There are three main dining rooms: Cinnamon, Saffron, midships Decks 5 and 6; and Bay Tree, at the aft on Deck 6. Saffron is open daily for breakfast (7:30 a.m. - 9 a.m.), lunch (12:15 p.m. - 1:45 p.m.) and afternoon tea (4:00 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.). Breakfast is also served in the Bay Tree on port days (from 7:30 a.m. - 9 a.m.). Cinnamon is open to supplement Saffron sometimes for breakfast on port days, times as above, but mainly it's an evening venue (6 - 9:30 p.m.) for Freedom dining, as is Saffron. The Bay Tree operates two-sitting fixed dining in the evening (6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.), for passengers who prefer that.
P&O has really upped its game when it comes to the food in the MDRs, with Gala Dinner menus with dishes from UK celebrity chef Marco Pierre White on the formal nights; and following passenger feedback, a return of 'Classic Favourites' from December 2013. A standard menu might consist of chicken liver parfait or wild mushroom risotto; but if you're not feeling adventurous you can choose from the Classics -- prawn cocktail, Caesar salad or tomato soup. Mains will usually include a fish or shellfish dish, a vegetarian option and one or two meat dishes such as roast leg of pork and braised beef (the Classics are fillet of salmon, sirloin steak and breast of chicken). There's good selection of very British puddings (desserts) such as sticky toffee pudding, Bakewell tart or baked treacle tart.
On Formal evenings, starters might include something special such as a game terrine or oak smoked Scottish salmon; mains might include roast duck or prime fore rib of beef (there are no Classic Favourites offered on Gala evenings). 'Marco's Menu' might feature a dish you would usually find in The White Room, such as lobster. There is usually a Champagne Sorbet between courses, too.
The ship's self-service buffet is split into two sections -- Waterside (open 7 a.m. – 6 a.m.), and the Beach House (6:30 a.m. – 10 a.m.; and 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.). Both offer the same food, but the latter is a calmer area adjoining the main buffet area. A children's tea ('Noddy's Tea') is served in the Waterside (starboard side from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.) every day; afternoon tea is served from 3:00 p.m. – 5 p.m. on the port side.
Most nights there will be a themed food night such as Indian or Thai, which are very popular, as evidenced by the queues. There is always a roast as well, no doubt for Brits who "don't do foreign".
There are three specialty restaurants, two formal ones -- The White Room, which serves dishes created Marco Pierre White; and East, which serves cuisine by Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar. Both are open every evening (6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.), and have a cover charge. There is also one 'informal' one, which has proved popular on sister ship Azura and replaces Las Ramblas on Ventura -- The Glass House by UK wine expert Olly Smith -- which is a for-fee tapas-style restaurant.
In The White Room it's £25 per person on two-week voyages and £30 per person on short-break cruises. In East, it's £15 per person on two-week voyages, £20 per person on cruises of seven nights or less and £25 on a short-break cruise. Menus change three times per two-week cruise.
Both were a nice change from the dining room and buffet -- elegant and refined. East is a gorgeous room -- its red carpet, white upholstered chairs and dark wood tables successfully give it a very Eastern feel -- as does the menu, which offers a variety of Asian cuisine, all of it delicious. Kochhar is known for his upscale interpretation of curries in the UK, but here he tackles dishes from all over the Far East. His involvement has upped the quality and, inevitably, the price per head, but it's worth it: Chiang Mai ribs, Malaysian-style curry puffs, Thai fish cakes and chicken satay are all subtle and delicious. Mains include Khmer king prawns, spiced sea bream fillets, Burmese fillet of beef and 24-hour slow-cooked -lamb rendang (which incidentally does not need to be ordered 24 hours in advance); or you can opt for Atul's Signature plate, which is three medium-sized portions of king prawns, Thai green chicken curry and lamb korma – which I can confirm was absolutely delicious. The service was also superb.
The White Room's position right at the back of the ship high up on Deck 17 gives it an even more refined air. If you like fine French cuisine, then this is the place for you: it's dark, with plush carpets and furnishings inside; outside there's a lovely verandah area where you can sit and watch the wake.
The meal starts with a delicious and very welcome Bellini, followed by an amuse bouche, which in my case was outstanding Tuscan tomato soup -- just a demi-tasse size, but absolutely mouthwatering. The grilled King prawn starters were also very tasty: huge and meaty; my partner loved the asparagus spears with a soft poached egg. Mains included pan-fried chicken, sea bass, steak and lamb. I opted for the chicken, but was not overly impressed; my companion had the steak and swore by it. There's a selection of desserts of which the standout is the passion fruit souffle, which is made to order and takes 20 minutes, but is absolutely worth the wait.
Note that The White Room gets booked up early in the cruise and if you leave it to the last minute you'll end up with a first or last sitting.
Part of the 2013 refit saw Las Ramblas rebranded The Glass House, with Olly Smith's grinning mug all over the venue. However, anyone familiar with how Las Ramblas used to look will wonder what the changes are. The faux roof tiles and Spanish decor are still very much in evidence; the only real difference is a wider selection of wines and an enhanced menu. The Glass House has a relaxed vibe -- it invites you to drop in and grab a table, or just hang at the bar -- it's also more of a walk-through space than an actual restaurant. Three small plates are £5.25, and might include chorizo, warm quail Scotch egg, garlic mushrooms or salt and pepper tempura prawns. Large plates are good value -- you can get a sirloin steak for £5.50. The food is OK, nothing special, but where Smith's involvement is evident is the extraordinary selection of wine from all over the world, and it's pretty reasonable, too. A bottle of excellent New Zealand sauvignon will set you back £12.50 (it would be at least double that on dry land).
The Glass House offers Food & Wine Pairing Dinners twice a week for £30 per person, which includes a four-course meal, with wines with each course, plus a wine guide to talk you through the choices. There are also wine talks on certain days of the cruise, hosted by the head sommelier (not Olly Smith), for a maximum of 30 people: for £10 per person you can enjoy a talk, two glasses of wine and several different dishes.
On the Pool Deck during the day, Frankie's Grill serves burgers, and Frankie's Pizzeria serves delicious stone-baked made-to-order pizzas; you can also buy ice creams from £1.95. On the first night of the cruise the Pool Deck is turned into an open-air buffet with live music.
There is also 24-hour room service, mainly free but certain items are charged (burgers are £3.95).