The included options on board Azura are fantastic. Meals in the main dining rooms offer a great amount of choice with the cuisine typically rooted in hearty British fare.
Meridian (Deck 5), Peninsular and Oriental (both Deck 6): Passengers are allocated one of three dining rooms upon arrival depending on whether they choose Club Dining (a fixed meal time of either 6:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.) or Freedom Dining (where guests can choose when they wish to eat between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.). The Meridian restaurant is reserved for Freedom diners while the other two are for Club. If given the choice, we would plump for the beautiful Oriental, which feels far more like a luxury hotel restaurant than either the Peninsular or Mandarin, both of which feel a bit more casual in comparison. All, however, have the same menu, which has a choice of six to seven main courses with options such as steak, a roast and chicken breast always available. A British cheeseboard can be ordered every day for dessert.
The Peninsular and Oriental are open for breakfast (7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on sea days) if you prefer to order from the menu rather than head for the buffet. Options include a brilliant "full English" (with British-style bacon), Bircher muesli and pancakes -- there are also daily specials including eggs benedict. Toast is the one thing that the kitchen does not seem to have mastered and is always served cold.
Restaurant staff are friendly and work tirelessly, trying their best to cope with any number of queries (including those from my fussy vegetarian wife).
Verona and Venezia (Deck 15): Azura offers passengers two buffets in the form of neighbouring Verona and Venezia. The latter acts as the main buffet and is available virtually around the clock serving salads and cold cuts as well as an ever-changing roster of Italian, Chinese and Indian-inspired classics. Verona, which is decked out in reddish wood, serves up the same food during the day but becomes the Beach House in the evening, a fee restaurant. The food here is good -- although not quite as good as in the main dining rooms-- and there were plenty of grumbles from tray-laden passengers about how complicated the buffet area was in Venezia.
Poolside Pizzeria (Deck 15): Simple and fun, the Poolside Pizzeria is open most of the day (1 p.m. to 8 p.m.). The counter always had two pizzas, one margherita and one slightly more exotic flavour, available for guests to pick up and take away on one of the red plastic trays.
Poolside Grill (Deck 15): The grill serves up burgers, hot dogs and chicken strips, as well as small pots of fries for passengers who don’t want to stray too far from their sunbeds. There is a small salad bar too. The burgers were pretty lifeless and the hotdogs limp. However, on certain sea days the kitchen team puts on special buffets and barbeques around this area, weather permitting, which make for a much more exciting experience.
The fee dining on Azura (called Select Dining in P&O parlance) offers a solid variety of gourmet options rooted in British classics -- be it small plates in The Glass House or an upmarket curry in Sindhu.
Java (Deck 5): Azura's coffee station, located in the atrium serves up high street favourite Costa Coffee. A coffee card is available for £22 (getting you 10 coffees) and includes primo sized lattes mochas as well as iced drinks to cool you down on those summer days.
Sindhu (Deck 7); £20-£25 depending on length of cruise: Originally associated with Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar (but no longer), Sindhu is where guests on Azura go if they're looking for a posh curry. The deep red carpet and dark wooden walls conjure up a luxurious, almost colonial-feeling restaurant with exotic artwork on the walls and waiters in sophisticated, and tasteful, black uniforms to match.
While offering traditional sounding starters such as vegetable samosas or chicken tikka, they are a world apart from your local takeaway. The gourmet mini-poppadoms and onion bhajis went down a treat. My beef tenderloin main was one of the nicest curries I've ever had, although I was still jealous of my wife's Atul's Signature Plate (vegetarian option) which included something with aubergine and spinach-- although I didn't get a look in.
The wine list is also pretty exciting, with a Sauvignon Blanc from the holy city of Nashik in India. There's some great English fizz too -- including bottles of Wiston sparkling wine, a bottle of which was used to christen the P&O flagship Britannia. Open from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Glass House (Deck 7); small plates individually priced: The Glass House (with wines chosen by TV wine expert Olly Smith) is a popular spot. Guests sit amongst cabinets full of various bottles and work their way through the menu. The food offering is fab too, with options like a trio of classic, broad bean and red pepper houmous or an 8oz sirloin steak. There is no booking available for the Glass House, but we always found a table. Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Ice Cream (Deck 15); individually priced: Located next to Poolside Pizza, the ice cream parlour serves delicious Jude's Ice Cream by the cone or tub. You can buy an ice cream card for £28 for 20 ice creams.
Beach House (Deck 15); £7.50-£10 depending on length of cruise: The Beach House takes over Verona (a buffet during the day) from 6:30 p.m. and is the most relaxed of the onboard fee dining options. Serving American classics (fried chicken, mac 'n' cheese, beef brisket) it could benefit from having its own dedicated space. It should also be noted that while much of the menu is included in the price there are many items that are extra -- for instance the rib combo (£3.95) or beef brisket (£2.95). The slow cooked New Orleans suckling leg of lamb (for two) costs £7.95. No booking required. Open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
The Epicurean (Deck 17); £28-£30 depending on length of cruise: The Epicurean (sometimes referred to as The Epicurean at 17) offers a molecular gourmet twist on classic British fare. The restaurant itself is the most sophisticated onboard and gives you a rare the opportunity to eat outside, with great views of the ship's wake.
The menu is packed with interesting combinations such as wild boar with black pudding or lamb rack with a mini shepherd's pie. If you like creative dining experiences with a bit of theatre (the salmon is carved at your table) then this is the restaurant for you. Booking is recommended but not always necessary. Open from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Eric Lanlard's Afternoon Tea at the Epicurean costs £15. This is a real treat. Available only on sea days each mountainous cake stand comes packed with a range of savoury sandwiches such as beef brioches and cheese eclairs as well as sweet treats like pop cakes, meringues and, of course, beautiful scones. It's like being in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory with waiting staff even spraying edible perfume before you can tuck in. Booking is recommended as seats are limited. Open from 3:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.