The quality of food on Ventura is of a very high standard for such a large ship. The menus in the three main dining rooms (MDR) change daily, and there is a special Gala Menu on formal nights, put together by Marco Pierre White.
Two of the main dining rooms (Cinnamon, Saffron) offer 'Freedom Dining', which means you can turn up anytime between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and sit where and with whom you like. The third MDR (Bay Tree) offers set-time dining which P&O Cruises calls Club Dining.
Cinnamon (Deck 5, midships): P&O Cruises has really upped its game when it comes to the food in the MDRs, with both adventurous and varied dishes, and superb service. In fact, if you chose just to eat here or Saffron or Bay Tree, rather than in a specialty restaurant, you would not be missing out as both include guest cuisine such as Indian and Far Eastern dishes, as well as six course Gala Dinners on formal nights with menus prepared by Marco Pierre White. A typical menu might consist of chicken liver parfait or wild mushroom risotto to start. Mains will include a fish or shellfish dish, a vegetarian option and one or two meat dishes such as roast leg of pork and braised beef. Or you can stick to the Classics -- prawn cocktail, Caesar salad or tomato soup to start, then fillet of salmon, sirloin steak and breast of chicken, which is available every night. There's also a good selection of very British puddings (desserts) such as sticky toffee pudding, Bakewell tart or baked treacle tart. On Formal evenings, starters might include something special such as a game terrine or oak smoked Scottish salmon; mains might include roast duck or prime fore rib of beef (there are no Classic Favourites offered on Gala evenings). 'Marco's Menu' might feature a dish such as lobster. There is usually a Champagne Sorbet between courses, too. Open 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Saffron (Deck 6, midships): Saffron offers the same menu as Cinnamon, but is open throughout the day. Open daily for breakfast (7:30 a.m. - 9 a.m.), lunch (12:15 p.m. - 1:45 p.m.), afternoon tea (4:00 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.) and dinner (6 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.).
Bay Tree (Deck 6, aft): Bay Tree offers the same menu as Cinnamon and Saffron, but has fixed-time seating in the evenings. Breakfast is served on port days (from 7:30 a.m. - 9 a.m.) and there are two fixed seating times in the evening (6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.).
Waterside (Deck 10, aft): Waterside (open 7 a.m. – 6 a.m.) is the self-service buffet perched high up on Deck 10. It incorporates the Beach House (6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.; and 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.), a smaller area more towards the aft of the ship. Both offer the same food, but the latter is a calmer area adjoining the main buffet area. A children's tea is served in the Beach House (starboard side from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.) every day; afternoon tea is served from 3:00 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the port side (for free) and also in The Epicurean (for a fee). Most nights there will be a themed food night such as Indian, Mexican or Thai, which are very popular, as evidenced by the queues. There is always a roast as well.
Frankie's Grill (Deck 10): On the Pool Deck during the day Frankie's Pizzeria serves delicious stone-baked made-to-order pizzas; you can also buy ice creams from £1.95. On the first night of the cruise the Pool Deck is turned into an open-air buffet with live music.
There are three specialty restaurants, two formal ones -- Epicurean, which serves molecular gastronomy cuisine and Sindhu (formerly East), the upmarket Indian restaurant. There is also one informal restaurant, which has proved popular on sister ship Azura and replaces Las Ramblas on Ventura -- The Glass House by UK wine expert Olly Smith -- which is a for-fee tapas-style restaurant.
The Glass House (Deck 4, aft); a la carte: The Glass House has a relaxed vibe -- it invites you to drop in and grab a table, or just hang at the bar -- it's also more of a walk-through space than an actual restaurant. Three small plates are £5.25, and might include chorizo, warm quail Scotch egg, garlic mushrooms or salt and pepper tempura prawns. Large plates are good value -- you can get a sirloin steak for £5.50. The food is OK, nothing special, but where Smith's involvement is evident is the extraordinary selection of wine from all over the world, and it's pretty reasonable, too. A bottle of excellent New Zealand sauvignon will set you back £12.50 (it would be at least double that on dry land).
The Glass House offers Food & Wine Pairing Dinners twice a week for £30 per person, which includes a four-course meal, with wines with each course, plus a wine guide to talk you through the choices. There are also wine talks on certain days of the cruise, hosted by the head sommelier (not Olly Smith), for a maximum of 30 people: for £10 per person you can enjoy a talk, two glasses of wine and several different dishes.
Sindhu (Deck 7, midships); £15 to £25 depending on the length of the cruise: Sindhu takes up a large amount of space on Deck 7, the main Promenade Deck, and is set in a gorgeous room -- red carpet, white upholstered chairs and dark wood tables give it a very authentic Indian feel -- as does the menu, which offers a variety of outstanding Indian dishes. Dinner menus are changed twice a cruise and starters might include shammi kebab (spiced lamb cakes), jai tarang (pan-fried hand-dived scallops) and gosht ke dhuandhar soole (marinated smoked beef skewers). For mains, lamb rogan josh, chicken murgh and cod jai pari are sublime. There is also a small bar area which offers tapas-style Indian dishes from £4.95 on selected days at lunchtime. Open 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch on selected days and 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for dinner.
Epicurean at The White Room (Deck 17, aft); £25-£30: Epicurean's position right at the back of the ship high up on Deck 17 gives it a wonderful setting. Inside it's dark, with plush carpets and furnishings inside; and a lovely verandah area outside where you can sit and watch the wake. If you like imaginative, creative cuisine -- the so called molecular gastronomy type -- which has style as well as content, then this is the restaurant for you. The menu presents as traditional -- with provenance playing a big part -- but the dishes are re-interpreted for today's modern palates. So expect starters such as jamon pata negra and pulled smoked Gressingham duck leg or a duo of cured smoked salmons, but presented in an interesting and unexpected way. There are lots of other fun touches: Bloody Mary lollipops to start, a dash of Worcestershire sauce in the centre; salt and pepper oyster and jumbo prawn tempura that comes with an artist's 'paint tube' of sweet pimento sauce; a sorbet designed as a tube of lipstick or a 'poached egg' with a 'yolk' of mango and a 'white' of coconut milk. Mains might include The Epicurean Fish and Chips, Whole Dover Sole or Irish Beef fillet and Dorset Crown lamb rump, again all presented in an unexpected and unusual way. Desserts are also classics such as creme brulee and summer trifle, but with popping candy torte, or flaming caramelised apple crumble -- scorched at your table. All in all an outstanding experience -- and a steal compared to what you might pay for this type of cuisine in a central London restaurant. Open 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Room Service: Breakfast is free, but there is a charge at other times of day.