We challenged travel blogger and Ian Pengelley fan, Christian Torres, to eat his way around TUI Discovery – the latest addition to the Thomson Cruises fleet…
Ian Pengelley. Sorry, let me rephrase that. Ian The Food God Pengelley. The Chef Director at London’s The House of Ho, he’s also the brains behind the menu at Kora La – the Pan-Asian restaurant aboard TUI Discovery.
Now, if, like me, you’re something of a foodie, you’ll already be au fait with Mr Pengelley’s kitchen record. His CV dazzles with stints as Executive Head Chef at Chai-Wu, the luxury Chinese restaurant in Harrods, and Gilgamesh, the acclaimed Camden eatery that food critics just can’t get enough of.
If you’ve not heard of him though, you’ll definitely recognise his face – he’s a regular on TV cookery shows including Saturday Kitchen and Celebrity MasterChef, rustling up tasty dishes like his signature chilli-salt squid and duck and watermelon salad.
He’s also the man that’s widely accredited with making Pan-Asian cuisine popular in Britain. Aged 20, he moved to Hong Kong and had something of a love affair with Asian food. So much so that he went on to train in – deep breath – Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and China. Suffice to say, what this man doesn’t know about Pan-Asian cuisine isn’t worth knowing. So, when I got invited to eat my way around TUI Discovery, it doesn’t take a genius to work out which restaurant I headed to first.
Food to dine for
Kora La restaurant serves up a dizzying fusion of south and east Asian dishes that all come with Mr Pengelley’s culinary seal of approval. I devoured plates of honey-glazed spare ribs and fillet of beef bulgogi while quaffing Singha beer. It’s fair to say Mr Pengelley’s creative flair translates beautifully to an at-sea setting – gazing out across an endless ocean of blue as I grazed on green tea fondants was sublime.
With a belly satisfyingly full, I waddled – yes waddled – back to my cabin. I say cabin – Thomson Cruises had checked me into a junior suite, complete with a stretch-out-on-me sofa. In fact, the great thing about this latest addition to the Thomson fleet is, it comes with no less than 356 balcony cabins.
The next day I was up and at ‘em bright and early and made a beeline to 47° – the ship’s main restaurant, and so-named because that’s the latitude of Saint-Nazaire in France where TUI Discovery was built. I eased myself into the day with a plate of runny-yolk poached eggs set atop lightly-toasted muffins, all smothered in a buttery hollandaise sauce. And because I was in full-on glutton mode, I followed this up with a trio of flaky baby pastries – a pain au chocolat, a croissant and a pain au raisin – which I dunked Continental-style into my foam-topped latte.
Having stopped off for elevenses at The Coffee Port – which serves up Lavazza espressos and cappuccinos that would give a Neapolitan barista a run for his money – I then headed out on deck to soak up some rays. As the hands on my watch swung round to midday, I sidled off my sunlounger to the nearby Snack Shack. I decided against Islands Buffet – the help-yourselfer where you can load up on everything from plates of spaghetti through to chicken korma – and opted instead for the poolside grab-and-go.
A rare occasion
Fast forward to aperitif o’clock and I’m sitting in Bar Eleven sipping an expertly-made pisco sour. It’s just one of the quirky cocktails on the menu at this cool, window-wrapped watering hole. Now ensconced in the Surf & Turf Steakhouse, I decided to sidestep the lobster tail and go for the steak. The smiley waitress taking my order then ran through some restaurant need-to-knows…
1) Steaks are served beneath porcelain ‘bridges’, which hold sides like onion rings and tomatoes
2) Cutlery includes two-pronged mini ‘pitchforks’, which limit the amount of metal contact with the beef to preserve a fuller flavour
3) In a similar vein, knives resemble operating theatre scalpels to ensure a super-fast, one-cut slice
Hip accoutrements aside, the star of the show was unashamedly the 28-day-aged Angus steak. And I’m uber-particular when it comes to how it’s cooked – that’s what happens when you do a stint working in Paris. Yep, I’m a convert to the serve-it-with-a-pulse French method, and I’m pleased to report my steak was cooked to perfection.
Plenty of fish
All of this is just the tip of the culinary iceberg on TUI Discovery. In total there are seven places to eat, including a sushi bar, a pizzeria-come-tapas joint, and a chic Italian restaurant. Throw into the mix seven cocktail bars and this ship isn’t backwards at coming forwards when it comes to choice.
And the best bit? From summer 2017 everything’s All Inclusive – so all the restaurants and bars are rolled into the price. Well, almost everything. A couple of the a la cartes come at an extra charge, but they’re priced so competitively you can’t really grumble. And trust me, it’s worth splashing out. After all, it’s not every day you can eat out Pengelley-style for under twenty pounds.