11 venues, 32 dishes, 4 days: I tested every eatery at Norwegian Cruise Line's new Indulge Food Hall so you don't have to
Editor’s note: TPG’s Gene Sloan accepted a free trip from Norwegian Cruise Line to attend the unveiling of Norwegian Prima. The opinions expressed below are entirely his and weren’t subject to review by the line.
How much weight have I gained this week in the name of research? I don't even want to know.
It's surely not a small amount.
For the past four days, I've been furiously trying to taste every one of the dozens of dishes at the just-opened food hall on Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ship, Norwegian Prima — all in the name of finding the very best options it has available for you, our TPG readers.
Dubbed Indulge Food Hall, the multioutlet venue, which offers made-to-order dishes, is something of a big deal in the world of cruising. It's one of the first food halls added to a cruise vessel and the first for the Norwegian brand.
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It's likely to be a big draw for Norwegian fans once they start sailing on Norwegian Prima in the coming weeks. (The ship is scheduled to sail its first voyage with paying passengers on Saturday; I'm seeing it this week during a non-revenue preview sailing.)
The food hall has a mix of food outlets serving up everything from Mexican tostadas (out of a food truck converted from a real Airstream trailer) to tandoori chicken — 11 venues in all if you count the Starbucks in the middle of the complex. Notably, nearly none of them come with an extra charge.
My goal in recent days was to try every item on every menu and declare the very best.
I couldn't quite pull that off. I would have had to order more than a dozen dishes a day. But I've made a serious dent in the options — trying more than 30 dishes in all.
If you think that sounds impossible, know that I corralled several other cruise writers I know on board to join me during a series of lunches and dinners so I could order up a storm. We shared large numbers of dishes.
Related: My strange night out at Norwegian Prima's new 'zero waste' cocktail bar
As at some food halls on land, customers at Indulge Food Hall can order dishes both directly at its outlets and from their tables (either through a waiter or via tablets that are at every table). Food items then are delivered to passengers at their tables. There is both indoor and outdoor seating.
Here is a look at all Norwegian Prima's Indulge Food Hall has to offer and — should I ever feel hungry again — which dishes I would definitely order in the future.
Serves: Noodle dishes.
Menu: A small selection of classic noodle dishes from around the world. At lunch, you'll find pad thai, Singapore street noodles, an Italian tagliatelle dish with Bolognese sauce, German spaetzle and an Asian noodle soup. Dinner brings three types of Italian pasta dishes, an Italian gnocchi dish with pesto and a Chinese Lanzhou noodle soup.
The TPG take: Nudls is one of the standout options at Indulge Food Hall, offering the greatest hits of noodle dishes from around the world, mostly done well. The pad thai is just like you get it at a good Thai restaurant at home, and the Singapore noodles have just the right amount of spice. Made to order, each dish arrives fast and hot, and the portions are small in a good way. If you can't decide, it's perfectly acceptable to order two dishes!
My one big quibble here is with the Bolognese sauce on the lunchtime tagliatelle, which had an odd spiciness to it — almost as if a few peppers from the pad thai got mixed in. Then again, I'm the grandchild of Italian immigrants and quite critical of Italian meat sauce that isn't just like grandma made. Note to Norwegian: I have that recipe if you need it.
Best dish: Pad thai.
Serves: Indian cuisine.
Menu: Classic Indian dishes such as fish tikka, chicken tikka, chicken korma and aloo ghobi at lunch, and roasted pork vindaloo, chicken tikka masala and saag paneer at dinner. There are also sides such as basmati rice, garlic naan, raita and chutney.
The TPG take: Tamara may be the sleeper hit of not just Indulge Food Hall but the whole culinary lineup on Norwegian Prima. Home to its own tandoor, it offers classic Indian dishes done well. It's the sort of thing for which other big-ship lines would charge extra — a lot extra.
I was thrilled with everything that I ordered here, including the saag paneer, chicken korma and chicken tikka, which were all close rivals in my mind for "best dish" honors. In the end, I went with the tikka, which arrived buttery soft and infused with wonderful tandoor flavor.
Best dish: Chicken tikka.
Serves: Grilled dishes.
Menu: Grilled items including beef shish kebab, vegetable kebab, chicken legs and leg of lamb (which arrives sliced) at lunch, and Australian lamb chops, beef tenderloin and Hudson Valley duck at dinner.
The TPG take: Seaside Rotisserie is mostly kebabs and sliced meats at lunch and then gets stepped up in elaborateness a bit at dinner. In some cases, the concept for the dishes seems more ambitious than what actually arrives, as was the case with the Australian lamb chops that I ordered one night at dinner. They looked great in the picture on the tablet screen, but what arrived was possibly the smallest lamb chops I had ever seen. They did taste good, though.
Best dish: Beef shish kebab.
The Latin Quarter
Serves: Mexican cuisine.
Menu: Tostadas made with mushrooms, crab or tuna; guacamole with chips; totopos (what you probably know as "nachos" from your local bar); and coctel de mariscos. The menu stays the same at lunch and dinner.
The TPG take: Nacho lovers will find nirvana here, as The Latin Quarter is basically a quick-serve outlet for nachos and tostadas covered with various things. We loved the guacamole, which tastes homemade and comes with properly crisp and salty chips. We were even more impressed with the crab tostada, which was topped with a generous helping of real crab. That can't be inexpensive.
