I calculated that by the time I left the Seabourn Ovation cruise in May 2019 I would have dined at The Grill by Thomas Keller (TKG) on close to 25 occasions on three different ships since August 2018. Being a foodie it gives me good solid dining experience to write my thoughts on these smart restaurants at sea. The Grill by Thomas Keller is certainly much discussed by guests on board ship but like any dining venue anywhere it is difficult keeping everyone happy and especially miles away from land in the middle of the ocean is a potentially difficult task but not impossible. But in my opinion how did they do?
Ambience Everything about the environment is quality from the seats, solid tables, beautifully presented tables with ironed table cloths and logo-ed napkins, with lovely silverware and glassware from respected vendors. The restaurants are visually the the same on the three older smaller ships and the Ovation and Encore have the advantage of having a larger 60-70 seat restaurant on a different deck space providing a large cocktail bar with piano and sufficient seating for about 60 -70 people pre-dinner. This not only allows guests dining in TKG to enjoy a pre-dinner drink, but gives other guests another option to the Observation Lounge high up front or the Club with live music aft - note that on our last cruise the TKG Bar was busy every night so go early to get a seat. But the bigger restaurants on the larger ships do not detract from the smaller venues which I have to say are really intimate and have a lovely charming ambience of their own.
Service It would be difficult to criticise the service. The TKG staff are mostly very capable, extremely attentive and attempt to provide excellent service to make your evening with them as enjoyable as possible. The restaurant is generally fully booked every night and with resets for 'walkins', this ensures the floor staff are kept on their toes. Generally, ask and you will receive, is what they try to deliver.
What was interesting to learn is that the floor staff appear to have the opportunity to visit and work in Thomas Kellers restaurants between contract at sea - an opportunity not to be missed, no doubt a great experience and a great addition to your resume.
Food The menu. Yes this is what the guests on board talk most about and talk they do. Some people do not like the 'Grill' style and would prefer a more formal even a different style restaurant. For me, there is enough formality downstairs in The Restaurant, and TKG is formal enough too.
The menu seems to be the same day in day out which makes it a bit boring for those visiting once a week on a long cruise and no doubt for those cooking and serving too. Some variation would be very welcome by many as it gets very 'same same' after not too many visits and the daily specials really could be expanded - even if the main menu was trimmed down and the specials area became the place where some different dishes could be rotated through every week.
Wines There is a good selection of 'Premium' wines available at a fair price too I have to say. There are some very good wines for quite reasonable prices considering the type of restaurant you are dining in. These would be much more expensive on shore and as you climb the Seabourn Club ladder, you will be offered discounts off premium wines aboard ship which makes it even more attractive.
Conclusion So I said at the beginning, 25 visits in less than 9 months is probably not the norm but it does show how these cruise ships operate when you are on a long run of cruising. You see them from a different perspective as they focus on the majority of their client base joining ships for 7, 14, 21 day cruises.
The TKG product is generally very good. Yes we can always find fault with that steak not quite as good as the last visit or the Dover Sole is a little smaller/bigger etc etc. The menu is quite rich no matter what you order and my palate looks for something plain to balance out lovely usually rich dishes they have on offer. I would prefer lighter style sides than the buttered carrots or the creamy whipped potato and the like. Even some plain steamed greens like broccolini etc would be a nice addition. Having said that, there is a baked potato and wilted spinach available which fits into that plainer style, but I feel they could be a little more inventive here.