Last updated on March 24th, 2018 at 12:47 am.
Samba Grill is one of Royal Caribbean’s speciality dining options hidden away on Radiance of the Seas. It is not on every ship, in fact, it’s not on any others at all, so it’s unique in that regard, and in the cuisine. Samba Grill is a Brazilian inspired restaurant that serves salads, grilled veggies and seven different cuts of meat straight off the rotary grill skewer. First, though, you have to find the restaurant.
I stumbled upon it by accident on the first day of our first cruise on Radiance of the Seas. I don’t remember what I was looking for, but I noticed the different paintwork on the ship on deck 12 above the Windjammer and saw the signs up for it so checked out the menu (or lack thereof). The menu board outside didn’t give much away, and unlike most venues on the ship during day one, the doors were closed.
The menu board only listed six things that are meant to be “popular favourites”. Those six things were the Brazilian name for the dish and a short description. There were photos, but they weren’t labelled.
On a long cruise, like our 18-night transpacific cruise, it can be an excellent opportunity to try one of the speciality restaurants, and Royal Caribbean offers speciality dining packages that give you discounts on three, four or five speciality dining experiences. Normally, Samba Grill costs USD $30 per person, making it a great deal when done as part of a dining package.
So when we considered doing speciality dining, we wanted to make an informed decision about what we would be eating and if we were even interested. We needed more information about the Samba Grill though, and this, in turn, brought me to the conclusion that Royal Caribbean is doing a terrible job of marketing this excellent restaurant.
We asked other restaurants and guest services for more information about the Samba Grill, but no one could tell us what was on the menu. So we decided to try and catch someone at the Samba Grill during opening hours. These hours are evening only, usually 6-10pm, and because it is solely accessible from outside on deck 12, that means braving the night time open air on one of the windiest parts of the ship. The wind was so fierce on the night that we went to check the menu that we felt like we were going to get blown into the sea at almost every step. When we finally got there, the door was locked shut, and we had to stand there in the wind, waving around and knocking to try and catch someone’s attention to let us in before we got blown off the ship.
After all that, they told us that the Samba Grill does not have a menu. Instead, it has a self-serve salad bar that you can access as you wish, followed by a serving of each of the seven different Brazilian style BBQ types of meat on offer, including the six on the menu board and an additional beef cut.
That wasn’t helpful at all, but I did find this notice about eating undercooked meats that made it more apparent what the different meats are:
- Frango: Chicken breast wrapped in bacon
- Linguica: Brazilian cured pork sausage
- Lombo: Crusted herb pork loin
- Fraldinha: Tender cut from the bottom sirloin
- Cordeiro: T-bone lamb
- Filet mignon: Tender cut from beef tenderloin
- Picanha: Prime cut of top sirloin
Since we don’t eat pork products that at least told us we would be interested in five of the seven types of meat assuming the bacon could be separated from the chicken easy enough. Unfortunately, they could not tell us any more about it. At the time, it seemed incredibly peculiar that there was so little information about this restaurant and what it serves.
Armed with that limited knowledge we were not going to bother trying it at all. Particularly since it still wasn’t entirely clear how the meat servings worked. However, we wanted to try Izumi’s and Giovanni’s Table, so we decided since we could get the dining package for three restaurants at basically the same price as dining at two, we decided to get the dining package and try Samba Grill as well.
Right off the bat, let me say: we are so glad we tried it.
Royal Caribbean needs to work on how they present Samba Grill. It is, in my opinion, the best speciality dining restaurant on Radiance of the Seas yet it is so poorly marketed we would not have bothered with it at all except for the dining package. It’s like all the focus is on Chops Grille, Izumi’s and Giovanni’s Table with Samba just an afterthought. A short narrative of the way the restaurant works with a simple menu would sell the restaurant to so many more people.
Something to the effect of:
Join our gauchos (Brazilian cowboys) for an evening of Brazilian BBQ inspired salads, sizzling vegetables, and seven mouth-watering cuts of meat brought to your table on the skewer carved straight to your plate. You will get to try them all at your own pace, just turn your meat-light from green to red when you need a break, or red to green when you are ready for the next cut. Save some room, though, you don’t want to miss out on one of our delectable Brazilian desserts!
Add to that a menu that explains how it works, lists the permanent salad items, indicates what the seven types of meat actually are, says what the desserts are, and they would be all set. It would be no larger than the Chops Grille menu and make a massive difference to the restaurant appeal. However, I digress, so let’s get back to the experience.
