The Glass House
Jim & Julia Wallace – 14/09/15 – P&O Cruises - Aurora
As many of you know we have been fans of Olly Smiths Glass House since we sailed on Azura’s maiden Baltic cruise back in 2010. So far we’ve tried them on Azura, Ventura, Britannia and now Aurora. Casual yet contemporary dining that offers two menus during the cruise. With the favoured Trio of taster dishes, think tapas but with a twist, being available on both menus as are the grill items. The Rib Eye Steak served on a slate, with chunky fries a whole head of garlic and a small stack of onion rings being a firm favourite of ours and quite often is our first night dinner.
The Glass House has switched from its big burgers to serving sliders, a trio of gourmet “smaller” burgers and depending on the menu, it will be Lamb, Beef, Pork; or Venison, Beef & Crab – both options are truly delicious!
Not quite the same as the Bison or Lamb with minted Jelly served in Brioche roll - they were legendary and made for those with a hearty appetite.
The second menu offers the calves liver in milk - not for me but it usually tempts Mr W however, this time the Chicken with Honey and Chipotle sauce caught this eye and according to the team it is now a favourite amongst passengers - especially on the world cruises.
The original Glass House on Azura remains in our opinion the best one! It has a great location and its contemporary styling, mix of tables and an area for the Tasting supper, four courses with matched wines and some interesting stories make for a delightful alternative wining and dining venue that allows you to see what’s going on but makes those not partaking envious of those enjoying their food and drink.
P&O Cruises have realised that the Tasting Dinners do generate income, so much so, that now every sailing has around four of them – but the premium ones are those that when Olly himself is aboard (£45 per head as opposed to £30 per head for P&O Cruises Wine Host). We’ve done both over the years and they do offer tremendous value and some fabulous memories.
We can’t fault Aurora’s team they do work hard under Marcus – the wine host on board, who was around in the early days on Azura and has been promoted – though it is quite evident that the new staff are in awe of Olly and didn’t know quite how to react for his first visit on board. He is after all only human like the rest of us and loves to share his knowledge amongst the team and with passengers, we consider ourselves lucky to have been on board with him before and have shared many happy hours – discussing the various tipples from around the globe and generally putting the world to rights!
Arriving in Valletta and departing in Venice, this is very much a flying visit for Olly and they are making him work - a tasting dinner on the first evening with the Captain in attendance where unlike the other ships the tasting room is a private dining room holding 14 maximum and out of sight of the other diners, which in some ways does make it an exclusive event, however there were casual diners/drinkers who thought they’d get a chance to chat like they would on Azura, Britannia and Ventura. So if the idea of Olly being around was to drum up passing trade then P&O Cruises missed the trick there!!
Aurora’s Glass House is in the wrong location having replaced the Café Bordeaux in the refit in November 2014 and the company knows it - the bar set up wouldn’t cope with the volumes of the larger ships and it’s not on a route to the theatre or dining rooms, so not going to be the haunt of those wanting a pre-dinner cocktail! P&O Cruises have put some thought into generating foot fall by having some easy listening live music from Lynn Frederick, it was early in the cruise and before the Jolly one arrived. So perhaps after the run of ports we may find that the bar gets a little busier and food covers increase.
So for the star struck, the man himself was doing a Q&A at 10 am, Book signing at 11 am, Wine talk at 3pm and the last hosted dinner at 7pm! Not forgetting the recording for Aurora TV only to be interrupted at 12 noon by the gongs and the bridge announcement - so much for it being a one take! Told you they were working him hard this trip.
Now onto the serious stuff, the wine. There have been some subtle changes to the wine list and again due to space only 16 wines in the space age Enomatic machines that keeps wine at the correct temperatures, so as to allow buying wine by the glass without committing to the bottle – logic tells me that it’s the slow movers that are on display – as the favoured ones are used up too quickly.
The Peller Estate Ice Cuvee’s both in a White and Rose remain very popular but the newer Brachetto d’Acqui Rosa Regale Castello Banfi (Italian Pink fizz it is sweeter than the Peller) at £26 a bottle is a good buy. It is giving the established fizzes a run for their money with some passengers buying it by the bottle to have in their cabins or in other dining venues, and no it wasn’t us before you ask? Thought the Private Label Prosecco does warrant a mention – perfectly quaffable and at less than £20 bottle it is brilliant value.
This trip we’ve been drinking more Reds so we are grateful that the Planeta Red is still on the list - Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG - which is a blend of one of our favourite grapes Nero D’Avola together with the Frappata grapes; it is just so smooth and we like it both with and without food.
Another stalwart of the reds is the Perez Cruz – which on Azura was nicknamed Penny Cruz – not sure team would get the reference here if we asked for a bottle of Penelope but by the end of 17 nights they might; after all they see us every day and some of our humour will rub off!!
The funny thing about wine is you can associate a grape with region and in the main think it will taste a certain way but a Sangiovese from Chile! It isn’t the soft drink we were used to It has a depth of flavour more akin to a Chianti with a little bit of spice to warm your throat – worked very well with the sliders.
Though our favourite red remains the Argentinian Malbec, Archval Ferrer, Mendoza, and we agree whole heartedly with Olly who sums it up perfectly, it is silky and has a full up front fruity flavour. Simply “Class in a glass”.
We have tried couple of whites - the Planeta Etna Bianco DOCG – which you would think we would like due to Carricante grapes being suitable for the fans of Sauvignon Blanc – sadly for us we didn’t like it that much finding it slightly too bitter and medicinal to quote Mr W - we need something with a little more fruit and freshness.
Marcus also suggested the White Malvasia Koslovic Vina from Croatia now this caused some debate amongst us - again it should work for both Pinot Grigo and Sauvignon Blanc fans. For me I could drink it as it was sharp and zesty though Mr W was in the no camp! Unusual for us as we quite often like the same libation.
We do know that we like the Treixadura – Ailala from Spain we discovered this a couple of years ago on Azura after we discovered some of our favourites no longer on the list Larry Cherubino’s The Yard and the Lagader Beta Delta. They were popular and I suppose supply and demand with the smaller wineries not being able to keep up with the needs of the P&O Cruises fleet.
Then again if the wine list, like the food didn’t ring the changes, we would get bored. After all it doesn’t take too long to get through the 32 wines on the list, given that recently we’ve spent on average 30 nights a year on the P&O Cruises fleet and there has always been a Glass House. P&O Cruises asked us the other day had we tried any of Olly’s recommendations on a tweet, we had to laugh it’s more a case of which one’s haven’t we tried!