P&O Food – Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill

Just back from spending a short four night trip on the Pacific Dawn for Australia Day.  Aaand… it was a great reminder why we usually sail Princess!  The ship is quite small but packed to the gills (lots of quad rooms) and everyone in a party mood which was great.  The biggest problem with P&O in my not so humble opinion, is the dining.  The buffet tends average to poor, the room service is not included, and the only dining room (on most of their Australian fleet), the Waterfront Restaurant, isn’t large enough to accommodate everyone onboard in two sittings – so getting bookings for dinner is a bit iffy tending towards difficult, to sometimes, just, nope.

Anyway, we went to the Waterfront the first evening on the ship and had what I would call the most ordinary meal I have had on a cruise ship in over 200+ days at sea.  Bland pasta, over cooked steak, and ridiculously pushy service edging us out the door (which was a stark comparison to a later lunch sitting where we were left nearly 40 mins with no one taking our order, and then two waiters each trying to say our table wasn’t in their service area!).  Every breakfast menu was the same – poached eggs that were boiled solid, avocado that tasted like it was squeezed out of a tube, feta pieces so small as to be non-existent, and mixed up orders.  Lunches were likewise uninspiring due to the same menu offered everyday, and things like sliders with mushy pulled pork similar to the consistency of canned tuna, seafood and fish pie with soggy pastry and defrosted marinara mix in a mysterious flour based white sauce, and again with the bland pasta (it said gorgonzola pasta for crying out loud!  How can it NOT taste even a tiny bit blue?!).  So, all round uninspiring food and below average service… seriously, my local pub which does nothing more than cheap steaks and schnitzels, but for a mere $12 lunch specials provides a far superior meal with way better service.  Waterfront Restaurant – 2 out of 5… would not try again.

So we decided to check out the Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill, one of the specialty restaurants on the ship in the hope of finding something that was actually nice to eat.  Others had said it was worth the AU$49 cover charge and by the time we’d had a couple of meals in the Waterfront, we were ready to risk it.

The restaurant is small, probably seats about 40 patrons, but has a lovely decor and enjoyable ambiance. Lovely quiet music and attentive staff which makes for a sharp contrast to the bustle in the MDR.  The menu, well it was fabulous… and the food turned out to be amazing!  So much so, we ended up booking to go back again so we wouldn’t have to face the Waterfront’s underwhelming offerings.  I took photos of all the different dishes we tried, so I could share them here.

House baked plain and zartar bread with Luke Mangan olive oil, balsamic vinegar and dukkah.

Five Spice Cured Duck – with golden beetroot, almond dressing and crisp pancetta.

Charcuterie Plate – bresaola, capicola and proscuitto

Kingfish Sashimi – with ginger, eschallot and Persian feta

Top: Scallop Sashimi – with confit potato, salmon and avruga roe, truffle and chive dressing. Bottom: Arancini of Wild Mushroom and Leek – with taleggio and green golden dressing.

Tempura Prawns – with wasabi and sesame, daikon and carrot salad.

‘Glass’ Sydney Crab Omelette – with enoki mushroom, herb salad and miso mustard broth.

Oysters Kilpatrick

The oysters attract a $2 per oyster surcharge, and we thought we’d try them out – but to be honest, my own Oysters Kilpatrick efforts at home, wipe the floor with these.

Oysters Tempura

Lobster Agnolotti – corn puree, soft herbs, sauce vierge

Warm Goat’s Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart – with beetroot salad

Highly recommend the goat cheese and caramelised onion tart – really fantastic blend of flavours on this dish… the sweet onion, tart cheese and slightly vinegar flavour of the beetroot was beautiful.

Brushetta – of crushed peas, feta and maple bacon.

Dukkah Crusted Lamb Fillet – with roasted pumpkin, feta, rocket, green olive salsa, and harissa yoghurt dressing.

Another favourite, the dukkah crusted lamb fillet was superb – beautifully prepared lamb and lovely flavours and textures.  Fantastic, definitely try this if you get the chance.

Grilled Snapper – with parmesean and truffle oil fries, served with chipotle aioli.

Petuna Ocean Trout – grilled, with teriyaki wok-fried vegetables and coconut sambal.

Cajun and Herb Spiced BBQ Baby Chicken – with homemade BBQ sauce.

Tuna (Rare) – grilled, tandoori spiced, with curried lentils, cucumber and yoghurt.

Yale was really impressed with this tuna dish – unusual Indian flavours on rare grilled tuna that was quite distinctive. Very tasty.

Floating Island – with fresh berries and fruit, served with Frangelico anglaise. 

Luke’s Liquorice Parfait – with lime syrup and tuile.

Goey Chocolate Tart, with banana, caramel ice cream and honeycomb.

