The idea of enjoying a lovely 3 course meal while cruising around Sydney Harbour certainly ticks the box for a special experience. However, I must admit to being a little apprehensive about our Captain Cook Cruises Sydney Lunch Cruise. My first thought was the possibility of subpar food; the second was the potential for our view of the harbour to be obstructed by fellow diners or a pole. And, shudder, the fact there might be mandatory group dining which is the restaurant equivalent of Russian Roulette and not ideal when you’re hoping for a romantic lunch with the love of your life.
Arriving at Circular Quay 30 minutes before our cruise seemed to be a good idea as we couldn’t wait to get onboard. There was a queue of eager tourists at the ticket office as well. If you are planning on purchasing tickets on the day, don’t leave it too late to line up and buy your tickets as the box office can get busy, especially when it’s a beautiful day like the one we had for our cruise.
First impressions were very good when we boarded the boat. The staff were friendly and the decor was not the 80s Ken Done explosion of colour I was expecting for a boat that predominantly caters to tourists. It was quickly apparent that group dining wasn’t mandatory and we were escorted to a romantic table for two by the window. Some of the other tables were on a raised platform so you do get a view you can pay an extra $15 per person to guarantee a window seat. It’s worth every cent to be able to enjoy those stunning Opera House views in all their glory as you glide past.
One point of note is the contactless ordering and menu system on board. This is a downloadable app that gives you menu and payment options via your phone. It also acts as a pay portal so there is no need for credit cards or cash. Our experience with the app was a bit troublesome as the QR code on our table was worn and didn’t register properly but a friendly staff member quickly sorted that out for us and our drinks arrived not long afterwards. Drinks are standard prices and there’s something to suit everyone with a good selection of wines by the glass.
Literally minutes after being seated staff stopped by to take our food order, an efficient and proven system that worked well and ensured everyone got off the boat on time. Having wrangled with the app and checked out the menu, we soon had drinks and our meals ordered. On offer for our dining pleasure were a choice of three entrees, four mains, and three dessert options. We were glad we asked our waitress for her recommendations because they were spot on.
Spinach and ricotta ravioli served with salsa Napolitana and aged Italian Grana Padano cheese to start was fine. However, the Australian tenderloin fillet served with mashed potatoes, baby beets and veal jus and the delicious chocolate cheesecake with a smooth caramel inner layer, dark chocolate mirror glacé and a Belgium chocolate disc wouldn’t have looked out of place at an upmarket bistro. We were impressed with the high quality for the modest price of the lunch.
As the Opera House swung into view, we had a couple of glasses of Australian chardonnay on our table and first courses arriving. Perhaps the only downside with this lunch is it’s really easy to get distracted taking photos of the view and forget about the fact your food is waiting in front of you. More stunning harbour views followed as we settled into the swing of the lunch, admiring the passing sailing boats and listening to the commentary about what we were passing.
Unlike the fairly standard entrée, the next course of beef tenderloin certainly got our attention. It was cooked to a perfect medium and accompanied with some simple yet delicious vegetables. Previously we had chuckled at the overseas visitors heading off for their ‘touristy’ scenic lunch cruise. However, it turned out the joke was on us. The whole experience was impressive and really enjoyable. Great quality food, well priced drinks, friendly staff and a ring side seat to enjoy one of the world’s most famous harbours. This wasn’t the ‘tacky tourist experience’ we were expecting but a well organised cruise and dining option that over delivered on quality and value.
Disclosure: The writer dined as a guest of Captain Cook Cruises and paid for his drinks.
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