River cruise lines are offering more dining options than ever, as well as crafted menus featuring local specialties.
River cruise food has come a long way since the days of a single onboard restaurant. Today, many lines offer menus inspired by the destinations they are sailing, taking advantage of local fresh ingredients to share regional flavours with guests.
However, if you’ve sampled plenty of local food while touring during the day, the chefs are also prepared to delight with traditional classic menus.
Lines like Avalon Waterways and APT also lead the way in presenting the biggest variety of dining styles and food with additional venues on board.
Cruise Passenger has surveyed the lines and their menus to bring you the ultimate food guide on board European river cruises.
There are two included dining options on board, the main dining venue called The Restaurant and the outdoor restaurant, Aquavit Terrace. There is also an onboard herb garden that both chefs and guests can visit.
The menu on Viking’s European Longships features classics that are always available and a list of regional specialties. The Classics features starters like caesar salad; main courses like rib eye steak, Chairman’s choice poached Norwegian salmon, roast free range French chicken; and desserts like crème brulee, fromagerie, fresh fruit plate and the daily ice cream or sorbet.
For the regional specialties, the menu features Norwegian baby shrimp cocktail, herb-crusted ahi tuna steak and carrot cake for dessert.
Vegetarians on board have the farmer’s pecorino market salad for starters and warm braised leeks for the main course.
Viking’s menus are bold in featuring regional cuisine. On the ‘Waterways of the Tsars’ Russian itinerary, the dining room features Russian cuisine such as Russian salted herring with potato Siliotka and Borscht soup in the starters. The main course has dishes like Pojarsky Koteletti (pork & chicken meatloaf in crisp crust) and Vegetable Goliptsi (Vegetable stuffed with white cabbage and beet-caraway sauce). Conclude the meal with Sirniki (Russian curd blinis with strawberry melange) followed by a Russian cheese plate with fried Russian black bread, Grenky.
The Aquavit Terrace offers lighter lunch and dinner alternatives to the main dining room.
A typical spread for lunch includes soup, a trimmed down salad bar, kebabs and cold-cut sandwiches. Once per sailing, Aquavit Terrace might offer a very popular burger bar with all the toppings. The dinner menu is the same every night, with a daily special that changes.
Viking’s signature “Taste of” events also take place on the Aquavit Terrace during each river cruise. The event offers guests an introductory taste of the region through the informal gathering featuring displays of colourful fruit alongside delicacies such as you might find in a traditional café. Pretzels and sweet mustard, leberwurst and Kölsch are some of the treats at ’A Taste of Germany.’
On Uniworld, there is one main dining venue on each ship and on five ships: River Empress, Princess, Countess, Duchess and Queen, you can find Al Fresco dining.
The menus on board feature local specialties and Uniworld’s celebrity chef Beatrice Tollman’s Signature dishes, many of which are available on all sailings. Sample her Signature dishes like Bea’s Chicken Soup, Sesame Fried Chicken and Honeycomb Ice Cream.
Guests can even try to recreate her dishes at home with her very own recipes that is shared on Uniworld’s website where you can also find many other Instagram worthy pictures of what the line serves on board their ships.
For lunch, start with Mrs Tollman’s broccoli coleslaw, then take your pick of soup, sandwich, pasta of the day, entrees, vegetables and starches of the day and dessert.
The dinner menu features a selection of starters, soup, entrees and dessert. In ports like Budapest, the chef might serve roasted Hungarian bell pepper cream soup, Hungarian style beef goulash and the dobos torte. The dinner menu also has a ‘Travelling Lite’ menu for guests who are after lighter meals.
Avalon Waterways has a FlexDining program which allows guests to choose when, where and how they dine. This starts with the three dining venues on board.
For casual options, get an al fresco classic western barbeque lunch at the Sky Grill where you can tuck into grilled steaks, chicken, vegetables, salads, rolls and more. The Panorama Bistro also offers tapas-style food that guests can mingle over. You can even order a complimentary picnic to go, if you want to enjoy your meal from the perfect riverside spot.
For the four-course a la carte dinner, guests can head to the glass-walled Main Dining Room.
Main Dining Room
Here, all menus are designed to complement the regions that cruises pass through. There’s always a selection of more traditional western cuisine offered for each course, listed as “alternative choices” on the menu. The line also has healthy vegan and vegetarian dishes as part of the Avalon Fresh program started in 2017.
