Michelin Starred Dining Comes to MSC Cruises

by ontravelx

Catalan chef Ramon Freixa, who has two restaurants in Madrid and one in Colombia, is creating a unique tapas menu only for MSC cruises, elevating the quality of food served on board. You can find it in his HOLA! Tapas bar aboard the all-new MSC Bellissima. On March 4, the ship will set sail from Southampton on her first voyage to Genoa, a 10-night voyage that will be followed by a season spent cruising the Mediterranean.

Over the last five years, Carlo Cracco has worked with MSC Cruises with five other Michelin-starred chefs. In December of 2017, Roy Yamaguchi opened Asian Market Kitchen on board MSC Seaview. Harald Wohlfahrt, a three-Michelin-star chef from Germany who was recently named one of the world’s top ten chefs, will create a new menu for the Yacht Club restaurant aboard the MSC Meraviglia, MSC Splendida, and MSC Preziosa. Sea Pavilion, a new hotpot restaurant, is run by renowned Chinese chef Jereme Leung aboard MSC Splendida.

Ramon Freixa is among the top chefs in Spain, a country whose cuisine has earned a well-deserved reputation as cutting-edge. He was raised at the restaurant his family owned in Barcelona, but he left as a young man to get experience in France and Belgium. In the years following, he relocated to Madrid, where he has been reaping the benefits of two Michelin stars at his Hotel Nico restaurant since 2010. Since 2017, he’s been an employee of MSC Cruises, and his restaurant, Ocean Cay, debuted in 2018 on the newly-debuted MSC Seaview.

Since it is too soon to sample his tapas on the Bellissima, we will have to go to Madrid to have a taste of his cooking. With just 44 rooms, the Hotel Nico in the posh Salamanca neighborhood manages to keep its boutique vibe despite its history as a large private mansion. The red sculpture within the mirrored stairs stands out against the black and white marble mosaic flooring that leads out to the garden.

The chef personally greets us as we board, and we use this opportunity to ask him about the ship’s menu before we go down to dinner. The dishes he prepares in Madrid are akin to Haute Couture, whereas the tapas served on the ship are more akin to Prêt-à-Porter. He’s quick to reassure customers that his take on Spanish cuisine is not going to be subpar; instead, he plans to provide a unique spin on certain classic dishes like the Spanish omelet and gazpacho, as well as tapas-style small plates.

His restaurant’s appetizers are excellent.

Coastal Erosion on Mirissa Beach, Sri LankaImage source: Nicola Borrani/Shutterstock.com

When you take a bite out of the black pebble, cheese and pistachio cream burst out. Even though it seems like a plastic bag full of dried shrimp, everything inside is really food. A straw is inserted into what seems to be a Venus fly trap, and the margarita is sucked up through the opening. Mushroom, truffle, and sea urchin are simmered in an egg shell and served as a soup. Caramelized onion skin with rare tuna on the side is the “onion that aspires to be a tuna fish.”

The creativity doesn’t stop with the main meal. Cava-cooked razor clams are topped with a green chive gel and ham shavings for decoration. Orange-flavored toasted noodles flavored with saffron are served on the side. While the head is cooked over charcoal with Kombu seaweed, the tail is prepared with fresh peas, cod tripe, and an omelette of Jerusalem artichoke.

Embossed with a pattern of lamb’s lettuce and watercress, the almond pil-pil sauce complements a little filet of wild sea bass. Next to it are fried cauliflower pieces that have been fermented with miso. Grilled deer tenderloins sit on sweet potatoes, are bathed in a butter-thyme and chanterelle broth, and are finished with kale and truffle.

A fern-shaped cookie filled with pomegranate and cream is described on the menu as having “the flavor of winter beneath a fern leaf.” Finally, we have a variety of bonbons, such as chocolate, hazelnut, and toffee. The course of the dinner is compared to a trip on which modernity and history meet. All the flavors have been distinct and well-defined, making this the ideal combination of culinary creativity and artistic expression.

The next morning, Ramon takes us to the market, where we find an abundance of fresh seafood, as well as meats, cheeses, and produce. In selecting a few items for the day’s dinner, he shows his obvious enjoyment of the high quality of the food. We’re curious how he plans to do this while at sea, but he tells us that the ship can replenish its supplies at several Mediterranean ports. We can’t wait to try the tapas he’s cooking at the HOLA! Tapas Bar on the MSC Bellissima because he’s willing to put his name on the line.

Fact File

Beginning on March 17, 2019, MSC Bellissima will sail the Western Mediterranean. The starting price for their 10-night “Beauty at Sea” cruise is £799.

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