All meals are included in the fare, and the vessel offers six onboard dining options. Of consistently excellent quality, meals were varied and delicious, featuring regional dishes from the countries visited, more familiar fare and the "always available" options of simpler dishes for those who prefer to skip the main menu. Different portion sizes can also be served, on request. All the passengers we spoke to were full of praise for the food. Guests with dietary requirements can easily make informed choices as all menus are clearly marked to show if they contain gluten, nuts, dairy and so forth. Vegetarian and vegan dishes are widely featured. The majority of dietary requirements can be handled, although it is best to mention this to Scenic before the cruise. The maitre d' will speak to you on arrival to run through everything.
Newly introduced culinary experiences include shopping with the chef, where passengers accompany the chef and a local food specialist on a guided tour of a local market and enjoy regional dishes prepared with the produce that evening as a special dish of the day.
Crystal Dining Room (Sapphire Deck): The main dining room, with large windows running down both sides and a central buffet station, serves breakfast from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., and dinner from 7 p.m. (Times can vary slightly depending on the day's sailing itinerary and excursion schedule.)
Setting the tone for the vessel's classy dining offering, passengers can get the day off to a sparkling start with a glass of Champagne (alone or mixed with orange juice) from an ice bucket filled with Moet & Chandon. The breakfast is mainly a buffet, with all the regular hot favourites, such as scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages, plus a smoothie of the day, yoghurts, fresh fruit, pastries and a variety of breads. There's a made-to-order omelette station, and items such as French toast and speciality egg dishes can be ordered off the menu. An early morning nod to the ship's Aussie and British passengers is the inclusion of Vegemite and Marmite, which are rare species on most ships, although the robust Anglo-Australian debate about which is best will always rage on! Juice and hot drinks are served at the table.
Lunch is along similar lines, with a soup of the day and a wide choice of salads, hot dishes and a daily freshly cooked option, such as pasta. This is followed with desserts and cheese. The so-called regional corner showcases a local dish, such as bejgli, a pastry with poppy seed stuffing that is popular in Europe. "Scenic Classic Fare", such as burgers, chicken fillet and BLT salad, is available to order from the galley. The Vitality Bar section of the buffet features light and healthy choices. A standout lunch during our cruise was the seafood buffet, which also included live cooking stations, a sushi bar and some creative maritime-themed fruit carvings. (It was a first to see bananas turned into dolphins!)
Dinner is table service and includes a choice of two appetizers and two soups, three main courses (one vegetarian), three desserts and a cheese plate. One side of the menu features the "chef's favourite" with a suggested meal comprising the dishes on offer. The "always available" items include burgers, salads, and fish and chips. Typical dishes include Black Forest ham or bacon, onion and spinach tart to start, beef consomme, main courses of pan-fried sea bass in white wine sauce, duck leg with red cabbage or a spinach and feta strudel. Desserts might include creme brulee with orange and ginger salad, almond cake, ice cream and fresh fruit.
Beer, wine and soft drinks are served throughout lunch and dinner. The waiting staff will suggest a white or red wine to accompany each meal, but passengers can also opt for a selection of at least 12 other red, white and rose wines that are always available. (We were impressed when we tried to recall a particularly good wine we'd been served a couple of days before, and the waitress remembered which one it was).
Table La Rive (Sapphire Deck): In the evening, the far end of the dining room contains Table La Rive, a chef's-style fine dining table for 10. This exceptional and imaginative six-course tasting menu is available only to Diamond Deck passengers, who automatically receive an invitation to dine on one evening during their cruise. It is a set menu; however, vegetarians and passengers with other dietary requirements will be served alternative dishes with advance notice. Our meal started with a novel amuse bouche of lemongrass creme brulee and was followed by beetroot gravlax with orange and fennel slaw, scampi with mango, mushroom cappuccino soup, beef fillet and chocolate cake with balsamic cherries and vanilla ice cream. Each dish is accompanied by a different wine, and these were lyrically introduced by our sommelier, although it was sometimes hard to hear at the far end of the table due to the noise from surrounding tables. This is an extremely leisurely affair that can last three hours, so expect to be the last left in the dining room and miss the start of the evening's entertainment.
Portobellos (Sapphire Deck): Another evening dining highlight, available to all passengers with advance booking, is the 25-seat Italian restaurant Portobellos, located behind the bar and open for one seating from 7 p.m. Tables can be configured according to the number of diners in a party, and the area is closed off from the rest of the lounge with sliding glass doors. The meal begins with a glass of Champagne, and the sense of occasion continues with the chef working from a cooking station in front of the guests. The five-course menu includes two set appetisers, a choice of three main dishes, and a set dessert (again, these can be adapted for dietary requirements). Our menu featured prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, marinated olives and sun-dried tomatoes followed by tuna served with salad and a caper and lemon flavoured dressing and minestrone soup. Main courses were halibut in lemon and herb butter, stuffed veal loin and bell pepper roulade with ricotta cheese and polenta. The classic Italian dessert tiramisu followed. All courses are served with different wines (although you can stick to one or two if you want), and a theatrical oversized pepper grinder makes a regular appearance throughout the evening.
River Cafe (Diamond Deck): Open following breakfast and closing when the restaurants open for dinner, the cafe is part of the bar and serves buffet-style dishes for low-key light dining and snacks in the lounge. An early-bird breakfast of pastries, muesli, yoghurt and fruit is available from 6:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. A selection of sandwiches (Parma ham, salami, roast beef or vegetable) along with croissants, cakes and desserts are available all day long. There's also an ice cream bar. If you want to enjoy lunch ashore, staff will pack a hamper for you. During lunchtime, an additional range of dishes are available, most of them vegetarian. Expect to find an imaginative choice such as a tomato oatmeal drink, Moroccan carrot salad, glass noodle salad with pan-fried orange, tomato soup, chickpea banana balls and a hot dish of pasta or rice. Scenic Jasper has a custom-built pizza oven, and pizzas and other items from the galley, including burgers, are available daily.
Riverview Terrace (Sun Deck): On fine days, the area at the front of the Sun Deck is an outdoor dining area with tables, parasols and comfortable wicker chairs with arms, where passengers can take food and drink from the River Cafe. There is also a barbecue here, and passengers can expect at least one outdoor lunch during the cruise, weather permitting.
Room Service: Passengers on Sapphire and Diamond decks can have early morning tea and coffee and continental breakfast served in their cabins, while Jewel passengers can order tea and coffee only. Guests in the Junior and Royal suites also have fruit skewers delivered every afternoon, canapes before dinner and petit fours after the evening meal.
A 24/7 room service menu is available in all cabins. It includes soup, sandwiches, burgers, desserts and a cheese platter. An additional benefit for Royal Panorama Suite passengers is breakfast, lunch or dinner from the main menu delivered to their cabins. They also have the option of "French-style" service, where courses are delivered one at a time instead of all at once.