Strawberry Cheesecake, with jelly, sorbet, light meringue and freeze-dried stawberries

You wouldn’t expect a strawberry cheesecake to be much to write home about, but this dessert was truly delicious and a little surprising.  What I thought was crushed toffee on the plate turned out to be something similar to popping candy.  Made a very pretty and tasty dish, a bit unexpectedly fun as well.

Tiramisu – with lemon custard Ice cream.


The verdict: everything we tried during our meals at the Salt Grill, was absolutely delicious.  And I have vowed, that should I be so foolish as to go on the Pacific Dawn for one of these short cruises again, I would seriously consider adding a $49 per night cost to our overall trip budget, so I can partake of the specialty dining every night and happily avoid the whole Waterfront Restaurant Disaster Area entirely!

Grand Japan – Korsakov Port Guide

“Korsakov is the port entry of the Yazhno-Sakhalinsk area and all the beauty and ancient culture of Sakhalin Island. Having been the centre of a tug-of-war between Russian and Japan it is filled with the history of many people and is become a major world oil boomtown while preserving its natural heritage”… according to the brochure.

The actuality, however, was somewhat different. Have you ever seen Eurotrip? You know the bit where Scotty and his friends, end up in Bratislava? Well that was us in Korsokov. Everything here looks like it is falling apart and holding steadfastly together at the same time – that is, buildings, vehicles, and ships all have that run down, dilapidated look about them and you can’t really tell if it is time, (the city is about 160 years old), or if it was war, (the city was fairly flattened in WWII), or if it is just the wear that extreme weather leaves behind, (with usual summer highs of 8C, it sounds like their winters are pretty brutal).

Firstly, getting there was quite the trial, the Russian immigration procedures are pretty strict, and we were only allowed ashore on organised tours – escorted by members of the ships’ company. Which meant a USD$29 per person walking tour was the only way to go to Korsakov… that was USD$120 for the four of us, and it gained us a ten minute bus ride and a partially English speaking crew member from the Philippines with no local knowledge and then access to a local Russian tour guide for about 25 minutes. 

Our tour guide was interesting, she spoken well enough English to impart information about the town and its highlights, but not well enough to answer any questions, so I think she must have learned her script well.

    Our first stop was a monument of some sort… it looked like a giant pair of tweezers high on a lookout over the port. No one knew what the monument was supposed to be marking, no one could read the Russian inscription beside it, and not event he local Russian tour guide could tell us what it was for, but every man and their dog from our ship seemed to want to have their photo taken with the strange thing??? Go figure. Had to wait about five minutes for a ‘shutter chance’ (Japanese for ‘photo op’) with no one in the way.




 So anyway, our walking tour started at one end of a pedestrian street which led to Victory Square and the Square of Glory. On the way our guide told us that Korsakov is a ‘very typical looking Russian city’ – it has very high unemployment, nearly all the people in Korsakov work in the port, or live in Korsakov and travel to Yazhno for work and there is little to do. People choose to live in Korsakov because the cost of housing is about 1/3 that of Yazhno – 6,000,000 roubles compared to 2,000,000 for a similar type flat in Korsakov. Much to be desired are apparently second floor flats, which become first floor flats in the winter time. Apparently if you live on the first floor you will spend a great deal of your winter digging your way out through the snow, whereas the people on the second floor can walk straight outside.


 Our guide also told us that people like to hang out in Victory Square because there is ‘nothing to do here – no entertainment, no restaurant, no theatre, no cinema’. Wow, great way to talk the place up! And we did see what appeared to be a lot of townsfolk out and about and seemingly doing very little, just hanging around the Square talking to one another and pushing prams. Primary pastimes apparently include fishing, though mostly for the old people, and snow sports, for all ages.

We were shown the WWII memorial, commemorating all the people who died in WWII, and then Lenin Square, where there is a towering symbol of Soviet Russia still looking down on the Square… and THAT is all our guide had to tell us about that. No details, no information, no history, no nothing. We were then led over to a handicrafts centre where a lot of stuff made by local children was on display and available for purchase – bless their cotton socks but their work showed a great deal of enthusiasm and very little talent, as such the price tags they were sporting were completely unwarranted. Here we were also filed past some souvenir stalls selling matryoshka dolls, souvenir t-shirts with Putin on them, shawls, and other typically Russian type ‘stuff’.  





 In the next room was a large theatre where we were able to go sit and watch what appeared to be either a Russian musical or Russian opera (not sure which) with some lovely people in traditional costume singing. They appeared to be enacting a scene where people were buying shoes and scarves?! Looked lovely, but couldn’t understand any of it and had no idea what it was all about.

  And then we were looking at our watches and we had barely 20 minutes before we had to be back on our bus or risk the ire of Russian immigration! No time to look around at all – even though according to the aforementioned brochure, the Sakhalin Regional Museum is a ‘must see’, and has an impressive collection of historical exhibits of the decorative arts, history and archaeological persuasion. Oh and the Church of St Nicholas is supposed to be one of the oldest types of wooden churches in the world, but no time. Back on the bus. Bugger.

