The main dining rooms are the Peninsular, Oriental and Meridian Restaurants. They all have their individual styles but serve the same menus at dinner. When you book your cruise you will be asked whether you want Club Dining -- a set table at the Peninsular or Oriental during one of the two fixed times of 6:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. -- or Freedom Dining -- a flexible option to dine any time from 6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Meridian Restaurant. The second option is best for people who like a change of dining companions! If you opt for assigned seating, the only difference between the Oriental and Meridian is the Oriental is smaller and therefore more intimate.
Both the Peninsular and Oriental are open from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. for breakfast, or 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on sea days. The Peninsular is open for lunch from 12:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.
There are light options at all mealtimes, but the menus are unashamedly aimed at the British palate. We loved to dine in the light and airy Peninsular in the morning; the full English breakfast is one of the best at sea. At dinner starters might include Country Pate with fig relish and toast, a main of Crabmeat and Cod Fishcakes and dessert of Apple Brown Betty with custard, followed by a cheeseboard with regional British cheese.
Interestingly, though, there's also an Indian colonial feel to mealtimes. P&O is the world's oldest cruise line, and took over the British India Steam Navigation Company in 1914, so there have been cultural ties with India for several generations. This may explain the mainly Indian restaurant and housekeeping staff, and vegetarian options in the dining rooms such as Chickpea and Roasted Vegetable Masala with steamed rice, pooris and chutneys.
It may also explain the choice of an Indian restaurant as one of Azura's two speciality-dining options. Sindhu offers a fusion of Indian and British cuisine, and even people who don't particularly like curries should be able to find something to their taste. There's a cover charge (from £15 to £25 depending on the length of the cruise), and booking is recommended. We enjoyed the perfect Roasted Chicken Tikka starter and Goan Style Pan Roasted Lobster in Coconut Sauce with Lobster Kedgeree, although the Rogan Josh lamb curry lacked texture. Nothing was over-spiced, but clever seasoning meant there were no complaints of blandness from curry aficionados.
Seventeen, also with a cover charge (£28 to £30), claims to offer the best of modern British dining, and we can vouch for the Welsh Salt Marsh Lamb Loin. We also preferred the clubby, sophisticated decor in Seventeen to the overwhelmingly red Sindhu.
In all, Azura claims to have 17 dining options, including the Poolside Grill serving things like burgers, and the Pizzeria & Ice Cream, which were open from 1 to 8 p.m.
Neighbouring Verona and Venezia are self-service during the day with waiter-service at night, when Venezia turns into an Italian restaurant and Verona has a different theme most nights. Late snacks are available at Venezia from 9:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Unfortunately, the Venezia serving area is ridiculously cramped and complicated -- although there are plenty of seats.
You can also eat in The Glass House, a stylish wine bar that is cleverly lit to create an intimate atmosphere, but you'll have to pay a token charge. For instance, an 8oz sirloin steak is £5.50, or you can eat tapas-style and have three small dishes for £5.25 (such as fishcakes, hummus and tiger prawns). The Glass House is open for dining from 11:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.
Room Service is available 24 hours a day and can be ordered via your TV. Most of the food is complimentary, but some incur a small fee. For instance, chicken or bacon sandwiches cost £1.50, but a continental breakfast is free.
Afternoon Tea consists of crustless sandwiches and cakes, but the waiter-served option in the Peninsular Restaurant is much more sociable and appetising -- even though the same food is on offer in the Venezia self-serve restaurant.