UNDER soft flickering candle light we savour the Best of Burgundy six course degustation dinner at Silver Whisper’s chic Le Champagne restaurant, where the service and cuisine are impeccable.
The intimate Le Champagne is just one of the five dining options on board this sleek white Silversea ship, that’s sailing over calm seas from Singapore to Hong Kong.
Our culinary extravaganza starts with a tasty amuse-bouche and bite-sized gourmet treats with foie gras, Burgundy escargots with herb butter and tomato fondue, followed by whole roasted Bresse chicken with Burgundy wine and tiger prawn sauce and a cheese brioche with fresh grape coulis.
Just when we decide there’s no way we can indulge any more, our charming waiter brings the perfect finale to this elegant feast — a chocolate Eiffel Tower dessert that’s impossible to refuse.
Le Champagne is Silver Whisper’s top restaurant where for a minimal cost — one of the very few on this all inclusive cruise — you can treat yourself to a themed degustation menu created by Relais & Chateaux master chef Jacques Thorel. You can also indulge in impressive vintage wine pairings with each course at a cost or select a well-priced bottle of wine to accompany your gastronomic journey. Elsewhere on board, wines, spirits, cocktails and champagne are all complimentary. Wisely we skip the petit fours, each one a work of art, and head out on deck to stroll in the moonlight that casts reflections on the dark seas.
Other nights we dine at The Restaurant, also open for breakfast and lunch, where our waiter, the affable Charlymer Dingal, offers his recommendations from the four-course menu. All willpower disappears and unfortunately the low kilojoule options receive only a cursory glance. La Terrazza is another favourite with many. You can enjoy a casual buffet style breakfast and lunch but in the evening it turns Italian with an impressive four-course a la carte menu. Authentic dishes such as rustic minestrone with pumpkin, white beans and pork pancetta and beef tenderloin with red wine sauce served with dry figs and asparagus have us returning on several occasions.
Life on board the Silver Whisper is indulgent from the moment you step aboard and enjoy your first sip of French champagne to when you reluctantly disembark.
On this trip there are 23 Australians and passengers from many countries including an English lord and lady.
The beauty of the smaller ships in the Silversea stable is that they can dock easily in less visited but more enticing destinations compared to the mega liners with thousands of passengers.
Nine nights of bliss
Our nine-night cruise features interesting port stops at Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines and several full days at sea where you can enjoy all the activities and events on offer.
The Silver Whisper caters for 382 guests with almost as many crew who provide personalised service, another drawcard of Silversea cruising.
I start the day with a brisk walk on the jogging track while I scan the horizon for signs of marine life. Then it’s a few laps of the pool and a dip in the jacuzzi. I then head to the pilates class in the hope that, when I hit the scales, those low kilojoule options I ignored don’t come back to haunt me.
On sea days I divide my time by lounging by the pool, working my way through the ship’s cocktail list and fronting up for dance classes where I learn the basics of the cha cha and salsa from an instructor who makes it look so easy. There’s also a well-stocked library and an internet service to keep in touch with home.
Each evening The Silversea Chronicles is delivered to your room, listing the following day’s activities – enrichment lectures, entertainment and the cocktail of the day. I head to the culinary demonstration where executive chef Lionel Lavergne, who was born in Reims, Champagne, reveals the secrets to his dish, crown of slightly seared scallops served on a wild mushroom risotto. Head sommelier Robin Nedumanile matches the dish with an Italian wine, Albizzia Chardonnay from Toscana, which we all sample.
If you are after extra pampering, the spa at Silversea offers a range of indulgent treatments such as the Elemis exotic coconut rub and milk ritual and a frangipani body nourish wrap and massage. The fitness centre is well equipped for those in need of exercise with circuit weights, an aerobics room, steam room and dry sauna as well as yoga and pilates classes.
There are also several tax free shops on board to tempt those who enjoy shopping for designer clothing, perfumes and jewellery.
On this cruise, Dr Lawrence Blair, the writer, presenter and co producer of the Emmy award television series Ring of Fire is the guest lecturer.
His lectures, held in the wood panelled theatre, attract many as he reveals fascinating details about Borneo, Indonesia and the Philippines and there is a captive audience as he discusses the historic head hunters of Borneo. On port days most passengers head out on organised tours or take the ship’s complimentary shuttle buses to the city centres.
At Muara in Brunei we visit the amazing Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, built to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Sultan’s reign, followed by a boat ride around Kampong Ayer. Known as the water village, 39,000 people live in buildings on stilts in what was once the centre of Brunei’s trading empire.
At a cultural village in Kota Kinabalu, an ethnomusic- ologist and anthropologist provides a fascinating insight into the Kadazan culture and we are entertained by colourful dancers.
At our third port we visit the peaceful Sandakan Memorial Park, which belies its horrific past where 2400 Australian and British POWS were imprisoned. Only six Australians survived the incredible odds, cruelty, sickness and starvation to return home.
Later that day at Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, young orang-utans in their natural habitat, who use their over sized limbs to swing from tree to tree, keep us all amused.
At our final port, Manila, we discover the charm of Intramuros, the old town, stopping at Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, Saint Augustines and Casa Manila. We also enjoy lunch at the Manila Peninsula Hotel’s stunning new Escalta restaurant and then head for the shops in the greenbelt precinct of Makati.
As we leave these exotic ports behind we return to the sanctuary of our spacious veranda suite and enjoy a drink on the balcony. It’s a great place for checking out the harbour buzz and watching the coastline fade into the distance. Our butler Kiran Shetty and suite attendant Apple from China ensure every need is met from extra pillows to caviar — 24-hour room service is covered in the all-inclusive fare. In-suite afternoon tea service, packing and unpacking assistance and in-suite dining are some of the services on offer. Our suite features a walk-in wardrobe with plenty of hanging space and more cupboards than we can fill. The marble bathroom complete with a full-size bath is stocked daily with Bvlgari products.
It is no wonder passengers keep returning. Our neighbours, on their fourth Silversea cruise, are members of the Venetian Society, which offers great incentives for past passengers. They say they are addicted to the exceptional service, fine food and wine, size of the ship and activities.
“Music is my great love and I’ve attended two concerts by Russian-born concert pianist Katya Grineva on this cruise,” says Peter Carter of Melbourne.
“My wife enjoys the pampering and she says she feels a bit like Cinderella, when she returns home after such indulgence.”
On our last night at sea, an Arrivederci seems a fitting cocktail to toast nine days of sheer indulgence on the Silver Whisper — accompanied by a brilliant sunset, of course.
Sadly the fairytale has come to an end.