I’ve already written at length about the overall on board eating and drinking experience we had on the Queen Mary 2 recently, but the food and service in the Princess Grill, the restaurant where we ate every evening and some lunchtimes (apart from on the days when we gave in to the temptation of afternoon tea!) surely deserves a blog entry of its own!
The Princess Grill is on deck 7 of the ship, so has some reasonable views (obviously subject to whereabouts in the world you are at the time!) although dependent on the location of your table (guests stay on one allocated table throughout their voyage) you may not get much of a view! There is also a deck that goes around the side of the restaurant, so – particularly at lunchtimes – you do get a lot of people walking past and peering in. We were convinced the windows would be one way glass, but when we went out and had a look for ourselves, we discovered you could indeed see in! Watching people passing by can be quite entertaining, particularly as deck 7 is one of the decks on which it is possible to do ‘laps’ – so you can watch the same powerwalkers passing by again and again, just to make you feel really guilty about enjoying a decadent lunch!
The decor is stylish but fairly traditional and neutral – similar to what you might expect in a good hotel restaurant. In the evenings, the food had a French influence and was definitely fine dining, but was also clearly making efforts to cater for what is often a predominantly American audience on board the ship. Every day, at the front of the menu, there would be a ‘Canyon Ranch Selection’ – Canyon Ranch being the on board spa, and therefore a healthy option, which showed how many calories, grams of fat and something else (maybe fibre?) were in the dishes. There always seemed to be a ‘Sugar Free’ dessert on offer too. I avoided these like the plague, but Mr W did have a Sugar Free rice pudding one day and it was actually very nice and didn’t taste as if it had been artificially sweetened. Happily the portion sizes were not of American proportions, and despite eating three courses every evening (and some lunchtimes!) I never felt uncomfortably full up.
The menu changed every day, with an a la carte selection appearing a few times, but always with an extensive list of chef’s specials on top of that. Sometimes the menu was completely new without the a la carte options featuring. Just about every day I was spoilt for choice. In the Princess Grill, you can also ask for something that isn’t on the menu, although they do ask that you give them some notice, as opposed to the Queen’s Grill where you can request whatever you want when you arrive.
There was also a three course lunch menu every day, which had fewer dishes and some lighter options (normally a salad or a sandwich option) and probably what could be described as more ‘casual’ dining options. There was normally a pasta dish, and we also saw chicken curry, fish and chips, sausage and mash and a bacon and cheese burger on offer! There also tended to be more ‘traditional’ puddings available, such as sticky toffee and treacle tart. We love these, so often found ourselves being ‘forced’ to have three courses at lunchtime – it was such a hardship!
The quality and presentation of the food was absolutely excellent and there was only one real disappointment for me all week – a veal ossobucco, which to be honest was more down to my poor choice than any issue with how it was prepared, as I found it a bit too fatty for my liking. Another minor issue was when I had a fish cake topped with a poached egg, and the poached egg was hard all the way through. In hindsight, I probably should have asked for a soft one instead, as I am sure it wouldn’t have been a problem, but either way it wasn’t a major issue. I had a fillet steak au poivre a couple of times, which was cooked perfectly rare as I requested, and on one evening we both had ‘Surf ‘n’ Turf’ – which again sounds shockingly American and not necessarily indicative of a good restaurant in the UK, but actually comprised a fillet steak and a lobster tail, which was ‘de-shelled’ at the table for you. This was some seriously good dining, and all included in the price we paid for the holiday!
We had a chat with the Maitre D’, Jamie Firth, one evening early on in the voyage and he was telling us that the Grills have looked in to getting a Michelin star for their food, but unfortunately, due to the nature of some of the longer voyages, they can’t use fresh food every day, and this is one of the criteria that Michelin insist upon when awarding stars. That aside, though, I can certainly see that the quality of the ingredients, preparation and service would otherwise be very deserving.
During our chat, Jamie asked whether we liked Caesar Salad and said that the following day, for our starter, he would make us his speciality, which came from an old recipe used on the original Queen Mary, that had supposedly been brought from Los Angeles (where the Caesar Salad is said to have originated) by none other than James Cagney! It was a rather unusual and convoluted tale, but happily it resulted in our having one of the best salads we have ever tried, which Jamie prepared at our table. He shared the recipe with us too! Interestingly, it didn’t feature any ‘creamy’ ingredients at all, using instead mustard, egg yolks and other carefully selected ingredients to give it a flavour that was certainly unusual, but unmistakeably a Caesar Salad dressing. This, and the personal touch in offering to prepare it for us once he realised we were interested in food, was the sort of thing that made our experience really special. Similarly, one of the restaurant’s specialities that was not on the menu was Crepes Suzette, which again we had prepared at our table on a couple of occasions, and when Mr W had the rack of lamb, that was prepared at our table by Jamie too.
