Now we arrive at the meat of the review, so to speak. In a vain attempt to seem upbeat, I’m going to start with the best meal I had on board, then work backwards from there.
There are two extra fee (or “speciality”) dinner venues on Ventura; I didn’t get a chance to sample The Epicurean (£30 extra per person), but I will say that Sindhu (£25 extra per person) was excellent - one of the best Indian meals of my life. The Beach House also charges £10 extra for dinner, but the menu did not look appealing.
Overseen by Atol Kochar, who holds two Michelin stars for his London restaurant, Benares, Sindhu offers modern Indian cuisine in a great setting with excellent service. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Eating dinner at Sindhu, just after departure from Southampton, I enjoyed:
The other “celebrity” venue aboard Ventura is The Glasshouse by, wine expert, Olly Smith. I’m pretty sure that The Epicurean used to be a Marco Pierre White venue, but that tie-in seems to have lapsed.
Aside from the unfortunate “Tuscan Village” theme, The Glasshouse is fine place to sit aboard Ventura - a study in how even a modest cover charge (around £5 for lunch) repels most of the passengers. The food is OK.
A lobster roll (which actually turned out to be two mini lobster rolls) was disappointing: the lobster was in very small pieces (uncharitably; scraps), rather than meaty chunks of tail and claw; the dressing was poorly seasoned; nobody had bothered to toast the brioche roll, so it was doughy; the garnish was a rather bizarre “Caribbean salad”, which appears to be normal garden salad with some tinned pineapple.
Aside from the lobster roll and a burger, most of The Glasshouse menu features small plates, or tapas, any three of which cost £5. The results are mixed:
Dinner in the The Bay Tree (main dining room) was not a success. I chose a starter of savoury sun-dried tomato cheesecake, which started out fine, but, by the third mouthful, was sickeningly sweet. This was followed by a shrimp chowder which was tasty, but very salty. In P&O’s defence, “salty” is clearly what the market wants - my tablemates added more table salt to it. A lamb leg steak was a disaster as a main course - grey meat that was served too cold to even melt the accompanying “pink peppercorn butter”. A profiterole dessert turned out to be a slab of tasteless mousse garnished with a few buttons of choux pastry. Awful.
Breakfast in the same restaurant was worse. I decided, probably unwisely, to stray from the full-English option as it seemed a little too full-on for the early morning (including liver and white pudding). I started with fruit, which turned out to be some scraps of orange and grapefruit segments from the bottom of a tin. Next up were kippers - dry, tasteless and dyed luminous orange. Hideous. The Danish pastry was also dreadful - all glaze and stale pastry.
That, however, wasn’t the worst meal of the voyage. In the interests of providing a complete review, I visited the buffet three times. A walk through at breakfast was traumatising - like being trapped at Forton services during a closure of the M6; crowds of people and a reek of old fat. I kept on walking.
Twice, I looked in at the start of evening service. On the first night, there was a “Great British Buffet” theme. I’ve lived in Britain all my life and never before seen faggots on a buffet. The second night, I decided to sample a few morsels from the “Oriental Banquet”. As I tweeted at the time, it was some of the saddest food I’ve ever eaten: tasteless spring rolls, chewy sweet and sour chicken then a gyoza dumpling that could have been used as shoe leather.
Overall, if food is in any way a priority when choosing a holiday option, then P&O is not for you. Although, to end on a positive note, I will say that, with one exception, service was excellent.