Contrary to the name, Le Bistro is not a bistro. In France, a bistro is a low end dining venue where the patrons eat whatever the cook has decided to make that day. Le Bistro is just the opposite. It is an upscale fine dining venue where the guests select from a menu of items prepared in the French style.
Norwegian is the only major cruise line that has a specialty restaurant aspiring to haute cuisine across its fleet. Celebrity Cruises comes close with its fine dining Murano restaurants (called by different names on the Millennium class ships) but that is a Mediterranean-fusion menu. There are also restaurants on a number of ships that were created by celebrity chefs who have French influences but they also reflect other influences.
It is not difficult to see why this is so. True French haute cuisine requires meticulous preparation and talented chefs. When it is good it is very good but it is also easy to miss the mark and produce something memorable in the wrong way. It tends to be high cost and is not really mass market. Therefore, from a business perspective, it makes more sense to use the available space on a ship for less ambitious dining venues.
On Norwegian, however, Le Bistro has been very successful. Norwegian Epic's Hotel Director Richard Janicki, who is both French and a trained chef who has cooked for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, said “God forbid that we would not have Le Bistro on a ship!” The Latitudes members (Norwegian's loyalty program) would mutiny.
Norwegian has developed a winning formula for Le Bistro. The rooms are done in a charming Second Empire style with copies of French Impressionist paintings on the walls of most of the ships. (Under a previous owner who lent his art collection to the ships, the paintings were original masterpieces). The food offerings are a selection of French dishes that appeal to a broad audience.
Another element in the formula is intimacy. To maintain its charm, Le Bistro requires a relatively small room, not a cavernous hall. Furthermore, an attempt to produce gourmet quality dishes for numerous tables would be unbelievable. Thus, while most things on Norwegian Epic are done to a grand scale, Le Bistro remains a comparatively small room.
The meal begins with an amuse bouche, which has become the standard opener in restaurants following the style of Michelin-starred restaurants. In this case, the chef had selected a salmon mousse served with capers. It is a dish with broad appeal and this one had a nice smooth flavor.
For the appetizer, I ordered the classic Coquilles St. Jacques Provencal, consisting of seared scallops, eggplant, tomatoes and olive oil. The scallops were melt-in-the-mouth tender, not at all rubbery (the downfall of many a scallop) and contrasted nicely with their accompanying pine nuts. The sauce was mild and non-intrusive.
Next, I had another classic Gratine a L'Oignon (French onion soup). This was good but not of the same caliber as the scallops.
Le Bistro did triumph with the Filet De Boeuf Grille. This beef tenderloin was cooked exactly as ordered and was beautifully tender and flavorful. The strong flavor of the green peppercorn sauce balanced nicely against the subtle flavor of the meat. Also on the plate was a portobello mushroom that was well worth savoring.
Above: The amuse - - salmon mousse.
Below: Coquilles St. Jacques Provencal
Above: The filet steak.
Below: Chocolate fondue.
Among the desserts, Le Bistro offers a chocolate fondue in which you can dip bits of pineapple, banana and strawberries. Perhaps it is not haute cuisine but it tastes good and is fun.
All in all, those who have experienced Le Bistro on other Norwegian ships should not be disappointed by the one on Norwegian Epic. The cooking is up to standard and the service was attentive and friendly. Le Bistro should be bourne in mind for special romantic evenings as well as for those evenings that you want to devote to fine dining.
Le Bistro has a $20 cover charge.
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Cruise ship restaurant review - - Norwegian Epic - -Norwegian Cruise Line - Le Bistro