Saturday, 1 July 2017

P&O Cruise A716 Azura 16th June - 30th June 2017

As readers of my blog will know, I am an avid P&O Cruises fan and this was my 34th with the company and my third on Azura. 

On arrival in our cabin, I received an explanatory letter off the Senior Restaurant Manager, regarding dietary requirements, however you really do need to ask and not be put off, as some members of staff are better equipped to advise you than others.

I went prepared taking various vegan goodies with me including Oatly cream, Good Carma Foods Parmesan alternative and flatbreads.   P&O are always improving the diet section in the buffet restaurant, so great to see vegan yogurt, margarine, various plant milks, including rice, soya, almond and oat and vegan cheese, which I think was Violife.   I hope they extend the range to include cakes, brownies and maybe alternatives like oat cream, crème fraiche or custard, whereas now no sweet treats are available, apart from fruit, sorbet or soya ice-cream. 

Many of the salad options in the buffet on this cruise were uninspiring and contained dairy, even the guacamole had sour cream in and I was constantly asking staff, what the ingredients of each dish were.   There were no hot options either, only chips and it would be a big improvement if there was clear labelling, so passengers could make an informed choice without constantly taking up staff time.  However most of the vegetables were unbuttered and I loved the roast vegetables on offer, so with salad I could eat, my Parmesan to add cheesy flavour and flatbreads, I did not starve.   However if a vegan new to P&O got on board, you would be highly disappointed with the lack of choice and this is another area needs addressing.

There are several select dining restaurants on board, with two vegan options on one of The Beach House menus and a heavily dairy based menu in fine dining Epicurean, so I dined in the main dining room (MDR) every night.   I hope the vegan options improve in these areas in the future, so I can visit, but they need to get away from the heavy reliance on dairy and eggs, which I think is lazy menu design.

I was overjoyed to find my Head Waiter was no other than Jit (Prosunjit Kanjilal) who looked after me on my Christmas cruise on Oriana, so I knew I would be well looked after.

The first night's dinner is always a little confused, as you order off that night's menus and have to try and tweak dishes to suit.   In my case I had to go off menu and request egg free gluten free pasta with tomato sauce, as there was nothing remotely vegan. 

Our waiters were Clint and Ashwani and wine waiter Anjani, all very professional and helpful, yet friendly and we enjoyed our chats each evening and it made coming down to dinner, something to look forward to each night.

Our waiters Clint (left) & Ashwani (right)

Jit yet again listened to my ideas of mix and match dishes off the MDR lunch and dinner menus and vegetarian menus.   The role of a Head Waiter is to liase with the diet chef and in all the cruises I have done, Jit is a Premier League Head Waiter and I hope to see him again in the future.

I managed four courses most nights and once I requested olive oil to drizzle on salads and soups, Clint ensured it was on the table every night.   I have included a snapshot of photos of the dinners I had on board.

Vegetable Pakoras with Mint & Coriander Chutney

Nicoise Salad

Mushroom Pate with Corncakes

Dolmades & Houmous

Guacamole & Pickled Vegetables

Beetroot & Roast Tomato Salad

Cauliflower Tabbouleh with Avocado

Mushroom Soup

Pumpkin Soup

Celeriac & Apple Soup

Roast Tomato Soup

 Beetroot Risotto with Balsamic Onions

Stir Fry Vegetables with Crispy Rice Noodles

 Peperonata Pasta

 Chickpea Cakes with Houmous & Chips

 Chickpea Cassoulet

 'Fish' & Chips with Mushy Peas

 Mushroom & Rocket Risotto

 Garlic Mushroom & Pine Nut Pasta 

 Potato Rosti with Aubergine & Courgette Sauce

Cottage Pie

Mushroom Pudding with Chips

 Grilled Pineapple

 Stewed Rhubarb & Ginger

 Caramelised Apple with Raisins

Caramelised Pineapple

I took my Oatly cream and Parmesan down to dinner when needed, as they have no vegan Parmesan, but hopefully this will change as time goes on.   I was impressed with diet chef Mani's interpretation of the dishes I requested, with his own creativity coming into play, packed with flavour, all credit to Mani he can certainly cook, he is a valuable member of the F&B team.

I arranged with Jit to meet Mani on the last morning, whose professionalism and dedication shone through, as we discussed how the diet section operates and the many diets and allergies he caters for.  Mani was looking after 160 passengers across two sittings and three restaurants, with two assistants who helped prepare the 'Mise En Place' or preparation of all the food.   However during service, Mani was solely responsible for his diet section, so you have to remain cool, calm and collected and he has all these attributes.   Jit commented that from a Head Waiter point of view, it was a pleasure to work with Mani, who was a team player and between them, they certainly were the A team. 

Note:  After my two Ventura cruises Christmas 2017, I thought I would update my experiences, as a vegan passenger, one of eighteen vegans split across both cruises.  I dined in The Glasshouse for the first time, read all about it here which was an excellent experience, purely down to lovely chef Hatta Rahim.   The first nights dining is something P&O need to review, with no vegan option on the menu, two vegans I met who had never cruised with P&O before and had an unhelpful Head Waiter, walked out as they presumed they would not be fed.

I also had several incidents in the MDR, being given non vegan food and even worse food I am allergic to, so there are loopholes in the system for dietary requirements, that need addressing.  My head waiter Vimal was writing down my orders correctly, but cold starters were being served with egg mayo or products I was unsure of so I refused to eat the dishes. 

Your vegan experience can be make or break depending on your Head Waiter and on my last three cruises, I was fortunate being looked after by Jit and Vimal, but other vegans I spoke to were not so lucky.

I noticed that there is now a vegan sandwich and vegan cake in the buffet afternoon tea, clearly labelled VG, so presume that extends to the MDR.   I found that if I spoke to one of the senior chefs in the buffet (the ones with a tall chefs hat on), they can advise which dishes are vegan.   The chef I spoke to Jason said that he would be happy to make sure there was something for me each day, so do not hesitate to ask them.

Veganism has moved on so quickly in the UK over the last year or two, that P&O have some catching up to do, so for me when I get on board it's a backward step, with nowhere near the selection of vegan options as at home.   Although they have vegetarian menus, with vegan options, they are not particularly inspiring, wish I could be their vegan adviser and suggest some dishes, that would appeal to the masses, not just vegans.  The current dishes are a little dated and need bringing into the twenty first century, but I hope to board one day and find vegan options clearly marked on the MDR menus, how good would that be.

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