Booking was difficult. As we didn’t know what day we wanted to go, we needed to book in the morning for dining the same evening. However, the number in the cruise compass to call for bookings with Samba Grill never worked for us. No matter when we called, it just wanted us to request a callback. That wouldn’t be a big deal except that we didn’t want to wait around for a callback (and we never actually received one anyway). We also tried the main dining reservations number which just gave us the same thing whenever we tried. Eventually, after speaking to guest services a few times and being diverted to the same voicemail boxes, they were able to put us on to someone that could place the booking for us.
We were hoping to be there for sunset since the cruise compass indicated Samba was open from 5:30 pm that night. After all, that’s part of the reason to go to the speciality restaurants right? They do have some of the best views. Unfortunately, though, it was wrong, and they weren’t open until 6:00 pm. So we booked for then, and just caught the tail-end of the sunset.
Upon our arrival, we were shown to our table and brought some warm cheese-filled bread balls. Then we were presented with what appeared to be a menu.
These bread balls don’t look like much, but they are unbelievably amazing! They are soft and warm with a strong cheese flavour. On the inside, they have a gooey cheese centre. YUM!
It turned out the menu wasn’t a menu after all. It was a drinks list and had a narrative on it that explained the inspiration behind Samba Grill.
How Samba Grill Works
Our Maitre’d then explained to us how the restaurant works. Your table number is double-sided mostly serving as a stop light for the main course. One side has a red background, and the other has a green background. These sides indicate whether you are ready for the main meal, the BBQ meats, or whether you need a break from them for a little while. He suggested that we get some salads, but not too much, then turn the stop light from red to green, letting our gaucho know that we are ready for the main course. If we need a break or have just had enough, turn it back to red, and they will know to stop bringing out meats and check if we are ready for dessert.
It sounds pretty full on doesn’t it? It’s not, the restaurant is very relaxed, but the whole experience is as much a show as it is a mouth-watering meal.
The salad bar
So, we headed to the salad bar and picked up some things to try. While the bar is small, there is a decent selection of salad, cheese, bread and the like that are different to what is served elsewhere on the ship. It was unclear whether or not the items on the salad bar change, but the options that were there were yum.
Some of the options included:
- Lettuce leaves
- Sliced tomato
- Sliced purple onion
- Sliced cucumber
- Ceaser dressing
- Thousand island dressing
- Italian dressing
- Potato salad
- Seafood salad
- Green bean with tarragon vinegar salad
- Smoked salmon
- Grilled mushroom with pesto salad
- Garlic crostini
- Marinated mussels
- Calamari salad
- Grilled asparagus
- Radicchio with balsamic glaze
- Assorted cold cuts
- Brie cheese
- Carrot and celery salad
- Baby mozzarella ball cherry tomato salad
- Feijoada soup
- Assorted cheeses
Just after we sat back down, our gaucho came to the table and asked us how we like our meat cooked. They could do it anywhere from rare to well-done. We made our choice, medium-well for wifey and medium for me.
We turned our sign around to green straight away, so we could try and get some of the meats with our salads. At this point, we hadn’t been told there would be any vegetables served at all so we thought that it was going to be eating salad and then the meats on their own one after the other. We weren’t too excited about that. It turned out though that they still didn’t bring out any meats until after we had finished our salads, Before the first meat arrived, two sauces, salt flakes, and two bowls of goodies were brought out for the table. It turns out the salad bar is your starter.
The sauces were chimichurri and creole, while the first bowl had grilled vegetables, including squash, zucchini, tomato, onion and carrots.
The second bowl had excellent steak fries and super sweet deep fried banana’s. A little unusual I know, but it reminds me of the islands where fruit, especially banana, is commonly served as part of the main meal. Apparently, it is also common in Brazil.
Soon after the vegetables and fries arrived, the first meats were brought out.
Pork sausages and chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto
Our gaucho arrived at our table with a skewer holding two Brazilian pork sausages and two pieces of Brazilian-inspired chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto. We don’t eat pork, so we skipped the sausages and unwrapped our chicken. It wasn’t the stand-out meat of the night, but it was cooked perfectly, moist and tender.
I should mention, you don’t want to do the Samba Grill if you are in a hurry, like most restaurants on board, you can expect your meal to take two hours if you try all the meats.
Our first meat arrived about the half-hour mark. Then 10 minutes or so later, our gaucho came with our next cut, filet mignon. After serving it straight from the skewer to our plates, our gaucho made sure that it was cooked to our liking. If not, he would take it back and make sure it was right.
After checking it, we noted it wasn’t quite right but close enough, so we were happy with it, and we didn’t want to wait longer for it. I have to say; it was superb. Chops Grille is known for their filet mignon, but the Samba Grill filet mignon is significantly better. It’s a pretty similar size, so I assume the meat is the same, the difference just being in how they cook it. We were blown away by how good it was, and the creole sauce with it was fantastic. If you want to see the filet mignon at Chops Grille, check out my review.
