Ponant takes its French heritage seriously, and this is reflected in the dining rooms. You'll find proteins such as veal and wild boar appear, sometimes more than once, and how often do you usually see duck confit or escargot at the buffet? Sauces, breads and desserts are all delicious -- and almost everyone raved about the French butter.
North Americans do not need to fear the dining room, however -- you can always get a burger, club sandwich or chicken for lunch and dinner. The menu is varied, and there are always vegetarian and gluten-free options. Far from being "too French," some passengers have said that the food isn't French enough, we were told.
Open-seating breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in both of the ship's two restaurants.
Tea, coffee, fruit, cookies and an early-bird breakfast (from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.) are also available in the Main Lounge on Deck 3, and afternoon tea (cakes and cookies) is laid out at 4 p.m. The room service menu consists mainly of comfort food like burgers, steaks, fries and salads, available at no additional charge.
La Licorne (Deck 2): The white-tablecloth main dining room can seat all passengers together, but the acoustics are such that the staff try not to fill it to capacity, as the low ceiling makes it very noisy when it's full. There are tables for four, six and eight, with fours sometimes serving as twos. You can ask to be seated with other passengers who speak your language. We wanted a table for two at dinner and found that, by turning up later, this was usually possible, although the upshot was that the service was rushed. Dinner starts at 7:30 p.m., and that's when practically all passengers turned up. Anything later seemed to confuse the waiters.
One table in the dining room is reserved for the officers who sit together at all meals, ignoring the cruisers, which we found strange, although there were some hosted tables on the gala night.
Food in La Licorne was generally excellent. There's a big spread for breakfast (7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.) with a range of cooked items, an omelet station and a hot dish of the day, as well as an extraordinary spread of pastries and cakes (as you might expect on a French ship). Fresh fruits bought in the region in which we were sailing meant delicious strawberries, peaches and nectarines.
Lunch (noon to 2 p.m.) was a buffet with a selection of hot dishes veering more toward comfort food than elegant fare -- lasagna, casseroles, meat or fish in a sauce and so on. Or you can order from a daily menu. At the buffet, there's a nice range of salads and cold cuts and a stunning presentation of desserts, with ice cream always available. Red, white and rose wine of decent quality are poured generously at lunch and dinner.
Dinner (from 7:30 p.m.) is when the French classics come out, featuring everything from foie gras and chicken gizzards to duck confit, veal and wild boar, all served with rich sauces and elegant arrangements of vegetables. The vegetarian options are good, a long way from the omelets and frites to which veggies would resign themselves in France in years gone by. There also are vegan and gluten-free options at every meal. Much of the fish is bought fresh, locally and was excellent.
Dinners include a starter, soup, main course and dessert. Strangely, we were asked to order dessert at the beginning of the meal, which seems a rather mass-market way of approaching things.
La Boussole (Deck 6): We tended to eat breakfast (8 a.m. to 10 a.m.) on deck in the less formal setting of La Boussole , which has the same fare as La Licorne at its buffet stations. We quickly learned that if you turned up at 8:55 a.m., it was already being cleared away. We also ate lunch (noon to 2 p.m.) most days in La Boussole. It was pleasant to sit outside by the pool. Sometimes there was a barbecue (token at best for the French passengers, who eat their steak almost raw), sometimes a moules marinieres station (mussels poached in a garlicky stock and served from a huge tureen) and, on one occasion, a mountain of oysters. The menu is basically the same as downstairs, though.
If you want dinner in La Boussole (from 7 p.m.), you have to book at breakfast, and a big production was made of this; the buffet is often very popular. Because the ship is in port a lot at night, people do tend to change their minds and eat ashore. Dinner is a buffet, which, despite the romantic alfresco setting, is unexciting and not that different from the lunch menu. But this is a lovely spot to dine on a balmy evening in port.
Main Lounge (Deck 3): Tea, coffee, fruit, cookies and an early-bird continental breakfast (6:30 to 10 a.m.) are available here, along with afternoon tea (cakes and cookies) at 4 p.m.
Room Service: The menu consists mainly of comfort food like burgers, steaks, fries and salads, available at no additional charge.