Service -- which is fantastic -- stands out above the quality of food. Servers have a brilliant relationship with the ship's passengers, so expect to be on first name terms by the end of your cruise.
Dietary requirements can be met in all restaurants, with dishes clearly labelled in the Lido Restaurant buffet, and on menus, indicating whether they're suitable for vegetarians or gluten-free. The ship's executive chef, Stewart Casement, is a former Queen Elizabeth 2 chef, which is where he began his life as a chef at sea. Overseeing the ship's diverse culinary offering, Casement brings British favourites to the forefront of the passenger dining experience.
The Meridian Restaurant (Deck 4): The ship's main dining room is open for waiter service breakfast (8 a.m. to 10 a.m.), lunch (noon to 2 p.m.) and dinner (6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.). Passengers aren't restricted to specific tables and tablemates, you just turn up within the restaurant opening hours and you'll be seated. We didn't experience queues for a table and were always seated straightaway.
The large room is well laid out, with a mixture of two-, four- and six-seat tables and larger round tables for eight and ten passengers. The Meridian Restaurant offers a dining location for those who enjoy table service in a more formal atmosphere. Red-backed chairs and a sea of pristine white tablecloths complement dark patterned carpets, as light fills the space through the windows on two sides of the restaurant.
Breakfast features chilled juices, fresh fruit and yoghurts, bakery items such as croissants, cereals, cheese and cold meats, followed by a selection of hot dishes, such as poached kippers, a full English breakfast, French toast and typically two specials of the day, such as Mexican eggs or omelette.
The lunch menu features a selection of starters, main courses and desserts, which typically include soup, antipasti and salads, among other daily changing starters, followed by five main courses, such as tagliatelle, grilled hake, shepherd's pie and a traditional roast, with one veggie option such as vegetable cutlets. Desserts typically include warm chocolate fudge cake and a selection of ice creams. There's a limited "always available" section, featuring dishes such as chicken Caesar salad and a vegetarian cheese plate, and a selection of premium options (£9.95 supplement), such as lamb cutlets, rib eye steak and fillet steak.
The evening menu follows a similar format to lunch, with a menu featuring starters, a soup and salad course, main course and dessert and cheese. The same supplementary options are available as lunchtime, with additional always available options such as seared chicken breast, poached fish of the day and a vegetarian sweet potato curry. Food is of a good standard, although we found a limited selection of main course options on the menu.
Breakfast and lunchtime are typically quieter than evenings, when most passengers opt for the Lido Restaurant. Service is well paced -- expect to spend 90 minutes from start to finish -- while servers and sommeliers are impeccable. The atmosphere has an air of formality compared with other dining venues, and is a popular option for those celebrating a special occasion.
Lido Restaurant (Deck 5): The ship's buffet restaurant serves breakfast (7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.), lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.), afternoon tea (3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.), evening buffet (5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.) and a late evening buffet (11 p.m. to 1 a.m.). Located next to the Terrace Grill and the main swimming pool, the Lido Restaurant is busy from morning until late afternoon, with passengers wandering in and out throughout the day. There's plenty of seating, which flows out onto the terrace area, and the room feels exceptionally well lit.
Breakfast offers all of the staples you would expect: Cooked items such as fried and scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, black pudding, thick chunky fried bread, hash browns, beans and tomatoes. For those who prefer lighter options, yoghurts, cereal, pastries and fruit are also available. Expect to queue in line for hot food, but finding a table is never a problem. Cutlery is wrapped in cloth napkins and tea and coffee is served at tables. There's also a self-service fruit juice machine. Breakfast dishes are promptly replaced with lunchtime dishes at 11:30 a.m., with salads, cold meats and cheese, curry, breaded fish and chicken, a roast of the day, fries and vegetables served. Afternoon tea features sausage rolls, finger sandwiches, cakes and baked scones with preserves and cream. Dinnertime features items similar to lunch, with a different roast meat each day, curries, BBQ ribs and a large dessert station with jelly and cream and a colourful array of gateaux. We enjoyed the variety in the Lido Restaurant, where dishes were always of a good quality.
Lido Terrace Grill (Deck 5): Serving continental breakfast (6 a.m. to 10 a.m.), followed by an omelette station (7 a.m. to 10 a.m.), pasta station (11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and the pizza oven and snack bar (11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.), the Lido Terrace Grill flows from the back entrance of the Lido Restaurant out onto the terrace, with a different serving station set up throughout the day. Continental breakfast includes pastries and yoghurts, with made to order omelettes, daily changing pasta dishes, hot dogs, beef burgers, lashings of fried onion and mustard toppings and a variety of pizzas on offer throughout the day. We found it busiest at lunchtime, although we didn't have to wait long for a table to become available. The food is generally fast food-style during the day and works well as a good spot for a post-excursion bite to eat.
