It shouldn’t need any reminder from us that one of the great, nay, fundamental reasons for taking a cruise is to enjoy some top-notch food. It’s one of the touchstones of modern cruising – you will eat too much, but you will be royally fed every inch of the way.
Every line now boasts its share of speciality restaurants, cordon bleu tie-ups and haute cuisine themes. In fact, you can hardly go a few yards on the average ship without tripping over some new form of dining, be it an on-deck buffet, a bar with tapas service, coffee shop or even the latest dietary option (the Keto Diet seems to be the current craze, but there’s sure to be another soon!).
Far be it from us to suggest doing anything as iniquitous as dieting on a cruise – we’ll leave that to the daytime TV programmes, who seem to think we take a holiday simply in order to get our weight under control when it’s usually quite the opposite. Sure, you can actually plot a healthy course fairly easily these days, but where’s the fun in that?
Instead, we’re going to offer you some dining highlights we’ve compiled over the years from various Mediterranean cruises, all of which offer spectacular opportunities to feed the inner foodie in all of us (not to mention the inner glutton) – always provided you can tear yourself away from the ship’s restaurants for a few hours.
Barcelona – Placa Reial
We stumbled into this gorgeous Gothic square by accident one lunchtime and spent a truly sublime few hours nibbling at the tapas offerings of Les Quinze Nits, where the locals seemed to throng and everything came out of the kitchen with the freshest of touches. Among many (probably about 10, if truth be told!) dishes we sampled, the traditional Patatas Bravas con Chistorra was an epically memorable plate, full of the spicy tomato goodness of the best Catalan cuisine. Virtually a meal on its own.
Monte Carlo – Le Tip Top
When you think of the gambler’s paradise of Monte Carlo, you probably think of some of the fanciest French cooking anyone could conjure up. Well, don’t. Apart from it costing you several limbs and other appendages, this is a fiendishly expensive place to dine out. Instead, head for the modest confines of modest café Le Tip Top, just off Casino Square, and order the Croque Monsieur. Seriously. Yes, it may be a simple ham-and-cheese toastie to the locals, but that heavenly mix of béchamel, Dijon mustard and fresh fromage has never been bettered. Or even buttered.
Naples – Montesanto
It stands to reason you’re going to get good pizza in Naples. It is the birthplace of the Neapolitan brand, after all. But it also stands to reason you can get great pizza here, especially if you head to the Montesanto district, only a short stroll (maybe 20 minutes) from the port. Pizzeria da Attilio is the place the locals throng to, and for good reason. Crisp, fresh and bursting with flavour, the speciality nine-slice Pizza Attilio is little short of a national treasure, and we defy anyone to conjure up somewhere that is more, well, Neapolitan than this.
Minorca – Mahon
Okay, we said we weren’t going for the healthy option, but we make an exception for the port city of Mahon, where the contemporary, vegetarian style of Passio Mediterranea – easy to find on the harbourfront of Moll de Levante – is a haven for great tastes but also of a health-conscious variety. The chicken tagine is heavenly, but their special rice dish, Riso Venere, is worth coming a long way for, with its beautifully creamy brown rice, vegetables, carrot hummus and tahini vinaigrette. A Spanish symphony on a plate.
Malta – Valletta
Caught between Europe and Africa, Malta’s traditional cuisine is a healthy mix of the two continents, and that gives rise to some truly original and flavoursome possibilities. Head to Beati Paoli, on historic St Paul Street, and you can enjoy a wonderful cross-section of that Maltese difference. Fish pie, beef olives and the local version of ratatouille, Kapunata, are all on offer seasonally, but the Stuffat tal Tenek, or rabbit stew, is the one you really want to try. For a taste of the Mediterranean, this is one of the crown jewels.
Elba – Portoferraio
Napoleon may have wanted to make a quick getaway from his Italian island exile, but he might have been sorely tempted to stay if he’d known about Ristorante del Gianni in the main harbour of Portoferraio. It’s not particularly fancy and many of the menu items are Italian staples, but combine the simplicity of excellence with the seafood Apulian specialities, and you have a recipe for great dining. Pasta with mussels is a classic dish, but call in a day ahead and order the Risotto al Pescatore and you have more Mediterranean greatness.
Istanbul – Cicek Pasaji
You’ll want to take a taxi here, and make sure you have the name written down for the driver, who probably won’t speak English, as well as the address of the port afterwards (a rookie mistake made in the dim and distant past!), but this beautiful indoor colonnade houses an epic taste of Turkey. At restaurant Ikinci Behar, the ambience is as impressive and authentic as the food, and you simply can’t go wrong with this menu. But, order the Kasap Kofte and you will discover the secret to spiced meatball heaven!
Santorini – Imerovigli
Any cruise to the Med should always take in at least one Greek island, and they don’t come more picturesque than volcanic Santorini. Take the trek up into the main town of Fira, go north to the village of Imerovigli for restaurant Throubi, and you will discover that Ancient Greek has a thoroughly contemporary flavour. The fish dishes all come with a freshness and flair that mark them out as special, but the rosemary-infused Lamb Fillet, with chickpeas and hummus, is a modern dish fit for the Gods. Throubi also comes with a classic sunset view, so this is the place to be if your ship has a late departure. In fact, we suggest you insist on it!
What are your Mediterranean menu favourites? Tell us about your most memorable meals in the Comments section below.