Viking Emerald Dining
All meals are served in the Deck 2 restaurant and are open-seating. Circular tables seat eight people and feature a lazy susan, a revolving glass section ensuring the smooth passage of shared dishes and other items around the table without the need to pass them.
Breakfast is a leisurely affair from 7 to 9 or 9:30 a.m., depending on shore excursions. The expansive buffet of meats, cheeses, cereals and pastries includes delicious homemade yogurt with unusual flavors like green tea, a fresh fruit station and healthy choice section. Small fruit smoothies are served at the table with juice and hot drinks. For the full works, the buffet chefs cook omelets and hot dishes to order, and for table service, passengers can order from the menu, which includes buttermilk pancakes, French toast, porridge (oatmeal), eggs Benedict, crispy bacon, sausages and hash browns.
Sparkling wine is available at breakfast and served at the entrance to the dining room at lunchtime, and staff don't stint on the decent complimentary wine and beer available at lunch and dinner. No wonder the passengers seem such a happy bunch!
Lunch is served at noon but is less regimented than on some other river vessels, and staff don't seem to mind if you come in later. This helps ease the inevitable queues that form at the buffet as people shuffle along with trays. At both lunch and dinner, samples of the main dishes are on show at the entrance to the restaurant, which can help you decide what to order. The lunchtime buffet has a good range of salads and hot and cold Western and Asian dishes with the most adventurous -- chicken feet, more lyrically called phoenix feet, and pigs' ears -- probably wisely saved until the last day. There is also a sit-down service that typically features a choice of two appetizers, three main courses and two desserts. The chefs have fun with the menu, serving dishes like The American (a hamburger) and The British (a roast beef baguette with fries).
There is no afternoon tea service; however, pastries and cookies are available throughout the day at the 24/7 tea and coffee station outside the Observation Lounge.
Dinner, from 7 p.m., is table service and includes four choices of appetizers, three main courses and three desserts, plus a cheese plate. Typical dishes, with daily vegetarian options, include smoked duck breast with salad and sweet chili sauce to start, then olive-crusted fillet of sea bass in a lemon sauce, followed by tiramisu. Special diets can be catered to, and "always available" main courses of Caesar salad, salmon, chicken or steak can be ordered. The captain's dinner is a four-course affair with more choices, and chefs rise to special occasions. Our cruise coincided with Thanksgiving Day, and roast turkeys held aloft on silver platters were borne into the restaurant and carved with great aplomb.
Staff have a very clever knack of remembering names (even if you forget to wear the obligatory name badge) and food and drink preferences from day one, adding to the very personal touch. Sometimes the service lacked finesse, with menus handed to men before women and meals served in the same way. Butter comes in pre-packs, not dishes, and some passengers commented that most buffet items were already dressed or in rich sauces with few lighter options. During our cruise, the restaurant was sometimes uncomfortably warm during dinner.
A beverage package, including drinks from the bar during opening hours and unlimited fine wines, is available for around $182 and has to be bought by both people sharing a cabin. If you fancy a local tipple, such as Chinese wine -- yes, there is a growing wine industry with brands featuring memorable names like Great Wall and Dynasty -- you're free to bring them onboard, and there is no corkage charge.