Explora Journeys’ Michelin-Star Dining Concept is a Taste of Perfection
Explora Journeys’ EXPLORA I has just sailed from Boston as I enter Anthology for dinner this evening. The setting is a relatively narrow space done in tones of gray and white with chrome pillars and spherical ceiling fixtures casting a warm glow. The bustling kitchen is visible through framed plexiglass on one side of the venue while, on the other, sparkling windows provide an ocean view. Each white-clothed table, devoid of floral arrangement or breadbasket, appears barren, like a blank canvas awaiting the creation of a masterpiece.
And a masterpiece–of the culinary arts–is exactly what is delivered. It’s almost as if we are in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
In fact, we pretty much are.
The Concept and Creators
EXPLORA I’s Anthology concept is the first of its kind at sea and is defined as a culinary stage for guest chefs to curate menus that showcase global cuisines and wine pairings for a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. Every 3-5 months, a different Michelin-star chef takes the helm, selected by EXPLORA I’s Head of Culinary Franck Garanger, an accomplished chef himself, who has served at culinary-centric cruise lines like Oceania Cruises and Silversea as well as at celebrated establishments like Hotel de Paris in Monaco and alongside masters like Paul Bocuse. “For Anthology, I hope to feature chefs that reflect our way of cooking and of thinking, which means focusing on the quality of ingredients and simplicity,” states Garanger. Each chosen chef first works aboard EXPLORA I for a time and, later, the ship’s sous chef travels to the chef’s restaurant to work with the chef, testing recipes and mastering technique. “I, personally, work with each chef on the development of menus and wine selection,” says Garanger. “With wines, selections may be made from EXPLORA I’s extensive list but if a chef feels strongly about a particular wine with a particular dish, yes, we will purchase that specially and bring it on board.”
At the time the 63,900 grt, 922-passenger EXPLORA I was launched in August 2023, Anthology presented the culinary mastery of renowned Michelin three-star chef Mauro Uliassi. When the ship relocated to North America the following month, the Italy-based Uliassi was replaced by two Michelin-star chef Emma Bengtsson, chef at New York City’s widely-acclaimed Aquavit, who oversees Anthology through March 2024 (when Claude Le Tohic of the Michelin starred One65 in San Francisco brings his menu and technique to the venue). It is Bengtsson’s extraordinary Scandinavian-accented seven-course tasting menu that introduces me to the Anthology concept tonight.
We begin with a dill-topped spiral of briny gravlax amid a savory splash of Swedish mustard sauce, followed by caviar, reimagined. Atop a pillow of luxurious lemon bavarois, a generous dollop of the delicacy rests, adorned with rings of tender pickled onions. Stunning in its own right, a mixture of salted cream and dill oil, drizzled tableside by our exceptional—almost reverential–server, transforms the dish into a work of art. Beets, cucumber and tomato vinaigrette adorn the next course, Hamachi Crudo, while smoked venison carpaccio served alongside airy juniper crisps and a ruby red lingonberry sauce leads us to a velvety lobster bisque piled high with fennel, pickled tomatoes and endive.
My main course is two supple hunks of perfectly seared, perfectly seasoned spring onion sauce-topped Jersiaise beef, meltingly tender, beside a potato terrine, grilled lettuce and rose hip puree. Pre-dessert—yes, I said pre–dessert—is an intense warm chocolate cake with crème fraiche sorbet and macerated loganberries. The piece de resistance, however, is the Arctic Birds Nest, a riot of chocolate twigs, rich goat cheese parfait and fruity blueberry sorbet that, like every course served, is a triumph, both visually and gastronomically.
Anthology…Today and Tomorrow
Anthology is the only extra-charge specialty restaurant aboard EXPLORA I, which boasts a total of six superb dining experiences including the Pan Asian Sakura, European steakhouse Marble & Co. Grill, the Mediterranean-accented Med Yacht Club, French-inspired Fil Rouge and the Emporium Marketplace for all-day dining (EXPLORA I does not feature a “main dining room”). Anthology’s luxury does not come cheap, however, with a charge of $200 per person plus $75 per person for wines making it among the priciest dining experiences at sea. “Anthology’s surcharge is not a source of revenue,” insists Garanger. “The cost is dictated by the fact that it’s an intimate venue with a capacity of only 76.”
Explora Journeys plans to incorporate the Anthology concept into EXPLORA II (entering service in the summer of 2024). EXPLORA III (entering service in the summer of 2026) and EXPLORA IV (entering service early 2007) will likely feature Garanger’s own menus at Anthology, and he admits that he has already begun to develop them.
“Anthology is a work in progress,” he states. “We will see guests’ reaction and allow that to determine our direction. Maybe we will discover one chef who is particularly popular and we’ll feature him or her permanently or change every six months, alternating with a different chef every month or two. The important thing is to make it perfect for our guests.”
Based on my Anthology dining experience aboard EXPLORA I, this guest thinks it is perfect already.
Photos courtesy Judi Cuervo
Cover photo: Arctic Bird’s Next: A party on a plate!
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