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How to Eat Well on P&O’s Britannia Cruise Ship

Publisher - Great British Food Awards
published by

NatashaLS

Jan 17, 2020
19 minutes to read
Image for blog - How to Eat Well on P&O’s Britannia Cruise Ship

We set sail on P&O’s flagship liner and discovered craft gin, celebrity chefs and delicious curry aplenty. Editor Natasha Lovell-Smith gives an insider’s guide to eating excellently at sea

P&O Cruises is already a classic British brand, but the launch of its Britannia ship back in 2015 really hammered the message home; the vessel has a 308ft Union Jack painted on her bow (the largest of its kind in the world) and was christened by none other than Queen Elizabeth II.

Longer than both The Shard and the Eiffel Tower, the ship is a behemoth and the biggest in P&O’s fleet (that is until the launch of Iona later this year) with 1,837 cabins, 15 decks, 13 bars as well as 13 restaurants and cafés. However, the aspect that appealed to us on GBF was the impressive selection of British produce available on board, including ice cream from Hampshire dairy Jude’s, Old Winchester cheese from Lyburn Farm, beef from Onley Grounds Farm and a huge selection of British beers and gins.

Nino Giovanni Mac Mahon, head of Britannia’s Cookery Club, explains: “Regionally sourced British food is something that we champion as much as possible. It really resonates with our guests and, as a great British brand, we think it’s a natural choice to support British producers.”

The Cookery Club
The Cookery Club

A selling point for me was the The Cookery Club and Food Heroes programmes, where popular names such as Marco Pierre White, Olly Smith and Eric Lanlard offer special menus and exclusive foodie experiences both on and off shore, from hosted dinners to wine tastings and cookery classes.

Are cruises for me?

Anyone familiar with modern cruising will know that the old stereotypes – bad food, overcrowding, boring sea days, not enough time in port – are mostly myths if you choose your trip carefully, and as a first-time cruiser I was pleasantly surprised by how fun and relaxing I found the entire process.

Being a pretty independent traveller I’m used to managing (and often overthinking) every aspect of my travels abroad; but after spending two weeks aboard the Britannia I can definitely see the appeal in surrendering control and basically having everything done for you! With roughly one member of staff per three passengers there’s always someone around to answer any query you could have – though I found that all my questions about local currency, disembarkment, event timings etc. were available on the daily newsletter delivered to your room every evening.

Essentially you can do as much or as little as you like – be energetic or lazy, get involved in social activities or just chill out in your room, have excursions organised for you or do your own thing.

11 Tips for Happy Cruising

Get your bearings

Try to do this early on as the ship really is huge. Plan your route from cabin to the closest stairs/lift and try to remember it; this is crucial on busy port days as everyone will be trying to exit the ship at the same time. It took us a couple of days (and several laps around our deck!) to realise our cabin was actually just a short flight of stairs away from the main restaurant.

A typical balcony room on Britannia
A typical balcony room on Britannia

Stay cool at breakfast

At the Horizon buffet breakfast is varied and good quality (we loved the fresh omelette station) but it’s pretty much always a scrum no matter when you visit. For a more relaxed breakfast, head to one of the main dining rooms (Meridian/Peninsular/Oriental) for a sit down meal – the food is of a similar quality but the pace is much less frantic. On the mornings when we had very early starts we took advantage of the free room service breakfast, which included hot paninis, fruit, pastries and cereal. This being a quintessentially British ship, every room has its own kettle too, so you won’t have to go far for your first tea or coffee of the day.

Give the buffet a go

I found myself wandering over to the Horizon buffet for a ‘snack’ more times than I care to admit! Cruise buffets are admittedly a love it or hate it affair, but I found the quality on most days to be very good indeed. It’s the most casual eating option on board so we tended to visit Horizon for dinner when we’d had a really busy day at port and just fancied something quick and easy. It’s open until 2am too, just in case you find yourself in need of a midnight snack!

Cold options like fresh salads, smoked fish and cheese were always available and consistently good quality, while the hot options were a bit more hit and miss. Curries, Indian food and British specialties were always excellent, so look out for nights with those themes. The Indian options were particularly vegetarian friendly. The best offering at Horizon is probably the afternoon tea; you can have a more sophisticated version of this in the formal dining rooms but this is a nicely relaxed alternative with fluffy scones, dainty sandwiches and lots of freshly–made cakes.

