Food on board is geared to British tastes, with a decent choice of included venues. The standard is generally good, with some venues better than others. There are four main dining rooms (Coral and Pearl are the nicest, with views over the ship's wake); the Horizon buffet; a fast food pool grill, Taste 360; and a canteen-style venue, The Quays, offering fish and chips, one daily Asian dish, hot dogs and burgers, as well as a small selection of plated salads. The Olive Grove, another new restaurant, serves Mediterranean cuisine at lunch and dinner, from mezze sharing plates to pizza, kebabs and tagines.
Pearl, Coral, Opal and Aqua restaurants
Iona has four main dining rooms, all open seating. The food is of a high standard, with plenty of choice and lighter options. Breakfast includes a full fry-up and a daily special, from Eggs Benedict to kedgeree, as well as healthier choices including cereals, fruit, smoothies and yogurts.
The lunch menu features soup, salads, bagels, sandwiches and wraps, as well as large plates which include British favourites like shepherd's pie, bangers and mash or a seafood fritto misto. Desserts are decadant and comforting, from warm pear Charlotte with cream to chocolate brownies, or Bakewell tart.
Dinners are imaginative, with five courses spanning starters, soups, mains, desserts and a cheese plate. Vegetarian and gluten free options are clearly marked. Expect dishes like rainbow trout with avocado mousse, swordfish steak, onion and garlic souffle and a daily roast. Always available dishes include prawn cocktail, cream of tomato soup, grilled salmon, chicken breast, sirloin steak and a fruit salad.
Once a week there's a gala dinner in all four dining rooms, with the menu designed by Marco Pierre White, one of P&O Cruises' "Food Heroes", including items like lobster mornay and beef Wellington. You can pre-book the Chef's Table for a more intimate setting, with wines paired by Olly Smith (at extra cost), but this isn't a restaurant as such; it's a space in The Horizon, the main buffet, with extra ambience created for dress-up nights.
You can also get daily afternoon tea in the main dining rooms, an extremely generous portion of sandwiches, dainty cakes, warm scones, jam and clotted cream.
The main buffet, at this stage still served, rather than self-service, is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late snacks. There's plenty of choice here, from full English breakfast, pastries and fruit in the mornings to a daily roast with all the trimmings, several excellent curries, pre-plated salads in small bowls and a beautifully presented array of cakes and pre-plated desserts, including gluten free, vegan and low sugar options. The absence of self-service does mean queues form at busy times but there are multiple serving stations.
The specialty restaurants on board are a real treat and worth paying for. P&O Cruises regulars will find favourites like Sindhu, for Asian fusion; the Limelight Club, with nightly cabaret; and the gorgeous Epicurean, perfect for a classy, romantic dinner or one of the finest afternoon teas at sea. Olly Smith's wine bar and grazing spot, The Glass House, has an enhanced menu and a prime position on deck 7, overlooking the Grand Atrium, while a new venue, the Keel and Cow, is a meat lover's dream.
Tip: Choose your specialty dining and book it as soon as you get on board. The restaurants fill up very quickly, especially with social distancing still in place.
Epicurean ($$$$) Epicurean is the most expensive of the specialiy dining restaurants, at £28 per person, but it's worth the outlay for a romantic evening in a classy venue. Presentation is exquisite and service attentive. Worth trying are the roasted red pepper parfait, the pata negra ham, the miso-glazed rack and slow-cooked lamb belly and the fluffy Emmental souffle. There are grills, too, from giant prawns to ribeye and sirloin steak. Look out for the Norwegian-inspired tasting menu when the ship is sailing in the fjords, created by renowned Norwegian chef Kjartan Skjelde.
The Keel and Cow ($$)
The Keel and Cow is new to P&O Cruises and it's a big hit. Arrive here with an empty stomach, as the portions are massive. There are different cuts of steak, dry-aged in a special cabinet and including a 32oz Tomahawk, for £32, complete with chunky chips, battered onion rings and Portobello mushrooms. The Prime Minister burger, at £8.50, is an 8oz beast topped with Isle of Wight Blue cheese, bacon, tomatoes, pancetta jam and onion marmalade, with a side of fries and garlic mayo. There are fish dishes, too, and a surprisingly good vegan Indian platter of a butternut bhaji, dal and cauliflower, lentil and sweet potato pudding. There's no pre-booking here and the Keel and Cow is open all day.
The Glass House ($$)
Olly Smith's wine bar and tapas restaurant is the perfect spot for all-day grazing. Pricing is a la carte, with three small plates costing £8.25 and including choices such as prawn potstickers, beetroot croquetas and gin-and-tonic cured salmon. Larger dishes come in plates of three different items of either chicken, beef, pork, seafood or vegan, from £8, and there’s a huge menu of wines by the glass. When Iona starts sailing to the Canary Islands, there will be new tapas by celebrated Spanish chef José Pizzaro.
The Limelight Club ($$) The Limelight Club isn't new to P&O but deserves mention as the food and entertainment are so good. The three-course menu includes mojito-cured salmon, a superb sea bass with lemon and herb gnocchi and a beautiful chocolate bombe with raspberries and ice cream. Cabaret acts will vary but on our cruise, drag queen La Voix was in residence, taking off off divas including Tina Turner, Liza Minelli and Shirley Bassey in glittering style. The whole venue has an aura of intimate glamour and is great value.
Our Picks: Epicurean for a big night out The Limelight Club if you like the look of the cabaret act The Glass House for chilled out tapas; Keel and Cow for a meat-fest