Fred. Olsen has always been a company that prides itself on the quality of its food and service. My recent return to the company’s Black Watch after something like twelve years provided me with a great opportunity to run the rule once more over the culinary landscape to be explored on this stalwart cruise line, a favourite of British passengers for more than three decades now.
FORMAL DINING The main dining room- the Glentanar- is situated in the middle of the ship, on Deck Six. It spans the full width of the ship, and offers tables for two to eight passengers at a time.Within set times for breakfast and lunch, the Glentanar is an open sitting venue. At night, it reverts to being a formal, two sitting venue- first seating at 6.15, secondseating at 8.30. Most of the passengers still seem to like it that way, and many do enjoy dressing up for the experience.
The food throughout the ship is tailored to the taste buds of the predominantly older, primarily British clientele that is Fred. Olsen’s staple diet, so to speak. There are typically five courses for dinner, with three choices for each dish, plus an ‘always available’ section that offers options such as Caesar Salad, Norwegian Salmon, and steaks. served with a variety of vegetables.
There are some nods towards continental tastes and twists, and also sometimes some Filipino styled options that passengers really do seems to enjoy. Tables are still set with traditional linen cloths, unlike many of the modern place mat style settings on newer ships. There is plenty of room around the tables, and the service in general is deft, attentive, without ever feeling overly intrusive. In terms of formal dining, the company can give any rival a run for its money.
THE ORCHID ROOM BUFFET
The preferred alternative for those who eschew the main dining room, Orchid Café is- most unusually- a completely indoor space, with floor to ceiling windows down one side. Located just behind- and adjacent to- the main dining room, it features many of the menu items offered in the Glentanar for breakfast, dinner and lunch but, being a buffet, the Orchid Room is open sitting for all meals.
There are a surprising number of tables for two here, a very welcome boon on such a relatively small ship. The Maitre’ D sets guests personally- a very nice touch. Again, there is plenty of space between tables. The two centrally sited, hot and cold buffet lines effectively divide the room in two, at least visually. The effect is to make the Orchid Room appear much more intimate than it actually is; a clever sleight of hand.
It has the look and feel of a sunlit French sidewalk café, and it is enormously popular. So much so that some tables in the adjacent Courtyard are sometimes also used for potential spill over passengers, especially in the evening. Because of the proximity to the galley, food comes out piping hot for all main meals. Quality wise, this buffet is far superior to many so called more upmarket lines, and a leisurely breakfast in this setting is one of the most pleasant dining experiences available on the British market cruise ships today.
As well as the three main staples, the Orchid Room/Courtyard area also serves up afternoon tea each day, with scones, sandwiches, and biscuits on offer free of charge. From around eleven each night it offers up late night snacks, including at least one main hot dish. Fish and chips is typical of this fare.
Both Glentanar and the Orchid Room post menus outside in advance of opening times, allowing passengers the option of shaping their evening entertainment and dining choices to suit their mood every night. On such a relatively small, intimate ship as the Black Watch, this works quite beautifully.
THE GRILL (Not available every day)
Situated outside aft on Deck Six, The Grill is something new to Fred. Olsen; their first extra tariff restaurant, which has now been rolled out right across the four ship current fleet.
While the choices are limited compared to many steak houses and a la carte restaurants on bigger ships, the food and ambiance is nothing short of sublime and- for a cover charge of £20 per person- it is one of the best bargains anywhere at sea. Specially commissioned glassware sets the scene, in a sheltered location just behind the superstructure, and adjacent to the swimming pool.
On a beautiful, mellow August night, I feasted (no other word is adequate) on a ten ounce Fillet Steak, complete with Asparagus spears and hand cut chips, served up in a gorgeous red wine sauce. There was a chocolate cup with berries to follow that looked almost too good to eat- I still ate it.
Complemented by a very fine red wine (extra charge) and a fulsome, frothy Cappuccino (included), this collectively constituted the best meal that I have eaten on any ship this year. Out in the open air, garnished with a side order of sea breezes and a stunning sunset as we sailed down Aurlandsfjord, The Grill is, quite simply, a must do when the weather permits. It really is that good.
ELEGANT AFTERNOON TEA (Not offered every day)
I mentioned the free afternoon tea served each day in the Courtyard earlier, but Fred. Olsen now also offers an extra charge (£7.95 pp) ‘elegant’ afternoon tea, served up in the forward facing Observation Lounge, with views out over the ocean. I got to sample this one day, too.
What do you get for your cash? Well, there are three tiers of beautifully presented finger sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and scones, together with all the gooey jams and clotted creams that anyone could ever desire. There are several kinds of teas- and these are refilled as often as you want. I tried a variant called Imperial Gunpowder, and it was love at first taste.
It’s quite Downton Abbey-esque, with a string trio playing genteel melodies as a backdrop. The setting, the stylings of the food offerings, and the deft service combines to offer something that is truly a little bit special, especially for a birthday or anniversary celebration. And all at a price that no London hotel could get anywhere near, either.
In sum, Fred. Olsen continues to punch way above its weight in terms of food offerings, the flair with which that food is prepared, and the finesse with which it is offered up to passengers. There may not be enough variety for some with more exotic tastes, but the range and sheer, well rounded and well thought out variety of the menus on board will leave most people on board more than happy to come back for more.