Splash out wisely

There are so many complimentary eating options on board Britannia that you can eat very well without spending any extra money, but if you want to treat yourself to a meal in one of the ‘Speciality’ eateries they’re still good value considering the quality. The beautiful Epicurean restaurant (the priciest option at £28 per person) is perfect for a special occasion and a nice excuse to dress up and celebrate. The whole experience is as good as anything you’ll find in a London fine dining restaurant with the added joy of an ocean view: top-notch ingredients used with care and creatively, attentive and friendly staff, plus dishes that are interesting but unfussy. Highlights from the menu included a snow crab, langoustine and salmon caviar cocktail, miso-glazed rack of lamb and a stupendous cheese souffle. If you fancy a little theatre with your supper order the crêpes suzette for dessert – it’s fired up tableside!

The Epicurian
Afternoon Tea at The Epicurian

Feast on exceptional Indian food

Sindu, the ship’s Indian restaurant, has a cover charge of £20 per person and easily the best meal we ate on board. The menu itself is inspired by the rich curries and complex spices of India, with a sophisticated twist that doesn’t denigrate from the heartiness of the cuisine. On the menu you’ll find starters of crisp soft shell crab, spiced lamb chops with Feta and black chickpea dumplings, followed by generously sized mains of lobster biryani, slow-cooked lamb shanks with saffron and crispy duck breast with aubergine fritters. If available, the cardamom bread and butter pudding with ginger ice cream is a must-order for pud, while the thoughtfully chosen wine menu has some really interesting Indian options. As well as your three chosen courses you’ll also get poppadoms, chutneys, lots of sides and a little taster from the kitchen so expect to leave extremely satisfied.

Eric Lanlard’s afternoon tea

We heard quite a few passengers rave about the extra special afternoon tea served up at The Epicurean restaurant and it didn’t disappoint. Only available on sea days, it’s designed by pastry chef Eric Lanlard and is certainly unlike any afternoon tea I’ve had before. Expect pancetta and porcini eclairs, curried crab and yoghurt tarts with a seaweed crisp and orange blossom scones.

Drink with a view

The Crow’s Nest bar is located high up at the front of Britannia and is the best spot to watch the ship arrive or sail away. Here you’ll also find the impressive Great British Gin Menu, which includes 20 British-distilled gins from around the country including small, artisan brands such as The Botanist, Tarquin’s and Silent Pool.

Fast food by the pool

One of the things that most impressed me on Britannia was the quality of the food in the casual eating spots – on sea days we really enjoyed exploring the various options scattered over the boat. The pizzas and burgers served in the pool area were always piping hot, fresh and delicious, with lots of daily specials and vegetarian options. The self-service Grab & Go store (which we unfortunately only discovered towards the end of our trip) also has a great selection of pre-packed salads, sandwiches and snacks for eating at your leisure.

Book a cookery class

Britannia’s cookery school – aka The Cookery Club – is a stunning space that must have received some serious investment. Located high on Deck 15 it’s flooded with natural light and fitted with the most up-to-date kitchen cookware, TV screens and speakers, plus a big dining table for eating your creations at the end. It fits 25 people and all the preparation is done for you, as is the washing up.

There are lots of different types of class on offer throughout the day, from chocolate making to Thai street food, but it’s the celebrity-led classes that draw the crowds. Chefs like Marco Pierre White, Matt Tebbutt and Paul A Young host interactive masterclasses on certain trips so it’s worth booking one with a food hero on board. Chef and author Sabrina Ghayour was the resident celeb on our cruise and her middle-eastern cookery class was one of the most memorable parts of the trip.

Dine with the chefs

They aren’t cheap, but the ‘chef’s table’ dinners are fantastic fun and a great opportunity to get tips and advice from your food heroes. Supper chatting with a group of like-minded food lovers with free-flowing wine and a sunset view? What could be better? Ours was hosted by Sabrina Ghayour again and she couldn’t have been more welcoming and friendly. We all chatted with Sabrina (and her lovely mum, who joined us for dinner) as she prepared an epic middle-eastern feast of salads, flatbreads, dips, grilled meats and the most incredible, buttery Persian baked rice.

Make the most of Southampton if you can

Our ship was a little delayed coming into port so instead of waiting at the docks we decided to spend the day in Southampton and were really impressed with how vibrant the city is, especially the restaurants and museums. I imagine most cruise travellers bypass it entirely and head straight to the ship, but why not prolong your holiday a bit and add a night in a hotel before you set sail or when you disembark? Highlights include Southampton Common (326 acres of woodland and green spaces at the heart of the city), the famous Mayflower Theatre and Dancing Man Brewery.

For more information about the cruises available abroad P&O’s Britannia visit www.pocruises.com

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