisp blue skies. We were cruising at 23 knots, against 35-knot headwinds, to make up time lost in Cairns. A rough ride prevented many from venturing out. Thus, the library was a welcome retreat.
Our Academy at Sea course was concluded today with a seminar on wines and champagne. After the tasting, students were presented with graduation certificates.
At tonight’s reception, Captain Ronsen enlightened Crown and Anchor Society members on current and future Royal Caribbean activities. He introduced Jack Williams – President of RCI, who was with us for part of the voyage. Most were surprised Mr. Williams did not have a few words for the audience.
Day 17 – Brisbane. Sailing up the Brisbane River, the Legend was greeted by a news helicopter with cameras rolling. As earlier mentioned, the Legend was the largest passenger vessel ever to sail into any of our ports of call. Some of the waving passengers certainly were featured in the day’s televised news events.
Only 28 of 1,200 passengers gave up the chance to see Brisbane and opted instead for a 10-hour rural adventure. We are certain we made the best choice. Julie (guide) and Graham (driver) met us on the pier. They were wonderful storytellers. History and local tradition flowed, and all were mesmerized. The Canungra Valley Vineyards were our first stop. Here we tasted our way from white to red to dessert wines. A small purchase will be kept for special occasions at home.
Our ascent into Lamington National Park went from dry pastoral hills dotted with pillared colonial homesteads to rainforest. At O’Reilly’s Retreat, one viewed the rainforest canopy by way of an elevated rope walkway. Hiking trails were numerous and well trodden. Crimson rosellas, king parrots, yellow rumped thornbills and bush turkeys begged for attention. The dining room beckoned with homemade buffet selections of vegetable soup, fresh salads, breads, numerous hot dishes – of which the sesame perch was outstanding – and bountiful desserts. Christine had settled on fresh fruit and homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert, when macadamia nut pie appeared out of the blue. That too augmented the other choices on her plate. Julie and Graham piled us back into the bus. Rather than be forced to witness the harrowing winding descent from the rainforest, one was treated to a short documentary film on the Australian rainforest.
Tamborine Mountain was our final destination. While the rest of the group chose to browse through the charming shops and galleries of the small hilltop community, we wandered through the Plantation Homestead where Graham introduced us to Rich – a rough outdoor type in a rumpled old hat, scuffed boots, faded jeans and an enormous belt buckle – our own “Crocodile Dundee.” Rich works a large avocado station; the restaurant and bar are part of the operation. Asking for a spot of tea, Rich introduced us to “Billy Tea.” He filled an old tin pot with boiling water and tea leaves. Rich then escorted the pot and us to a nearby porch where he vigorously swung the pot over his head about eight times. When he learned we do not take milk with our tea, he apologized for having swung the pot the wrong way and repeated the exercise in the opposite direction. We shared the perfectly brewed tea and accompanying scones, homemade rhubarb jam and butter with Graham while Rich acquainted us with life in the outback. For a grand finale, he did a whip demonstration before we had to board the bus for the long drive back to the pier. Julie and Graham continued to entertain us until we parted on the dock with bear hugs and promises to return to Australia.
We enjoyed the company of some of our tablemates later that evening in the Schooner Bar. Listening to David Curtis at the piano was a nice way to end a perfect day.
Day 18 – At Sea. Again, torrential downpours dashed any hope of on-deck activities. We used the time instead to pack. The debarkation talk occupied some of our time.
The dining room at lunch served an excellent Portuguese fish stew – Christine could have eaten this everyday without tiring of it.
The “If I Were Not Upon the Sea” routine highlighted pre-dinner entertainment. Watching this act for the tenth time did not elicit the same reaction from us as from those seeing it for the first time. The final dinner with our tablemates evoked mixed emotions. We had treasured each other’s company during these many days at sea. Later we all hoped this would not be our final goodbye as we enjoyed a last toast in the Schooner Bar.
Day 19 – Sydney. Afraid of missing our sail into Sydney, we were up by 4:30 a.m. Land was already around us, and soon the water spray of a firebarge was welcoming us into the harbor. As the early morning rays began to backlight the city, the Opera House was suddenly before us. The Legend made a quick pass under the Harbour Bridge before coming into Darling Harbour. Our Royal Journey was nearing its end.
There was just time to bid adieu to new friends before debarkation. An awaiting bus whisked us from the harbor for a half-day tour of Sydney and the surrounding communities. The views of the city from various lookouts were breathtaking. We were excited to know Sydney would be our host for a few days.
The Renaissance Hotel was centrally located. We dropped our bags and immediately set out for lunch, settling on Imperial Peking at the Rocks. The fare was common, but good – steamed Chinese greens with oyster sauce, ma po tofu, king prawns sautéed with black beans. We were treated to a stunning view of the Opera House from this location.
