U River Cruises has elevated culinary offerings onboard by doing one very surprising thing: eliminating choice. Of course, exceptions are made for dietary restrictions, but apart from a daily vegetarian option, dinner -- the one meal served to your table each day -- is set. Using fresh and local ingredients as inspiration, an appetizer platter, soup, main course and dessert are presented each evening to the table. There are no two-tops; tables are organized for four, six, eight and 12 people to sit together and rectangular tables can always be pushed together for even larger groups.
Another unique aspect of dining on The A is that meals are served family style, on shared platters. If you find yourself in the rare situation of dining alone, your dinner will be served to you on your own plate. Also, if you are ordering a special vegetarian meal or simply don't want onions, servers will bring you a version of the meal that suits your individual needs.
The one blemish on an otherwise standout dinner service was timing. Servers were attentive, refilling water glasses and taking other drink orders, but the lapse in time between when the starters and mains were served could be very lagging. We found this was mostly the case at larger tables as the kitchen seemed to want to serve everyone at once. With shared plates, you think this would be easier, but due to the staggered nature of the evening dining hours, there were inconsistencies. The kitchen will need to iron out the flow of dinnertime if they don't want complaints from patrons who can't sit through a two- to three-hour-long dinner each evening.
The other meal of the day is brunch, which bridges the gap between a leisurely late breakfast and lunch, and is served buffet style. We greatly enjoyed the French press coffee served tableside, which was remarkably better than most "cruise coffee."
The quality of the ingredients and the expert execution of delicate meringues and pastries makes for some memorable plates in the Dine.
There is no room service available onboard The A.
Dine (Deck 1): Referred to as "The Dine," The A's single restaurant is unrecognizable as a former Uniworld dining room. Mirrors and windows bring lots of natural light into this trendy space, filled with exposed lightbulbs, potted herb plants on tables and the ship's signature neon backlighting. Works of art reminiscent of The A's familiar neon heart hang on the back wall. Tables are arranged as booths, square tables along the windows, round tables for groups in the middle of the room, and in the center is the coveted banquet table with high-top, cushioned stools (that sink down comfortably), which seats a dozen people. Flat-screen TVs around the restaurant display the menu du jour, but usually they're an afterthought and your waiter will explain that day's specialties. Most tables are outfitted with USB ports or outlets to charge your phone, but we never saw them in use -- let alone people on their phones. Meals on The A were filled with lively conversation and laughter.
Brunch starts in the late morning, and times vary depending on the day -- plan for 9:30 or 10. For about three hours, passengers on The A can help themselves to treats like chia seed pudding, green smoothies, crispy bacon and scrambled eggs, fresh fruit cups, a full salad bar with prepared salads included, a bread basket, morning pastries, sliced meats and cheeses, and an omelet station. Don't miss banana pancakes or Dutch waffles kept warm in silver trays. Because the first meal of the day can go until after 1 p.m., there are hot, savory lunch items like Mediterranean vegetables, cheese spaetzle (German egg noodles) or paninis -- and don't forget about dessert with local honey cake and dark chocolate/pistachio mousse. Fresh coffee is served to your table, but you can easily step just outside the dining room to make yourself a latte. A variety of juices, kept in pitchers behind the counter, are available at breakfast.
Unless you need to make a substitution or are more in the mood for a cauliflower steak than traditional bratwurst, dinner is pretty straightforward. Dinner hours in the Dine are about 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. each evening and you can begin anytime you want to, but leave yourself plenty of time to dine or sit at a smaller table. A starting platter might feature local specialties like "Kolsch tapas" -- dry fruits and bacon, grilled artichokes, falafel and baba ghanoush -- or a deconstructed Nicoise salad. The soup course was a favorite on our sailing, each night offering a delicious and sometimes surprising selection like cream of roasted Brussel sprout or carrot ginger with cinnamon popcorn on top. Local flavors were especially pronounced when it came to entrees -- beer and beef goulash (served in a cast iron pot) or a variety of German sausages -- but dishes like a miso-glazed cod and glass noodle salad kept a week of meals from being too heavy on the meat and potatoes.
Twice we had meringue -- in a berry pavlova and again in a plum almond tart with a meringue top -- and some tablemates exclaimed it was one of the best things they ever ate. Local specialties reign over the dessert course, as well, with treats like a Cologne rum truffle cake or an apricot cheesecake.
One of the last nights of the cruise, there is a surprise at the end of the meal. We don't want to ruin it too much, but the best way to describe it is a "dessert rave." There's music, maybe a drum or two, lots of shouting and clapping -- and of course an incredible spread of sweets.
U Lounge (Deck 2): From 3 to 7 p.m., bar snacks are offered in the U Lounge for a la carte prices. This helps to fill the gap between brunch and dinner service. On The A, snacks include a mezze plate with pita, baba ghanoush, olive tapenade, hummus and falafel for 8.50 euros, a German currywurst (sausage) for 9.50 euros or two beef sliders for 12 euros. After dinner and during bar hours, anyone feeling peckish can order a hot dog for 7 euros or some freshly popped popcorn for 2 euros.
By the entrance to the U Lounge are jars containing candies like marshmallows, gummy bears, raspberry jellies or hard candy.
Mugs (Deck 1): There is a tiny nook to your left before entering the restaurant on Deck 1, and this is the 24-hour drink station known as Mugs. Glasses, and of course mugs, are provided for cold water on tap, an espresso machine and a variety of Newby-brand tea. Sugar, honey packets and spoons are also available, with a silver tray for leaving any unwanted cups behind.