We found the overall quality of food onboard Jane Austen excellent, with the ship catering extremely well to passengers with dietary requirements. Not only is there an allergen labelling system on menus, with everything from gluten to nut allergies listed, but the crew and chefs are accommodating to the dietary needs of passengers and are happy to suggest alternative options to dishes listed on the menu. For health-conscious passengers, low-fat dishes are also marked on the menu.
Expect fresh and seasonal ingredients at the buffet and on menus. We experienced pumpkin, mushrooms, game meat such as venison and seasonal vegetables during our autumn cruise. We were extremely impressed by the quality of the food in the main restaurant in particular. One evening we ordered the chateaubriand, a dish we though to be a touch ambitious when catering for a large quantity of passengers, but the beef was cooked to perfection.
All dining options are included onboard, with no extra fees, although on the downside drinks, such as wine or soft drinks, are not included with meals. Tea and coffee, however, are freely available.
The only snacks available between meals are complimentary chocolate and oatmeal cookies, which are left out in the Lido by the ship's complimentary coffee machine. There's no brunch, afternoon tea or late-night buffet, so if you decide on a light breakfast or lunch, you might find yourself hungry before your next meal.
Main Restaurant (Ruby Deck): Almost all of the meals served onboard Jane Austen are in the Main Restaurant, including breakfast, buffet lunch and either buffet or set dinner. There is no allocated seating -- passengers can just walk in and grab a table. The restaurant is light, airy and has a jovial ambiance during service. Although it never quite feels full, it's just the right amount of busy to create a lively atmosphere and allow conversations to flow throughout the dining room.
At breakfast a self-service counter of hot and cold breakfast items is available, including fruit juices, fruit, cereal, fresh bread baked on the ship, cold meat cuts, smoked salmon, herring, cheeses, beans, fried and scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage. In addition to the buffet, there's also a daily morning menu available featuring items such as eggs Benedict, omelets and what's described as "hot cereals," which is basically porridge. Tea and filter coffee are served at the table.
At lunchtime, the buffet features a range of hot and cold dishes. There's a salad bar and a selection of meats, a pasta dish, potatoes, a fish (such as cod or plaice) and a meat dish. Dessert ranges from fruit and various types of cake to cheeses.
On the first night of a cruise, the restaurant offers a buffet service, while all other nights a daily changing menu is served. An evening buffet typically consists of similar dishes to lunchtime, with additional hot dishes, such as sea bass in a light lemon dressing, vegetables and potatoes. Typically, there's a fish, meat, pasta and vegetarian main dish; followed by a selection of small desserts and a cheeses.
The restaurant's set menu typically includes a starter, soup, appetizer, main course and dessert. The appetizer courses (starter, soup and appetizer) only offer one option, such as a terrine of venison, wild mushroom minestrone soup and marinated king prawns. The main course consists of three options, typically a meat, fish and vegetarian option. The vegetarian option -- a homemade pumpkin ravioli on our voyage -- was creative and didn't feel like a token gesture. Kudos to the chefs who pulled off a perfect chateaubriand dish on our sailing. With the restaurant near capacity and many of our tablemats ordering the same dish, it is not an easy entree to get right. Vegetables are fresh and ingredients in season.
Service is faultless. Crew are attentive, ensuring plates are carried away (although not too soon) and glasses refilled. Unlike most river cruises, wine isn't included at dinner service, however passengers can expect a simple selection of local and European wines to choose from off the list.
Dining hours can vary, dependent on itinerary, but typically breakfast is 7 to 9:30 a.m.; lunch service begins between 12 and 1 p.m. and lasts for 1.5 hours; and dinner is 7 to 9 p.m. Be sure you fill up during these hours as there's no late-night buffet or all-day dining option onboard.
Lido Restaurant (Diamond Deck): The Lido offers an alternative to the main restaurant for a light lunch or dinner. Passengers are required to book for dinner, although there is no fee. The restaurant space is small, featuring 10 tables of two or four seats and floor-to-ceiling windows, leading to a small outdoor seating area.
A specialty lunch option is served everyday in the Lido with a chef manning a barbecue on the deck outside. Expect local specialties such as a variety of sausages and kebabs cooked fresh and served in the small restaurant, with a salad bar, fresh bread (all bread is baked onboard) and condiments available.
In the evening, the Lido turns into the Lido Bistro, which can be booked for tables of two, four or larger groups of passengers and serves a similar menu to that of the Main Restaurant. The evening ambiance is intimate, even romantic, and makes for a perfect contrast to the larger Main Restaurant space. The five course set menu features an appetizer, soup, sorbet, main course and dessert. Dishes are not exactly adventurous and they feel traditional, but the quality of food is outstanding -- similar to the quality of food you would experience in a top European bistro.
Lunch times vary, depending on itineraries, but is typically available from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and dinner is 7 to 9 p.m.
Room Service: A small selection of continental breakfast items -- such as juices, tea and coffee, pastries, fruit and yogurt -- can be ordered to cabins from the cabin breakfast menu. There's no cost attached to ordering breakfast to your stateroom.
No other room service options are available.