There are two venues in which to dine: the main dining room, Le Coromandel, on Deck 2, and the casual Le Rodrigues on Deck 6. Open-seating breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in both every day.
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The 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 very strange, although there were some hosted tables on the gala night.
Food in Le Coromandel 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. We tended to eat breakfast on deck in the less formal setting of Le Rodrigues (7 a.m. to 9 a.m.), which has the same menu. We quickly learned that if you turned up at 8:55 a.m., it was already being cleared away.
Lunch (12 p.m. 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. There's a decent enough range of salads and cold cuts and, again, 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, and a premium list has some interesting French labels on it from about 30 euros upward.
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. 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. I bucked the system one day and asked for cheese as the main course was being cleared away and had a long wait for it.
We ate lunch most days in Le Rodrigues (12 p.m. to 2 p.m.), as 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 the same as downstairs, though.
If you want dinner in Le Rodrigues (from 7 p.m.), you have to book at breakfast, and a big production was made of this, although when we turned up after something of a battle to secure a table for two, the place was almost empty. 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.
Tea, coffee, fruit, cookies and an early-bird breakfast (from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.) are also available in the Karikal 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.
Water is available free of charge on shore excursions.
L'Austral Ship Stats
- Crew: 140
- Launched: 2011
- Decks: 6
- Passengers: 264
- Registry: France
- CDC Score: 92