Standards of food, service and presentation are excellent in all three restaurants, and there is a buffet service in the Thistle Restaurant for breakfast and lunch and Palms Cafe (all meals) for those who prefer more informal dining, with extensive menus of hot and cold food. This is far more attractive than the standard eateries on larger ships, as the buffets are placed within restaurants, with waiters showing diners to their seats and serving tea and coffee at the table. Self-service tea and coffee are available in the Palms Cafe 24 hours. Breakfast and lunch are open seatings and staggered slightly between the three restaurants to allow more freedom of choice. Free afternoon tea with sandwiches and assorted cakes is served in buffet form in the Palms Cafe from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Additionally, for-fee tea can be found daily at the ship's Bookmark Cafe (cream tea, £2.95) and on sea days in the Observatory Lounge (high tea, £7.95).
Thistle Restaurant (Deck 4) and Grampian Restaurant (Deck 8): Thistle is the main restaurant onboard, with tasteful, sophisticated decor and windows on three sides, offering wonderful aft views. Although the atmosphere is lovely, we noticed that the ship's engine vibration can be extremely disruptive during meals when the ship is sailing, causing everything to rattle.
The smaller Grampian main dining room offers a more formal and intimate atmosphere. Elegant decor and large, round windows on either side make this an attractive dining area.
Breakfast and lunch are waiter served from a menu in Grampian, while they're either buffet-style or ordered from a menu in Thistle, depending on what you're craving. Items like sausages, bacon, fried and hard-boiled eggs, hash browns, fruit, cereal, muesli, doughnuts, breads and pastries, meats and cheeses can be found at the buffet, along with made-to-order omelettes. Menu selections might include quinoa and berry bowls, eggs Benedict, American pancakes or a full English breakfast. Lunch is similar, with choices that might include salads, pies, a selection of carved meats (ox tongue, marinated clams, pork belly, chicken), fish, rice and vegetables, as well as a selection of cakes for dessert.
Waiters will seat you at both breakfast and lunch and will bring you coffee, tea and water, regardless of whether you choose to order from the menu or grab your own food from the buffet.
Dinner is first sitting at 6:15 p.m. and second sitting at 8:30 p.m. with waiter service. A typical menu selection would be: tropical papaya cocktail or chef's duck pate for starters; chicken vermicelli, cream of tomato or chilled carrot and orange soup; house salad with choice of dressings, or grilled salmon flakes with salad; steamed halibut with basil-infused vegetables, grilled pheasant breast, roast leg of lamb, tagliatelle Alfredo or a deli platter as mains. Desserts might feature Bavarian lemon cream, Napoleon slice, rich chocolate fudge cake, sugar-free Napoleon slice, ice cream and sorbets, and a selection of British and international cheeses.
Always available as a main course are grilled fish of the day, grilled chicken breast, omelettes and pasta, and all dishes can be served with a daily selection of well-done vegetables, French fries and boiled or baked potatoes.
Both of these venues recently received new carpeting, chairs and lighting, enhancing their ambiance.
Palms Cafe (Deck 6): This buffet venue -- which was spruced up with a new buffet island and soft furnishings during a 2017 refurbishment -- offers a less formal atmosphere, but it's more elegant than cafeterias on larger ships. Tables set with cutlery and napkins are regularly renewed by the attentive waiters as passengers come and go.
The buffet is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and selections featured at each meal are similar to what's available in the dining rooms.
The daily programme announces Today's Tasters at the Palms Cafe -- Sunday roasts, for example -- and Supper Club specials with themes like American, German, Italian, British Pub and Western.
Oddly, no food is available at the Palms Cafe between roughly 10 a.m. and noon and 4:30 p.m. until dinner begins. Passengers hoping for a between-meal snack are forced to order cream tea from the ship's Bookmark Cafe.
The Poolside (Deck 8): Weather permitting, a relaxed alfresco lunch, known as "The Poolside," is served near the Marquee Bar, with comfortable seating provided close to the swimming pools. Menu items are themed for the region in which the ship is sailing and include soup of the day, fish 'n' chips, pizza, burgers, sandwiches and ice cream.
Room Service: A free service is available for Continental breakfast, which is served in the cabin between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., but the order must be hung on the cabin door before 2 a.m. (We were surprised that earlier delivery times weren't available, particularly on port days when early excursions were offered.) In-room dining is also available free of charge from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. The menu includes soup of the day, various fish or meat platters, sandwiches and desserts.
A selection of special occasion canapes is offered. Chilled are 90 pence each or 20 for £17. Warm are 95 pence each or 20 for £18 respectively. Party platters are also available, ranging in price from £16 to £28. A wide variety of wines, beers and soft drinks can also be ordered through room service.
The Grill (Deck 6, outside the Palms Cafe): In warm weather, a premium a la carte menu is served on deck in The Grill restaurant from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and some lunchtimes, for a premium of £20 per person. Starters could include shrimp avocado and papaya tower, seared herb crusted beef carpaccio or Caesar salad. Main courses might consist of grilled mixed seafood, grilled prime ribeye steak, sirloin steak or fillet steak with choice of side dishes. Dessert examples are panna cotta or chocolate cup. Bookings are made at guest services. Try for an uncovered table by the railing; early dining on a night when you're sailing away from port is ideal for great views. Be warned, though, that black soot from the ship's funnel can make its way onto your table.
The Bookmark Cafe (Deck 5): Found on all ships in the Fred. Olsen fleet, this is an intimate coffee shop serving coffee and tea from Taylors of Harrogate, as well as a mouthwatering selection of a la carte chocolates. A daily cream tea is also offered, and it's outstanding, featuring a huge scone and some of the best clotted cream we've ever tasted.