Mistral's (Deck 4); £19.95: The modern British (with subtle hints of French) dining option onboard is accessed via the Meridian Restaurant. It's a small, intimate space with its own reception and waiting area. There is a scattering of two- and four-seat tables in the central row with bigger tables in semi-circular booths that comfortably accommodate six passengers, or eight at a squeeze. Mistral's offers a more refined dining experience, with little touches such as flavoured salts on the table and in-between courses, such as a palate cleansing fresh orange sorbet, which adds to the sense of occasion.
Mistral's changes its menu twice a week to offers more variety for those who prefer specialty dining. The menu includes six courses -- starter, soup, salad, sorbet, main course and dessert. Typical starters include escargot, prawn cocktail and duck liver terrine. There are usually two soup and two salad options -- such as lobster bisque and chilled sweet tomato gazpacho and salads such as Caesar or garden salad.
Main courses typically include a trio of pasta, a risotto dish, surf and turf (lobster and filet mignon), a lamb or beef dish, such as roast rack of lamb or beef tenderloin, while the desserts feature crepes, creme brulee and a cheese plate, among others. The cheese trolley is wheeled to your table and passengers can choose from up to five options, although it included a mozzarella and a Pecorino Romano, which we'd associate more with salads, pizzas and pasta, rather than a cheese course.
The menu offers a good selection of gluten-free options although vegetarian dishes are more limited, with just one main course option. Cooking is a step up from the main dining room, with better ingredients and a more sophisticated overall dining experience.
Although the quality of food is better than the Meridian Restaurant, and offers good value for money, the experience went on for too long, with long wait times between courses. If you are keen to make the Broadway show after dinner, we'd recommend letting your server know so they can try and hurry things along, otherwise you might miss the start.
Kora La (Deck 4); £17.95: Launched in 2014, Kora La is the ship's newest specialty restaurant, open for dinner from 6:30 p.m. Like Mistral's, the menu, which focuses on Asian cuisine, changes halfway through a seven-night cruise. The menu steers towards Indian dishes for the first few nights before switching to Chinese cuisine for the latter part of the week.
Also like Mistral's, the restaurant is accessed via the Meridian Restaurant. The L-shaped space is small and intimate with a scattering of two-, four- six- and eight-seat tables. The Asian-inspired decor includes lattice window details, which cast pretty shadows over the restaurant. White tablecloths are replaced with black ones and red chopsticks are neatly placed on tables.
Kora La's menu includes two courses plus accompaniments, including typical starters such as king prawns Kerala-style, chicken satay and vegetable samosas. Passengers can create their own curry -- there's a choice of chicken, beef, lamb, prawns or vegetables -- in either a Kashmiri, Madras or vindaloo-style, or choose from one of the standard main course options, such as a Madras fish curry, slow-cooked beef Rendang or stir-fried noodles. Accompaniments include rice and naan bread. We sampled the Indian menu, which offered a welcome change from the British-style food in the ship's other restaurants, with dishes full of flavour. The quality of food and overall dining experience offers excellent value for money.
Hot Stone at the Terrace Grill (Deck 5); £15.95: From 6:30 p.m. onwards a section of the Terrace Grill turns into Hot Stone. Unlike the other specialty restaurants, the menu remains the same throughout a seven-night cruise. There isn't a choice of starters; instead passengers are served a sharing plate of small bites, including hummus and pitta bread, tapenade, grilled prawns and a cream cheese and prawn millefeuille. This is followed by Caesar salad and the main course. The starter is perhaps played down because it's the main course that is the star here. Dishes are served on a hot stone plate, sizzling as they cook to your liking, at the table. The meaty menu features pork chops, lamb cutlets, sirloin steak, surf and turf (lobster and filet mignon) and fillet of tuna, plus three sides -- so not so suitable for vegetarians. A selection of mini desserts rounds off the experience, such as key lime pie, Eton mess and strawberry cheesecake. It's fun and theatrical, as servers tie paper bibs around your neck to avoid clumsy cooking spillages. The food is excellent, waiting staff are wonderful, and eating under the stars on the terrace offers a memorable dining experience.
The Coffee Port (Deck 5): In addition to the best coffee onboard, the Coffee Port serves a selection of gelato -- including two generous scoops in a large sugar cones -- cookies and creamy, indulgent cakes, from £1.25.
Room Service: A continental breakfast is available from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. for £4.95 per person and includes a fruit juice, hot drink, bakery selection and choice of cereals. Passengers are required to hang their breakfast order form on their cabin door before 4 a.m. The regular room service menu is detailed in the Life Onboard guide, left in all cabins, and includes omelettes (£4.95), pizzas (£4.95), "Light Bites" (from £2), which include soup, Caesar salad, club sandwiches, hot dog, cheeseburger and vegetable lasagne, among other items. Most items found on the room service menu are also available in the Lido Restaurant and Terrace Grill, which are, of course, free.