Presentationwise, the single tostadas that arrived with each order were a little underwhelming. But tastewise, I give them high marks.
Best dish: Crab tostada.
Menu: Cured meats and cheeses including Spanish ham, chorizo, manchego and idiazabal cheese, as well as bruschetta-like appetizers. The menu essentially stays the same at lunch and dinner. One new item appears on the dinner menu, a pate de pato (duck pate).
The TPG take: Small bites are the focus here, as is the style at a tapas eatery. If you're coming to Indulge Food Hall for a meal, you can order a couple of items from here as an appetizer, but don't expect them to fill you up. You also won't find wildly creative concoctions like you would at some tapas bars in, say, Barcelona.
The selection is pretty basic, as is the presentation; when we ordered from here at lunchtime, the selections came in open-faced cardboard containers. That said, it's hard to argue with the yumminess of a nice piece of Spanish ham or manchego.
Best dish: Chorizo.
Serves: Soups and salads.
Menu: Two soups (French onion and roasted tomato) and four salads (spinach Caesar, Cobb, mesclun and romaine/kale).
The TPG take: This is the healthful option at Indulge Food Hall, and it offers a basic range of salad and soup classics. As with the noodles from Nudls, the dishes come in relatively small portions, perfect as an appetizer. You also can add a protein to the salads to make for a more substantial meal. Options include chicken and seared tuna.
I ordered a Cobb salad with tuna, and it was properly seared such that it was raw in the middle. Alas, it also was coated with an Old Bay-type seasoning that was overpowering. Everyone's tastes are different, but our take on tuna is that the best way to season it is barely at all.
Best dish: Roasted tomato soup.
Q Texas Smokehouse
Serves: Texas-style barbecue and chile.
Menu: Classic Texas barbecue and other Texas-themed items including pulled pork sandwiches, barbecue turkey sandwiches and chili at lunch, and brisket and pork spare ribs at dinner. Dinner also brings deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes.
The TPG take: This is a version of the Q Texas Smokehouse found on some Norwegian ships, and it offers a similar menu of Texas barbecue classics.
Norwegian has this cuisine down from previous ships, and you won't go wrong with a pulled pork sandwich or a bowl of chili (our favorite among it all). Also, don't miss the cornbread.
Best dish: Lone Star chili.
Menu: A handful of small desserts of the sort you typically find on mass-market cruise ships, including coconut pudding, five-spice cake and flourless chocolate cake.
The TPG take: This small grab-and-go dessert stand is filled during lunch and dinner with a mix of about half a dozen types of classic cruise ship desserts.
It's nothing fancy — and nothing to get excited about. But it's the free option for desserts at Indulge Food Hall, as opposed to the extra-charge Coco's dessert stand (see below). By that standard, the offerings aren't bad.
Best dish: Flourless chocolate cake.
Just Ice Cream
Serves: Ice cream.
Menu: An array of four ice creams (when we visited, we found chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and green tea).
The TPG take: The ice cream here also is part of the free dessert offerings at Indulge Food Hall. For something fancier, extra-charge handmade gelatos are available just steps away at Coco's (see below). Note that you can't order the Just Ice Cream offerings to your table, but if you go up to the counter, a server is on hand to scoop you a bowl.
I'm impressed that Norwegian offers hard ice cream here for free. That isn't always the case at ice cream stands on big-ship lines, some of which only offer soft serve ice cream for free and charge for hard ice cream.
Best dish: Chocolate ice cream.
Serves: High-design desserts.
Cost: $3 to $8 per item.
Menu: A range of handmade ice cream desserts including chocolate gelatos, milkshakes and ice cream coupes, as well as chocolate desserts and crepes.
The TPG take: Other than Starbucks, this is the only extra-charge outlet at Indulge Food Hall and — if you're a dessert lover — it's totally worth the upcharge. It serves some of the most delicious dark chocolate gelato that I've ever had at sea as well as truly over-the-top ice cream desserts, handmade crepe desserts and other decadent offerings.
Best dish: Decadent brownie s'more.
Serves: Coffee and other beverages.
Cost: $3.25 to $6.25 for grande-size drinks.
Menu: Everything you can get at a Starbucks on land, from brewed coffee to Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappucinos.
The TPG take: If you've been to a Starbucks on land, you know what this is. There's nothing different about one at sea.
Best dish: Brewed coffee (I'm a simpleton, I know).
Indulge Food Hall is a wonderful addition to the lineup of eateries on Norwegian ships, and we hope to see it roll out to more of the line's vessels soon. It offers a wide range of dishes cooked to order, delivered fast and hot, and — the best part — at no extra cost.
Note that Indulge Food Hall doesn't take the place of the traditional buffet eateries on Norwegian ships. It's an add-on option as a quick-serve, included-in-the-fare outlet for Norwegian cruisers. In our opinion, it's a major upgrade. Some of its outlets, most notably the Tamara eatery serving Indian cuisine, could easily be extra-charge venues.
TPG's Gene Sloan is reporting live from Norwegian Prima as it sails from Reykjavik to Amsterdam on a non-revenue preview voyage for media and travel agents. You can find all of his dispatches on his author’s page.
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