Hebridean Princess Dining
A stag's head looks you in the eye as you make your way down from the ship's main Promenade Deck to the Columba restaurant, and that pretty much sets the scene. This is not a ship for faint-hearted vegetarians or New Age mung bean nibblers, but for those quite at home with the down-to-earth culture of huntin', shootin' and fishin' (Texans will just adore it).
Menus feature top quality fish and seafood, along with venison, grouse, pheasant and prime beef supplied by one of Scotland's classiest butchers, the aptly-named MacBeth. As far as the ship's very talented young chef, 30-year old Edinburgh-born Paul Sim is concerned, top quality produce simply but exquisitely cooked is the order of the day.
Paul, who despite his youth has worked for Silversea Cruises and some of Europe's top hotels, was in charge of cooking for the royal party, with the help of only four sous chefs in Hebridean Princess' small galley.
Days start with still-sizzling cooked breakfasts of fried bread, black pudding, crispy bacon and perfect eggs; lunches (typically a fine cream soup followed by roast spring lamb and crunchy apple crumble) are worth getting back to the ship for.
And dinner menus range from crispy sea bream on bubble and squeak to mouthwatering Grampian venison on blackberry mash with smoked bacon cabbage, followed by spicy traditional Clootie dumplings or raspberry and whisky-laced Cranachan, with excellent local Scottish cheeses to finish.
Very few cruise ships can match the quality of the food on Hebridean Princess; not one meal was disappointing, and the portion control was perfect, allowing diners to sample a bit of everything without feeling they'd eaten an elephant.
The Columba dining room is as stylish as the food. Walnut-paneled and picture-windowed, with a mirrored central buffet service area for breakfast cereals, juices and a magnificent once-a-cruise buffet luncheon, its snowy-clothed tables are laid with fine china and glassware and embellished with richly-colored floral displays.
Good quality "house" wines -- like a 2003 Chablis Louis Michel et Fils and a delicious 2003 Merlot Reserve Santa Ema from Chile's Maipo Valley -- are included in the cruise price (as are soft drinks and most alcohol, with the exception of premium brands, which cost UK £2 ($3.79 U.S.) a shot.