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Ok let’s get you caught up on the other review posts, since this is a multi-parter:

It’s time for the pictures from one of my favorite specialty restaurants: The Test Kitchen.

The Test Kitchen

The Test Kitchen is Virgin’s take on a fancy Michelin-starred modern cuisine concept.  It’s a six-course meal with no real menu, just a few options for the main course (meat- or plant-based).  I forgot to mention this elsewhere, but Virgin is very accommodating when it comes to different food allergies and you’ll be asked if you have any food allergies as part of every order.

On longer cruises, the Test Kitchen will have two menus, but you can’t pick and choose which one you would like.  You either get all of the first menu or all of the second menu.  I’ll split my review up into first menu and second menu, to try and make it obvious.

The restaurant itself

When you walk in, you’re greeted with a welcome drink as you check in and are guided to your table.

a group of glasses with red liquid in them

a row of glasses with brown liquid in it

The Test Kitchen restaurant itself is absolutely beautiful.  There’s a variety of seating options depending on party size but I love the muted blue hues, it really helps the colors of the dishes pop.

a table with a vase of lavender on it

The lavender centerpieces were gorgeous as well.

a bunch of lavender flowers

The food is cooked in a galley off the back of the restaurant.  The chef there was immensely proud of his kitchen and the food being made there and was all smiles as I brought my camera up.

a group of chefs in a kitchen

Other dishes were being plated and made ready for service at one of the two bar areas.  I was really impressed at the precision being shown to get every ingredient in the right place, even if it meant delicately placing it with a pair of tweezers.

a group of people in a kitchen

After you’re seated, they give you the option of having a cocktail pairing alongside your meal for a very reasonable $35 (bear in mind I had just paid $140 for a juice pairing at noma, so maybe my barometer was miscalibrated a bit but I thought $35 was reasonable).  I went ahead and got the cocktail pairing for both menus (you know, for the pictures and not because I enjoyed them thoroughly #forscience).

The First Menu

I don’t remember each individual ingredient of each course, but that’s ok because each one was beautiful and flavorful.

It started with a mushroom pate, or a gazpacho for me (who hates mushrooms unless they’re cooked by the best restaurant in the world).  The menus are pretty set in place, but if you have a strong hatred for something let them know because there might be alternatives.

a plate of food on a table

a plate with food on it and silverware on a table

a bowl of orange soup with a berry in it

As each new course came out, a cocktail joined it.  I enjoyed seeing how the cocktails complemented the courses being served, something light and zestful to offset a rich dish or something sweeter to cut through a tart course.  It was very smart menu/mixology design.

a glass of water with a sprig of dill on top

a glass of liquid with ice and a sprig of dill on top

The second course arrived with glass covers and a shroud of smoke encasing it.

a plate with a glass cover and a egg in it

With a whoosh, the covers were removed and the smoke revealed a really interesting pea and egg yolk dish (opinions are universally mixed about this dish in all the Virgin Voyages groups).  I liked the dish because it photographed incredibly well.

a plate of peas and a yolk on top

a pile of peas and a yolk

And of course another cocktail appeared, it was citrus-y and wonderful.

a glass of liquid with a lemon in it

Up next was one of my favorite courses: seared scallops accompanied by some rolled prosciutto and a really flavorful sauce.

a bowl of food with a white pitcher pouring liquid into it

I’m a sucker for a good scallop and these were cooked perfectly.  The cocktail was, again, the perfect complement for the dish.

a glass of liquid with a peel on top

It was time for the main course.  I chose venison, which was served with a gusto of accompanying red wine sauce.  The combination of the sauce and the venison fillet was striking, with an artsy “splatter” effect.  Or, as one person in our party asked, it kinda looked like they had just unalived the deer in the kitchen.

a plate with food on it

a piece of meat with sauce on a plate

Plating aside, the meat was flavorful and not gamy at all (always my test with venison).  The mains were served with a beautiful potato dish with thin slices of potato laid on its side that reminded me of a mille-feuille of sorts.

a plate with food on it

The cocktail was equally as beautiful, crested with a mint leaf.

a glass with a leaf on top of it

Dessert had two options: a beautiful bleu cheese semifreddo with citrus oil that was immaculate, really fought for my favorite dish of the night.

a plate of food with nuts

The other option was a chocolate cake situation with a coconut sponge.  Remember how I don’t like mushrooms or artichokes?  I’d rather swim in an ocean of them than eat coconut.  Others at the table said it was great, though, and the plating was gorgeous.

a chocolate cake with coconut flakes on top

a chocolate cake with red berries and a sprinkle of red sauce

As I left, I thought to myself, “man, what could be better than this?”

And then I got to try the second menu on my next cruise.

