Food onboard is geared to British tastes, with a decent choice of included and speciality (fee) restaurants on Iona. The standard is generally good, though varies by restaurant. Iona’s specialty dining, ranging from Indian to gastropub fare, are a real treat and worth paying for.
Of Iona’s free restaurants, there are four main dining rooms (Coral and Pearl are the nicest, with views over the ship's wake); the Horizon buffet; a fast-food pool grill, Taste 360; and a canteen-style venue, The Quays, offering fish and chips, one daily Asian dish, hot dogs and burgers, as well as a small selection of plated salads. The Olive Grove, another new restaurant, serves Mediterranean cuisine at lunch and dinner, from mezze sharing plates to pizza, kebabs and tagines.
Iona has four main dining rooms, all open seating. The food is of a high standard, with plenty of choice and lighter options. Breakfast includes a full fry-up and a daily special, from Eggs Benedict to kedgeree, and healthier choices including cereals, fruit, smoothies and yogurts.
The lunch menu features soup, salads, bagels, sandwiches and wraps, and large plates that include British favourites like shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, or seafood fritto misto. Desserts are decadent and comforting, from warm pear Charlotte with cream to chocolate brownies or Bakewell tart.
Menus are imaginative, with five courses spanning starters, soups, mains, desserts and a cheese plate. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are clearly marked. Expect dishes like rainbow trout with avocado mousse, swordfish steak, onion and garlic souffle and a daily roast. Always available dishes include prawn cocktail, cream of tomato soup, grilled salmon, chicken breast, sirloin steak and a fruit salad.
Once a week, there's a gala dinner in all four dining rooms, with the menu designed by Marco Pierre White, one of P&O Cruises' "Food Heroes", including items like lobster mornay and beef Wellington. You can pre-book the Chef's Table for a more intimate setting, with wines paired by Olly Smith (at extra cost), but this isn't a restaurant as such; it's a space in The Horizon, the main buffet, with extra ambience created for dress-up nights.
You can also get daily afternoon tea in the main dining rooms, an extremely generous portion of sandwiches, dainty cakes, warm scones, jam and clotted cream.
The main buffet, at this stage still served, rather than self-service, is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late snacks. There's plenty of choice here, from full English breakfast, pastries and fruit in the mornings to a daily roast with all the trimmings, several excellent curries, pre-plated salads in small bowls and a beautifully presented array of cakes and pre-plated desserts, including gluten-free, vegan and low sugar options. The absence of self-service means queues form at busy times, but there are multiple serving stations.
P&O Cruises regulars will find favourites like Sindhu for Asian fusion; the Limelight Club, with nightly cabaret; and the gorgeous Epicurean, perfect for a classy, romantic dinner or one of the finest afternoon teas at sea -- created by Eric "Cake Boy" Lanlard. Olly Smith's wine bar and grazing spot, The Glass House, has an enhanced menu and a prime position on Deck 7, overlooking the Grand Atrium, while a new venue, the Keel and Cow, is a meat lover's dream.
Tip: Choose your specialty dining and book it as soon as you get on board. The restaurants fill up very quickly, especially with social distancing still in place.
Epicurean is the most expensive of the speciality dining restaurants, at £28 per person, but it's worth the outlay for a romantic evening in a classy venue.
Presentation is exquisite and the service attentive. The roasted red pepper parfait, the pata negra ham, the miso-glazed rack and slow-cooked lamb belly, and the fluffy Emmental souffle are worth trying. There are grills, too, from giant prawns to ribeye and sirloin steak. Look out for the Norwegian-inspired tasting menu when the ship is sailing in the fjords, created by renowned Norwegian chef Kjartan Skjelde.
The Keel and Cow is new to P&O Cruises and it's a big hit. Arrive here with an empty stomach, as the portions are massive. P&O Cruises’ Keel and Cow menu offers different cuts of steak, dry-aged in a special cabinet and including a 32oz Tomahawk, for £32, complete with chunky chips, battered onion rings and Portobello mushrooms. The Prime Minister burger, at £8.50, is an 8oz beast, with a side of fries and garlic mayo. There are fish dishes and a surprisingly good vegan Indian platter.
There's no pre-booking here, and the Keel and Cow is open all day.
Olly Smith's wine bar and tapas restaurant is the perfect spot for all-day grazing. Pricing is a la carte, with three small plates costing £8.25, including choices such as prawn potstickers, beetroot croquetas, and gin-and-tonic cured salmon.
Larger dishes come in plates of three different items of either chicken, beef, pork, seafood or vegan, from £8, and there’s a vast menu of wines by the glass. When Iona sails to the Canary Islands, there will be new tapas by celebrated Spanish chef Jose Pizzaro.
The Limelight Club isn't new to P&O but deserves mention as the food and entertainment are so good. The three-course menu includes mojito-cured salmon, a superb sea bass with lemon and herb gnocchi and a beautiful chocolate bombe with raspberries and ice cream.
Cabaret acts will vary, but drag queen La Voix was in residence on our cruise, taking off divas including Tina Turner, Liza Minelli and Shirley Bassey in glittering style. The whole venue has an aura of intimate glamour and is excellent value.