Spoilt for choice at dinner

//Spoilt for choice at dinner

It’s been another glorious day on Azura, with the sun blazing down from a clear blue sky as the ship ploughs through the Baltic at a steady 22 knots, heading from Helsinki to Copenhagen.
A mass sale of Russian matryoshka dolls, lacquered boxes and gilt-encrusted eggs got the day under way. There was even a £13,250 Faberge watch which caught the eye of Captain Keith Dowds, but I suspect it will remain on display for a little longer yet.
Since then passengers have been filling sunloungers around the open decks and the swimming pools, with some paying £10 for a little extra privacy and pampering in The Retreat.
So far, minds have not been concentrating as much on food – although the topic is never far from the mind of a cruise passenger and Azura gives them plenty to think about.
It’s formal black and white night this evening – with a James Bond theme in the casino – and there will no doubt be a sizeable proportion of the 3,200 on board having to let the cummerbund out another notch, or complaining that the posh frock feels just a touch tighter around the hips.
It’s not just down to the dinners we have been enjoying for the past nine nights; the fried breakfasts, the all-you-can-pile-on-a-plate lunchtime buffets, and the scones and cream for afternoon tea have all played a part.
But it’s mainly about the dinners.
Azura has three main waiter-service restaurants. The Peninsular and the Oriental offer traditional fixed sittings at 6.30 pm and 8.30 pm, with passengers sharing tables with the same companions each evening. The Meridian provides an alternative “freedom dining” for passengers who turn up at any time between 6.00 pm and 9.30 pm, sharing with whoever happens to be on the same table, or bagging one of the many tables for two.
Starter, soup, choice of six or seven main courses, then dessert or cheese and biscuits, plus coffee and petits-fours or after dinner mints are the order of the day and the food is universally excellent. My only quibble about freedom dining is that you sometimes feel you are being rushed through so the table can be made available for other passengers.
The stars of the dinner show are Azura’s speciality restaurants.
On my first night aboard, I beat the rush and ate in XVII. There were hardly any other passengers there, but it fills up within a few days. On sister ship Ventura the same space (on Deck 17) is occupied by Marco Pierre White’s restaurant, The White Room.
XVII offers modern British classics and cruise restaurant favourites – lobster, Chateaubriand, lamb cutlets, duck breast – with the finest ingredients worthy of the £20 cover charge. Starters include the controversial foie gras, which I can never resist, and my fillet of lamb was cooked to pink perfection.
It’s a calm, relaxing setting which also offers waiter-service breakfast for passengers travelling in the more expensive suites.
Sindhu is Azura’s Asian speciality restaurant, with menus masterminded by Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar. Another tranquil setting, perfect for a special celebration, its Indian-influenced dishes are far removed from those turned out from the production line of curry houses back home.
So my lamb rogan josh, combining slow-roast shoulder with a mini-burger, was undoubtedly succulent, but distinctly lacking in the spice department. I’m going to give it another chance before the end of the voyage.
Favourite venue so far has been The Glass House, brainchild of the energetic wine expert Olly Smith, and I’m not just saying that because he hosted our dinner there last week.
He left the ship in Kristiansand, and in two further visits since then I have never been let down.
The starter selections are sublime – three dishes for two to share cost £4.95 and include giant prawns in tempura batter, fishcakes, a ham rillette, Scotch eggs and much much more.
Apart from the always-available steaks, the main course menu has changed this week, so the gigantic bison burger which almost defeated me has been replaced by an irresistible mixed grill, and an equally popular plate of calf’s liver and bacon.
The wine list is something special, and everything is available by the glass as well as the bottle – served from Enomatic dispensers similar to those in the Wine Cellars of the Celebrity Solstice class cruise ships.
If all the fine dining gets too much, there’s always a casual buffet available in the Venezia restaurant on Deck 15 – and you can tell it’s good because half the officers and other senior crew are up there each evening.
There’s just one more venue for me to try for dinner, and that’s the Italian Trattoria which opens in the Verona restaurant. It’s buffet service during the day, but is transformed at night with waiter service and a selection of pasta and pizza dishes.
I had hoped to be eating there last night, but it is so popular it was packed out before I could tear myself away from the bar.
Might just have to start a queue . . . after I’ve had my afternoon tea !

By | 2017-06-15T16:00:27+00:00 4 June 2010|Cruise Ships|0 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.

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