The Royal Caribbean hospitality desk confirmed our return flights and provided instructions for the organized activities in which we would be participating. We were soon back on the street and enjoying the pre-Christmas sights and sounds along the Pitt Street pedestrian mall. The tall buildings and quick pace of passersby lent an urban atmosphere to Sydney that could have placed it anywhere in the world. The Queen Victoria Building was an interesting diversion. The glass-roofed structure houses countless boutiques and restaurants; the carpeted wooden floors and high narrow passageways, however, contributed to a feeling of vertigo.
The beautiful holiday decorations of our hotel lobby beckoned for afternoon tea. A Malaysian dinner soon followed at Neptune Palace. The beef and chicken satays, curried fish fillet and lemon grass duck were superbly presented and satisfying.
Post-Cruise – Sydney. The Syndey Aquarium at Darling Harbour was our early morning destination. Its many exhibits and walk-through shark tanks and coral reefs entertained us. We next explored Harbourside Centre and discovered Wockpool Restaurant and Noodle Bar at the Panasonic IMAX Cinema complex (see following review). Fully sated and too lazy to walk, we took the ferry back to Port Jackson for a stroll around the Opera House before returning to the hotel to prepare for dinner.
Tonight’s group dinner was served at the Waterfront Restaurant at the Rocks. Everyone shared highlights of their Royal Journey and offered helpful suggestions on cruising in general. We found the excellent view of the Opera House from our window table to be a fitting tribute to this final evening in Sydney. We were entertained by a dress rehearsal on the Opera House roof in preparation for the upcoming New Year’s Eve celebration. Suddenly the food became the focal point. An appetizer of oyster, scallop, shrimp, smoked salmon and lobster was a meal in itself. However, no one turned away the fresh grilled barramundi – a popular Australian fish. The accompanying vegetables were colorful and crisp, the choice of wines complimentary. Frozen apricot cheese tarts topped this feast. Thoughts of tomorrow’s airline cuisine justified today’s indulgences.
The next morning, the sun was shining on Sydney as we said goodbye reluctantly. It would be wonderful to be able to return someday for another down under adventure.
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Wockpool Restaurant – A Memorable Dining Experience
A little out of the ordinary, but something one must do when in Sydney, Australia.
A Visa ad in a recent issue of Bon Appetit spiked our curiosity. Working our way toward Darling Harbour on December 20, we wondered whether lunch at Wockpool would be worthy of the amount of time one would be taking from other activities during our very limited stay. Arriving without reservations earned us a somewhat patronizing glare from the mâitre d’hôtel. However, a stirring tale of a journey which had taken us half way around the world for a two-day visit to Sydney, where we had hoped to have a meal in the restaurant which had been receiving such rave reviews in the United States, netted us a front-row table overlooking Darling Harbour – a perfect spot from which to enjoy the atmosphere of this exciting city.
We were introduced to the day’s à la carte menu; at the same time it was suggested we might like to try the “chef’s banquet.” Now they had our attention. For a set price and with a few general guidelines on our taste preferences and dislikes, the chef would create a multi-course meal designed just for us. We were ready for the surprises that would be presented course-by-course.
The tables were covered in crisp white linens upon which one found two small white saucers topped by white rice bowls. There were two sets of chopsticks upon white rests. Jasmine tea was served in white teacups. The first course arrived on an enormous white platter, upon which to our surprise one discovered two steamed oysters – yes, only two. We have never consumed anything so diminutive so slowly! However, our qualms were soon put to rest.
The meal progressed leisurely; each course was more spectacular than the one before. The green papaya salad was an explosion of crunch, hot and sweet. Shallow-fried calamari was perfectly spiced, crispy and yet moist. The sautéed asparagus with scallops and prawns offered a sweet contrast to the previous zesty dishes.
Suddenly the table was cleared; we were worried briefly. However, the white tableware was beginning to reappear, along with a bowl of steaming white rice. Tofu cloaked in a sweet vinegar sauce, garnished with black mushrooms and sweet cucumbers, was a delicious combination of flavors. We were next directed toward king prawns in a fiery green curry sauce. Steamed Chinese greens with garlic and oyster sauce followed. The grand finale main course – seared marlin on a bed of watercress – was worth the 10,000-mile commute. The coarsely ground black pepper and spice crust and rare interior were a totally successful marriage of tastes and textures.
Sated and thankful for such a gratifying dining experience, we were roused by the arrival of dessert – dark and white chocolate mousse layer cake accompanied by a coconut crème caramel with a crisp almond tuille.
Was this 2-1/4 hour event a moveable feast? You bet!
An amazing observation about Wockpool . . . The kitchen and dining room staffs are not Asian. There are plenty of pricey Asian-owned and operated restaurants in the Washington area, although few offer food this creative and good. These young and energetic individuals provide a level of service comparable to that of a starred restaurant in Paris. Unfortunately, we have come to accept bad service here and still tip well for it. This extraordinary meal, including service, came to about $85.00.