Note: Since this article was published, Queen Victoria underwent a refit that enabled her to offer Britannia Club dining. This is a single seating dining room with more menu options than the Britannia Restaurant but not as many as the Princess Grill.
In addition, the Todd English specialty restaurant has been replaced by the Verandah restaurant.
Cunard Line prides itself on its culinary offerings. On Queen Victoria, the dining venues are the responsibility of Food and Beverage Manager Bernhard Fischer. Therefore, I sat down with Mr. Fischer to discuss the various dining options on Queen Victoria.
During the course of our conversation, Mr. Fischer made a number of general observations about the dining operation on Queen Victoria and why it succeeds.
“If you look at the stats we have 50 percent returning guests and they come back over and over again. You have a nice formal dinner. You go and see a show and you have a ball afterwards. This is very civilized.”
“It is an evolving product really. One sticks to the history - - we are fiercely protecting this. But one has to go a little bit with the times as well. Eating habits do change.”
“Everything is still manufactured from scratch. We do not have any ready made products. There are no soup powders or anything else. We make our own stocks, our own soups.”
“Even in the Britannia Restaurant at night where we do almost a thousand people a seating, nothing is cooked in advance. It is a very labor intensive way to do it but it does make a difference. Obviously, if we have a roast, it has been in the oven for two hours but it is cut there and then. Nothing has been laying there canteen style.”
“I have a very strong culinary team onboard. I have been with them for a long time, just about since the ship came out. We don’t move them around. We build teams on the ships and I think that is a big plus. It can have a huge impact if you have key positions changing and [the newcomer] is not quite familiar with the ship or is of a different skill level. I worked for another company before with a huge fleet where they moved the guys around just filling the slots. Cunard doesn’t do that. You stick to your ship unless you request to move.”
“The staff has been here forever. Most of the chaps are 10 or 12 years service or more. We are just having our service awards next week and there is 30 years, 45 years, with the same company. They are not necessarily in senior positions, I have waiters here with 36 years service. They are proud of the ship and they look after it.”
“We do a lot for the crew. This is just hardware here that you can replace. People that care and are proud to work for you I think is a rare thing.”
The Dining Rooms
There are three dining rooms on Queen Victoria: the Queens Grill, the Princess Grill and the largest dining room, the Britannia Restaurant. Which dining room, a guest will dine in depends upon his or her accommodations.
“The Princess Grill caters to the normal suites The Queens Grill is the top suites and the penthouses.” All other guests dine in the Britannia.
Consistent with the concept of refined luxury upon which the suites experience is based, the Grills seek to provide top level gourmet dining. “It is open seating so you arrive whenever you wish. There is a different menu every day plus there is an ala carte option.”
“We also encourage you to almost make your own menu. ‘I’d like the Beef Wellington tonight or my wife feels like a lobster thermidor.’ We can produce just about anything that you like. That is what we are quite proud of. Some of the guests do test us severely on this - - they go from oriental to authentic French food to all kinds of things that they want to eat. “
“In the Grills, we basically have no limit. The caviar is available, the foie gras is available. If you want it every night, have it every night”
“It is a huge repeater clientele here. Even in these economic times, this is booked out. Generally, this is booked out first, before the Britannia is booked out. We have a 60 percent return rate of guests in the Grills. So they know exactly what to expect and what we can and cannot do. They love the table cooking in here, the formality.”
“To keep [the experience] fresh, we are constantly making changes to the menu. We follow the trends of the London restaurants. Last year, we introduced the rare breeds out of England. The rare breed farms is an association of British farmers who breed specific lines of pork, venison, and beef that have almost been extinct. They are bringing back strains that are free-range cattle and chicken, ducks, geese and all sorts of things. It has gone down very well. Organic meats, organic poultry were other innovations that came in.”
The Grills are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the Grills experience is not limited to the restaurants themselves. “The same goes for the room service for these guests. They get together and have a sundowner with six or seven other guests and we cater of that in the suite. There is no charge for that, it is all kind of inclusive.”
A Grills guest may “want four croissants in the morning - - four different ones - - at a certain temperature, on a warm side plate. One guest wants a specific mix of carrot and orange juice. It has to be 40/60 and we do that.”
Most of the passengers on Queen Victoria dine in the Britannia Restaurant. “It is a very comfortable restaurant. We are trying to create the same atmosphere. It feels a lot busier because there are a thousand people on two decks. [Still,] most people are very comfortable, they never move from there.”
Like the Grills, the Britannia is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast and lunch are open seating. For dinner, each guest is assigned to either the early or late seating. “Your dining seating depends upon what you want to do. We seem to manage to accommodate that most of the time.”
“There is a huge choice on the Britannia menu as well. They almost serve the same menu [as the Grills]. I think it is a very substantial menu - - good variety. We offer besides that vegetarian options. And we cater for all of the medical conditions [such as] salt-free, gluten-free diabetics. We do cater for special requests as well, not just dietary. ‘I’ll have the caviar.’ It is available down there but you would have to pay for it.”
Cruise ship dining guide - - Cunard Line - - Queen Victoria - - Bernhard Fischer - - Page One