Some dingus once said, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” but they obviously weren’t invited on-board a big, fuck-off boat to try the onboard restaurant’s taster menu. Considering I was initially planning on just defrosting one of the plethora of weird veggie curries I’ve got filling up my freezer space, I felt that this was obviously a no brainer, as when you’re a penniless student living in Heaton, you’ve got to be pretty mercenary when it comes to acquiring your latest meal.
The details I’d been given were pretty scarce. I had to arrive at the DFDS ticket offices at 9.45 prompt but considering I’ve not been to that part of North Tyneside since I was a chubby 8 year old, hiding his fat rolls from potential bullies at Wet ‘n’ Wild I knew I was going to have to set off early. I arrived at Percy Main Metro, a location that accrues only legendary status for most students in Newcastle, only to have no idea where the fuck I was going.
After approaching a couple of fishwives who kept calling me ‘hinny’, ‘pet’, and ‘flower’ I was back on track and approaching the almost Indian reservation like structures of Tyneside’s premiere outlet shopping centre Royal Keys. When I got to the ferry office I was ushered into a room with 7 other people. All of them well established local food journalists and bloggers. When asked who I worked for all I could say was that I was music editor for my student newspaper, which resulted in a load of blank stares. “So, what exactly are you doing here?” the matriarch of the group demanded to know. I felt I couldn’t just admit that I was here for a free lunch, so I made up some bullshit that I was covering for someone (technically true) who’d ironically been taken ill with the shits (not true).
Bluff successfully played (so I thought), we were given high-vis jackets and led into the cavernous car park of the boat. We were squeezed into the narrow confines of an elevator and taken to the Blue Riband restaurant. There’s a few different dining options available on board but if I’m going to explain this via Hollywood film analogy. Blue Riband = Kate Winslet; 7 Seas Buffet = Leonardo Di Caprio but replace Kate with retired school teachers and Leo with radge Geordie stoners and you’ve kinda got an idea who’s catered for.
Then I thought if I actually was on this boat going to Amsterdam I was going to have to learn how to roll something else, never mind spring rolls
After a chat with the chef, we were invited down to the kitchens and assigned tasks. I really wasn’t expecting to have to work for my dinner and I really didn’t expect to be given the most dyspraxic unfriendly task going. While everyone else had easy tasks like kneading bread or putting smoked trout in a blender, the chef had me making duck spring rolls. I managed to surprise my uncoordinated self with how quickly I managed to pick up the rolling skill but then I thought if I actually was on this boat going to Amsterdam I was going to have to learn how to roll something else never mind spring rolls.
After making about 11 or some, seemingly presentable spring rolls we were led back upstairs, to dine and were presented with our scran. Presented excellently we had a mini feast of trout mousse with black rice and seaweed puree, smoked scampi (not the breaded type you get in ‘spoons) with aioli, balsamic caramelised onion and duck spring rolls, mini margherita pizzas, veal carpaccio with gorgonzola and chorizo crumble on top, freshly baked spring roll bread, and Gateau Marcel which was a mini chocolate cake that was firm baked on one side and soft and gooey on the other.
After spending a frustrated January doing Veganuary, I was more than happy to be presented with everything I’d been forbidden that past month. The trout mousse had a creamy but tart taste and a reassuringly fluffy consistency and the prawns had a subtle smoked flavour that still managed to stand up to the strength of the aioli. The duck rolls were rich and slightly sickly, but the acidity of the balsamic vinegar curbed the urge to vomit (not that I was going to anyway). My personal favourite was the veal carpaccio as a month of total meat abstention made me really fucking appreciate the taste of tender, not quite cooked meat. Although the chorizo crumble kind of reminded me of the strange bacon bits you get on cinema hot dogs, the gorgonzola oozed, delicious molten mouldy cheese goodness. The dessert was rich and claggy and stuck to the insides of my gob but I wasn’t fighting it, I was just shovelling more of it inside me. The pizzas didn’t really go with the whole vibe, as such, but I ate them didn’t I? This was kinda like one of the genius but bizarre combinations that you come up when you’re gripped with extreme cases of the munchies, which I thought, was apt for dinner on the “high” seas.
There was nothing whatsoever that you could call cosmopolitan about this bar, but when you’re on a boozy student trip to the ‘Dam you don’t really care where your drink’s coming from as long as it’s surprisingly reasonably priced and flowing until an indeterminate time
After 15 minutes’ recuperation time we were given a tour of the bar facilities and offered a chance to make our own cocktails in the boats “nightclub”. This was more like the Phoenix Club than the Berghain of the open waters and that vibe was heightened by the fact the barman told me that the most popular cocktails served there are sex on the beaches, strawberry daiquiris and cosmopolitans. There was nothing whatsoever that you could call cosmopolitan about this bar but when you’re on a boozy student trip to “the Dam” you’re not really going to care where your drink’s coming from as long as it’s surprisingly reasonably priced and free-flowing until an indeterminate time.
After one too many effeminate and pseudo-classy cocktail, it was time to return to dry land and the grim reality of North Tyneside (seriously, don’t ever go anywhere in this area that isn’t Tynemouth, Whitley Bay or maybe Cullercoats). After waddling back to the metro stop well fed and slightly squiffy, it sunk in that this was possibly one of the weirdest things I’ve ever done in the name of being fed and watered. It’d be a long time before I came across any food quite like this without my mother’s credit card to hand. It’s definitely gonna be Eat4Less baguettes until next loan day depending on whether they’ll actually let me in there, that is as let’s face it; they’re probably not my biggest fans given that the review I wrote for the Courier compared its dining experience to “queuing for bread in some ex-Soviet republic”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Katie Vincent (twitter: @ladyfromatramp)