The Second Menu

Part of the fun of Virgin Voyages is seeing the crew of the ship out and about and getting to know them a bit.  I had been introduced to the food and beverage manager as well as the manager of Test Kitchen by a friend who wanted me to show them my photos from the first menu.  They loved the pictures and were even pointing out how things should have been plated differently and things like that.

The manager of Test Kitchen invited me to come back to take pictures of the second menu as well on my next cruise and I happily took him up on the offer.  Super nice guy and he and I walked around the restaurant so I could tell him where I wanted to sit for the best photography lighting.  I needed one of the biggest tables he had because the light was so perfect and he made it happen for me!

To keep tradition alive, I went ahead and got the cocktail pairing for the second menu as well.  This time I was dining solo and didn’t have friends to order other entrees, so I doubled up on a few occasions (again, just to show how loyal I am to my readers and not because it was all delicious).

I began with a similar cocktail to the first menu, which played nicely with the lavender centerpiece.

a glass of liquid next to a vase of lavender

Another smoke dome was deployed, but this time for the first course: a delicious corn pate.

a hand holding a glass dome over a plate of food

food on a plate

It was served with bread to make a spread of sorts.

food on a plate next to a tray of bread

food on a plate

(by this point people were turning around to look at Food Photoshoot Guy.  One guy asked if I was with a food magazine and I respected him enough to say yes)

Another cocktail was served as I prepared for the next course.

a glass of yellow liquid with a lemon peel in the middle

a glass of yellow liquid next to a vase of lavender

The second menu seemed to feature more sauces and foams than the first, which is always welcomed as far as I’m concerned.  The second course was a beautiful fish dish with cucumbers and a lovely sauce.

a person pouring sauce on a plate of food

The sauce was a perfect complement, even though I’m not crazy about cucumbers.

a plate of food on a table

(Loved the lighting!)

Another course was coming, so another cocktail it was.

a glass of liquid with a lemon wedge

a glass with liquid and a lemon wedge

It was time for probably the most beautiful dish on either menu: beet cannoli.

food on a plate

I loved the bold, vibrant colors.  AND THEN THE FOAM HAPPENED, applied personally by the Test Kitchen manager.

a spoon in a bowl of food

Absolutely wonderful dish, you have to try it when you go!

a plate of food on a table

By this point, both my waitress and the manager were getting into the swing of things and came up with ways of making each picture look the best it could.  We all were laughing and having a great time and, to their credit, the things they thought of ended up helping a lot!

a glass of liquid next to a vase of lavender

(they misted the leaf with some water to make it more reflective!)

a glass of liquid with ice and a leaf in front of a vase

It was time for the mains.  Since I wanted to show all of the options they had, I looked like Gorging Fat Guy instead of Food Photoshoot Guy for a minute.  The mains were very vibrant but in a different color palette than the first menu.

There were three options: a lamb dish, a seafood pasta, and a plant-based dish with roasted pumpkin.

a plate of food with sauce being poured onto it

a bowl of food with a saucer being poured into it

a bowl of food with sauce being poured into it

The dishes were just stunning.

a plate of food on a table

a plate of food on a table

a group of plates of food

I tried all three and was pleasantly surprised when the plant-based dish was my favorite, because of its rich flavors that were very well-balanced and not too heavy.  That’s taking nothing away from the other two dishes either, the plant-based dish was just that good!

The cocktail served with the main was just beautiful as well, with some candied ginger adorning it.

a glass of yellow liquid with a stick in it next to a vase of lavender

a glass with a drink and a piece of fruit on it

a close up of a drink

The dessert course began with one of the most unique dishes I’ve ever seen: asparagus sorbet.

a close up of food

From what they said, the sorbet (with a little bit of candied ginger on top) received bipolar reviews, but I loved it.  The ice in the sorbet gave it a texture that countered the rich flavor of the asparagus.

a green ball in a white bowl

One last cocktail and one last course, at least until my next Test Kitchen experience.  The freeze-dried strawberry in the cocktail heralded the last dessert course, a colorful dish with a variety of textures which complemented the cocktail perfectly.

a glass of orange drink with a slice of pineapple and thyme

a glass with a drink and a leaf on top

a plate of food with fruit

a plate of food on a table

Every bite of the dessert was different than the one before it and I enjoyed each of them immensely.  The only thing better than the food was the incredible service from the Test Kitchen team.  They made it easy to take such great food photos and couldn’t have been nicer people.  I love that Virgin Voyages encourages their staff to take ownership of each sailor’s happiness and do what they can to put a smile on their face.

Up next

Ok, we’ve covered the cabin and all of the specialty food on board Virgin’s Lady Ships fleet.  What’s next?  How about the entertainment?  Stay tuned!



Which course looks the best to you?  Tell me in the comments below!

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