    What else can I say about Korsakov… I learned that one shouldn’t buy the caviar at this time of year, as the caviar season is autumn, and quite literally anything you buy at the moment is from last year’s harvest. And that’s it really. Korsakov in a nutshell. Port. Monuments. Square. Handicrafts. GTFO.

Helpful things our onboard shore expert should have told us – 1) the few retailers we were able to get to in the short time we were there, were happy to accept Russian Roubles, Japanese Yen or USD and that we needn’t have exchanged already exchanged Yen for Roubles, 2) that we wouldn’t have time to actually go and see any of the cool stuff listed in the Port Guide brochure so we should just ignore all that and 3) our tour guides were not really going to guide us at all or offer any substantial information and that we would dumped unceremoniously at the end of the pedestrian mall at the handicrafts centre and that she would just bugger off without a word! Considering how carefully we were being head counted at every step, so carefully, it was weird that we were just dumped at the end. 

Overall, a rather weird and interesting day. Glad to have a look around, but I definitely wouldn’t waste the time, energy and money to go back again.   Anyway, tally ho!  Back to the Diamond Princess!

Grand Japan – Shiretoko Peninsula

A beautiful day of scenic cruising around the Shiretoko Peninsula on the Diamond Princess.  We had a lovely relaxing day today rounding the northern most tip of Japan on our way to Russia.  On the way around the eastern side of the peninsula, there was not much to be seen as the land mass was heavily covered by mist and fog.  But as we rounded onto the west side of the peninsula, you could see the cliffs and volcanic mountains that form the north island. 

This area is well known for it’s hot springs, onsens and even hot water waterfalls.  We had to stay 3 natutical miles off the coast the whole time so as not to disturb the fishing industry that put their nets and pots out and operate along the coast catching king crab and various other seafoods.

The ship traversed through the four ‘contested islands’ between Japan and Russia that saw neither country sign any peace treaties after WWII… which in effect means Japan and Russia are still officially at war.  Japan maintains the islands belong to Japan, of course Russia maintains the islands belong to Russia, and in 60 years since the war ended, the impasse has not been resolved.  It’s not much of a war though – there are daily ferry services that run back and forth between this part of Japan and Russia and other than what seems farily strict customs procedures, it mostly seems to be fairly amiable… well as amiable as Russia is with any of its neighbours!   😀 

We saw large pods of dolphins swimming alongside the ship, and had a lovely calm day as we sailed towards Russia, and an absolutely beautiful sunset today from the Skywalkers Nighclub this evening. 

Grand Japan – Kushiro

Kushiro is a large down in Hakkaido province known for it’s amazing fish markets and wildlife santuary to protect the red-crested cranes.  In 1958 the red-crested crane population was down to near extinction at a mere 18 known red-crested cranes due to extensive overhunting for eating… now, as a protected species, and designation as a Special Natural Living Treasure, they number over 1000, so I guess the whole conservation thing is working for them.  The city is now devoted to the cranes, which are revered as a symbol of longevity, luck and fidelity. The marshlands were quite extensive in the area, but apparently the township of Kushiro has been built largely on reclaimed marshalands before a mere 23 x 18 square kilometers was claimed for National Park to conserve the wildlife.

It is also well known for the beautiful crater lake, Lake Akan, which has a particularly weird and rare algae specific to this area, that grows in large perfectly spherical green balls.  We had planned to go to the fish markets… only to find, they are closed on Sundays.  🙁  Bother.  Instead, we ended up going to a marketplace called MOO.  O.o





 At the Moo markets, we saw a guy selling crabs at about Y1500 who then took to them with a pair of scissors to expertly pull them apart.  I thought Qld’ers were good at getting into their seafood, but this guy made all of us look amateurs.  Gotta buy myself some fancy crabbin’ scissors and learn how to do this – I love crab, but it’s always such a pain in the butt to get to the good meat.

The other thing we noticed in all the souvenir shops at the markets (and had quite a bit of a laugh over) was the mascot of Hokkaido… he’s a strangely reminiscent of a little green ninja turtle looking thing – but he’s ALWAYS depicted with an enormous bulge in his pants!  Oh Japan, you so funny!  Naturally we had to buy a couple of fridge magnets to bring home.  😛 



 Other fun stuff was the plethora of vending machines selling utter crap to anyone who wanted to throw their Yen into them, and this very cool game of skill machine… you know the ones where you operate the claw to go in and grab a prize?  Well, this one had LIVE crabs in it, and you had to operate the claw to try and catch a live crab.  A flimsy plastic was provided for you to put your catch in… and I’m not sure what you do with him after that?  Take him home and boil him in a pot I assume?   Fun for the whole family.

Tomorrow onto scenic cruising around the Shiretoko Peninsula, part way between Japan and Russsia.