Next came the lamb, cooked to perfection. It was served off the skewer again, of course.
We were starting to get pretty full by this point, especially considering the salad, vegetables, chips and banana’s we had also eaten. Fortunately, up next was the pork loin which we don’t eat. So we had a bit of a break and contemplated calling it a night, after all, we had the filet mignon already. Surely the remaining two beef cuts, the striploin and tenderloin couldn’t be any better.
Fortunately, the striploin arrived before we turned our sign to red, so we gave it a try. The striploin is carved straight from the skewer to your plate, and it was terrific. It was the stand-out of the night, cooked perfectly with a crunchy, outer glaze from the seasonings. Since your gaucho carves it in front of you, you can have as much or little as you want. We had already had plenty of food, so we only had a small piece each, and we are happy we did! Add some chimichurri sauce for something different, and you can’t go wrong.
Note: The meat list suggests the tenderloin is the filet mignon and there should be two striploin cuts. However, our gaucho told us this was tenderloin, so I’m not 100% sure which cut it is.
After how good the striploin was, we decided it was only fair to wait and see what the tenderloin was like as well. It wasn’t long before it arrived and was again carved from the skewer directly to our plates. A little piece was all we could handle, but it was excellent too. It was not as good as the striploin, but was well worth waiting for and trying.
Once you’ve had enough to eat, turn your table number around, so the red side is visible, and your gaucho will be around to see if you are ready for dessert. If so, there are three options.
The choices are either creme caramel, pina colada pannacotta or layered chocolate cake. Once you let your gaucho know that you are ready for dessert, a waiter will bring around a dessert tray with one of each dessert on it for you to make your selection. We were kind of disappointed when they were presented to us as the options didn’t seem Brazilian inspired. We were even more disappointed when the desserts we had chosen left with the waiter, and there was a 10-minute delay before they were brought out to us. It’s probably a good thing though since it gave us a bit more of a break between courses.
I went for the pina colada pannacotta as it seemed the most “Brazilian”.
While it wasn’t mind-blowing, it was yum and very light, which is a good thing after a huge meal!
Wifey went for the layered chocolate cake.
I’m not sure what makes this one Brazilian inspired, but it was a big surprise. Slice it open and there was layer upon layer of crunchy, moussey, yummy chocolatey goodness!
If I had to rank the meats we ate in order of mouth-watering goodness where one is the best, I would say:
- Filet mignon
- Chicken breast
Typically, I prefer chicken, so the fact I rated it as five is saying something about how good the beef and lamb is! Regarding the other parts of the meal, the salads are unique to Samba Grill. You won’t find them anywhere else on the ship. Some of them are quite appealing in my opinion, where others aren’t. That’s not why you are here though is it?
The grilled vegetables taste great. I’m not a fan of squash, but I enjoyed it, and the tomato was very sweet. The steak fries were excellent, in my opinion, they are the best chips on Radiance of the Seas bar none. Then, of course, there is the deep-fried banana. Don’t pass up on this. It’s the only place on board that you can get it, and while it won’t be to everyone’s taste, it is worth trying at least once. I personally really enjoy them. They are a different kind of banana that is a bit firmer to start with, so when cooked they stay firmer in the centre while going soft and gooey on the outside. Wrap that in batter, and you have it. They are quite sweet, and the batter gets a little chewy in places where the banana seeps through, so the texture is continually changing.
The desserts didn’t seem particularly inspired, but they were enjoyable and made for a high end to the evening.
Is It Worth It?
To go to Samba Grill, you have to either pay a USD $30pp cover charge or purchase a speciality dining package. In either case, you have to pay extra to go. For us, we had a lot of onboard credit, so we decided to use some of it on a dining package and give it a try that way. It was worth it. If you are vegetarian or vegan, then it isn’t for you. It’s not worth the cover charge just for the salads, vegetables and bananas. You will get much more value from almost any other restaurant if you don’t eat meat. If you do eat meat though, then this is where you want to be.
It is hard to get to, especially if the weather is terrible, however, we loved the dining experience, the atmosphere, South American style music, the gaucho, and the way your gaucho serves your meat. Service was excellent and in spite of the two hour meal time, we never felt like we were waiting extended periods of time for anything. The team there were friendly and seemed to enjoy their work which made the whole experience even more fun.
Then, of course, there was the food itself. It was superb and is, in my opinion, the best speciality dining onboard Radiance of the Seas. Given how good it is, I’m surprised that Samba is not on any other ships or marketed better. So given that, you definitely want to make sure you try it while you are on board Radiance of the Seas.
What do you think?
Have you tried Samba Grill? What do you think? Did you like it as much as we did? What was your favourite meat? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.