In a sample dinner menu on the French river, local appetisers include escargots bourguignon, creamy oxtail soup with root vegetables. The entrees include seared fillet of Victoria Perch on champagne sauce and other cuisines like bow tie pasta with a Moskowa vodka sauce and salmon and a roasted herb-crusted New Zealand rack of lamb. For dessert, they have the Bavarian Crème or the blueberry ice cream with blue curacao and peaches.
For this menu, the Avalon Fresh options start with apple raisin cocktail, French onion soup and for entrée, French vegetable rice stew with olives, herbs and white wine. Finish off the meal with peach ragout with pistachio nuts, the fruit or cheese plate.
The line is the only major river cruise line to be part of the Chaine Des Rotissereurs, the oldest food & wine society in the world with a history of over four centuries. There are two main dining venues on board. The Verde Fine Dining Restaurants and the River Bistro which is more casual.
In warmer weather guests can head to the Sun Deck for lunch. On Concerto River Ships, guests can also get a group of friends together for private dining in the Wine Room.
APT’s menus start with the chef’s recommendation, vegetarian, the always available traditional fare, appetizers, soups, main courses and desserts.
Verde Fine Dining Restaurants
The main dining room of the ship is divided into two distinct halves, the Bella Cucina which serves Italian fare and the Verde Grill which has an international menu.
In Bella Cucina the chef recommends the pesto marinated shrimps, cream of broccoli soup with blue cheese, braised lamb shank with rosemary sauce and an Italian classic hazelnut cake with Amrena ice cream for dessert.
Meanwhile in Verde Grill, the chef recommends the beetroot carpaccio, pineapple salsa with goats cheese mouse to start. Followed by the cream of white bean soup with cumin croutons. The main is an Osso Buco Cremolata, a braised veal shank paired with baroio jus, carrots, broccoli, root vegetables and creamy polenta. Finish with a lemon pie with peach sorbet for dessert.
The lunch menu on board also features local dishes where the ship sails. In Hungary, the chef recommends the Hungarian anti pasti platter, cream of red kidney bean soup with garlic croutons, Hungarian Beef Goulash for the entrée and Esterhazy cake for dessert.
Crystal River Cruises
The line has four river vessel and they each have three dining venues the Waterside, The Vintage Room and the Bistro. The Waterside is the main restaurant of the ship, the Bistro is a Viennese style café and The Vintage Room is a private dining room with optional wine-themed meals.
The main restaurant of the ship is elegant, open seating and features menus of ‘Michelin-inspired’ modern cuisine that is served alongside creative dishes showcasing flavours of the region.
The menu features dishes like Almo Beef Tartar and Lobster Bisque to start, a choice of two entrees. The pan fried sea bream and smoked eel are served with corn fritters, grilled baby zucchini & apple-cider dressing topped with watercress. The other entrée is a wiener schnitzel served with warm fingerling potato salad.
Guests also have the option to sample the featured local main course like a braised German beef roll with root vegetables, homemade spatzle and braising jus.
To finish, the almond cake is served with berry compote, vanilla ice cream and strawberry consomme as well as a selection of cheese.
On Evergreen, a typical day cruising starts with an early riser’s breakfast in the Horizon Lounge including fresh fruit, cereals and pastries or head to the main Reflections Restaurant for the full breakfast spread. The restaurant is also where the buffet lunch and five course a la carte dinner is served on board. Occasionally the line also offers a barbeque on the Sun Deck, weather permitting.
The line says that a highlight of their South of France’s itinerary is a meal prepared by one of France’s top chefs Fabien Moreale who has knowledge of both local French flavours along with Asian ingredients.
The dinner menu features starters, soups, entrée, main course and dessert. Start with Beetroot carpaccio with horseradish mousse and apple vinaigrette or chicken liver pate with port wine jelly, pear and fig jam.
The soups include game cappuccino, tomato essence with basil quenelles. This is followed by a Tiger prawn salad with Asian-style glass noodles for the entrée.
There are three choices of main courses. Pick from the Chateaubriand or the pesto marinated salmon fillet or the vegetarian option of broccoli flan with mushroom cream and gratinated rosemary polenta. The dessert menu features a baked Alaska or strawberry ice cream with mandarin compote with vanilla cream.