All of the staff that we dealt with were an absolute pleasure to meet – and we nominated our main waiter, Derek, for one of Cunard’s ‘White Star’ service awards. He was part of a team of three waiters serving our area of the restaurant, plus Bruno, the wine waiter. We were also looked after by Jamie, and the head waiter Gergana, who was in charge of crepes! They all managed to find just the right balance between personal, friendly service, and the type of respectful attentiveness you would expect in some of the best restaurants around. They remembered the little things – for example Mr W likes butter to be ice cold, rather than room temperature, so from the first time he asked for that onwards, there was always iced butter on our table when we arrived. They were always happy to make a recommendation or give an opinion if (as was often the case with me!) you were struggling to make a choice. It was Mr W’s birthday one night while we were on board and they organised a cake for him, which was in fact a deliciously rich, dense chocolate torte and went down very well. I don’t know if they did this off their own back, or whether it was because I phoned up in advance (I did!) but either way it was a really nice personal touch.
It would be more than excessive (if that’s not a tautology!) to review every single meal we had, but what I will do is list what we both ate each day. There are not many things that I am an anorak about, but food is one of them, and I recorded our menu choices each day. Happily, at the end of the week, we were presented with all of the week’s menus in a folder to take away, with a personal note from our waiting team – a really lovely touch, and one that means that I can share the full menu descriptions, rather than just my recollection of the dishes’ names!
It’s really hard to pick out favourite dishes from what we had, as it was great to try so many different things, and many of them were fantastic. If I had to choose standouts that would make up my ideal meal, though (and I’m going to go for four course including a soup course!) I would probably go for the Dutch style chicken croquette as a starter. This was Mr W’s choice and I only tried a mouthful, but it was heavenly, and reminded me of Dutch ‘Bitterballen’, or perhaps Spanish croquetas. I’d then have the chilled melon soup with Midori and tapioca, which was extremely unusual, but absolutely delicious. For main, it would probably be the fillet steak, just because it was cooked so well, but a close second would be the veal dish I had on the first night, served with crab, asparagus and Hollandaise. Dessert would definitely be the caramelised crème brulee cheesecake, which came highly recommended by Derek and did not disappoint!
It’s obviously difficult for me to recommend the restaurant, in as much as it’s not really a case of ‘pop in there next time you’re in town’! What I would say, however, is that if you’re considering a trip on a Cunard liner, it is totally worth going for accommodation that includes the Grill restaurants. Obviously I haven’t tried the Britannia, but Mr W has, and said that whilst the food in there was good, particularly given the ‘mass production’ nature of what they’re doing, it wasn’t anything close to the Princess Grill, which essentially was fine dining every night, and therefore absolute heaven for me!
What we had…
Day 1 – dinner
Me: Smoked salmon terrine with chive crème fraiche and roasted asparagus; Grilled milk-fed veal medallions Oscar with crabmeat, sauce Hollandaise and asparagus; Chocolate torte birthday cake.
Mr W: Smoked salmon terrine with chive crème fraiche and roasted asparagus; Seared beef tenderloin Rossini, pommes Dauphinoise, Perigourdine sauce; Chocolate torte birthday cake.
Day 2 – lunch
Me: Chilled melon soup with midori and tapioca; Lamb gyro with pita bread and salad; Chocolate Opera.
Mr W: Chicken and leek terrine; Linguine with meatballs; Sticky toffee pudding
Day 2 – dinner
Me: Crab and crayfish cocktail with avocado and tomato foam; Fillet steak au poivre with parmesan fries; Vanilla lemon soufflé, Limoncello sauce.
Mr W: Tuna tartate; Rack of lamb; Selection of International cheeses from the cheese trolley.
Day 3 – lunch
Me: Poached salmon flakes with egg salad; Grilled Mahi Mahi marinated with ancho chilli and saffron, creole potatoes and corn salsa; Chocolate brownie with whisky sauce
Mr W: Roast corn chowder; Veal scallopine with mushroom risotto; Treacle tart.
Day 3 – dinner
Me: House special Caesar salad; Surf ‘n’ Turf – grilled fillet mignon with broiled lobster tail, garlic butter, pont neuf potato; Caramelised crème brulee cheesecake
Mr W: House special Caesar salad; Surf ‘n’ Turf – grilled fillet mignon with broiled lobster tail, garlic butter, pont neuf potato; Flambeed peaches.
Day 4 – dinner
Me: Game pate en croute; Fettuccini with smoked salmon, vodka, chive and sweet chilli; Creme brulee tart
Mr W: Seafood chowder, tarragon cream; Fettuccini with smoked salmon, vodka, chive and sweet chilli; Crepes Suzette
Day 5 – lunch
Me: Greek salad, Cod and salmon cake with poached egg.
Mr W: Tomato soup, Rigatoni with creamy chicken sauce, aragula and sundried tomatoes.
Day 5 – dinner
Me: Chilled spicy cucumber and avocado soup, Veal ossobuco gremolata, ham and pea risotto; Chocolate Imperial.
Mr W: Dutch style golden-fried chicken croquette, Slow roasted leg of lamb, green beans, roast pumpkin, rosemary and redcurrant sauce; Bread and butter pudding with sultanas, lemon, vanilla sauce.
Day 6 – dinner
Me: Sturgeon caviar on buckwheat blini; Spaghetti Carbonara, creamy egg yolk and parmesan sauce, crispy smoked bacon; Baked Alaska with flambéed Morello cherries.
Mr W: Escargot Maitre d’Hotel, snails sautéed in garlic and red wine and baked with garlic butter crust; Cream of broccoli and stilton soup with scallions; Roast guinea fowl breast on braised reg cabbage, rosti potato, wild mushrooms and portwine sauce; Vanilla crème brulee.