For those following my Facebook adventures, you know I have just completed another great transatlantic crossing on Cunard’s splendid Queen Mary 2. Not only was it my 10th crossing, it also happily coincided with the liner’s 10th anniversary. As many of you know from having experienced her, the ship is quite a lot of fun with more exciting onboard activities than one could possibly hope to take part in. As John Maxtone-Graham once quipped “there is nothing to do… and not enough time to do it in”.
On the last night, as a wonderful cap to a great crossing, I was invited to dine in the Queens Grill. If you have ever talked to me about Cunard service, then you know I consider the Britannia Restaurant to be quite good. The food and savoir faire in Cunard’s Queens Grill and Princess Grill, however, are renowned, and I was anxious to give it a try.
The meal was, as one would expect, multi course and took nearly three wonderful hours. We were greeted and escorted to our table by the ships Head Maitre d’ Osman. Immediately upon being seated, the stewardess and commis waiter introduced themselves and gave us the extensive menu, which runs four full pages. As the waiters vanished, the sommelier provided us with pre-dinner cocktails and suggested a wine. As if by magic, our attentive sommelier seemed always to be present at just the right time to top off your wine or offer another cocktail.
Being interested in ocean-liner china and silver, one of the first thing I noticed upon reaching the table was that the already-elaborate dinner service used in the Britannia Restaurant has really had its game upped considerably in the Grills. All courses until the entreé are served on top of silver chargers, which are nowhere to be found in Britannia. The wine is likewise placed on a silver coaster in the Grills. Even the linens are upgraded. Small details to be sure, but I am a sucker for all the little niceties that turn a meal into an event. The entire experience was full of them. As the meal progressed, it was interesting to watch the staff lay out dozens of silver items for just the three of us.
Now to the menu. The Grills continue an 80-year-old Cunard tradition of cooking anything you ask for with 24-hours’ notice. In a possibly apocryphal story, on the old Queen Mary, one passenger famously asked for elephant one night. The unperturbable head waiter supposedly answered with “Of course, sir, but would you prefer African or Indian?” The regular Grill menu on QM2 is basically divided into two halves. Part one is that day’s menu; the other half is an à la Carte menu that is always available. The rumor down in the Britannia Restaurant is that the menu is the same in the Grills as in Britannia. This is decidedly not true! The menu is much more extensive in the Grills, and you would need a long trip to familiarize yourself with every offering. A few specialty items require advance notice such as the Beef Wellington (always made for two with a shockingly beautiful presentation, I might add) or the Chateaubriand as the proper roasting time for a filet cannot be done in a flash. The breadth and depth of this menu was quite surprising to me. Most lines have “always available” menus, but that found in the Queens Grill, as you would expect, would blow anyone away.
The first course was perhaps my favorite of the night. The whiskey-cured Scottish salmon was the perfect blend of smoky fish, tang of whiskey, and sweetness from the curing. Simply stunning. I wanted another.
The next course was at the recommendation of our stewardess who saw us gamely trying to make a choice when confronted with so many obviously great dishes. My choice was Pacific Tempura King Prawns with Shrimp Toast, and although I really did not need another appetizer, our stewardess, knowing it was my first time in the Grill, suggested I try this. Not only was it quite tasty, but it was also piping hot as fried food should be. Sadly, luke-warm fried appetizers are a shortcoming on all cruise lines as I have never obtained a hot fried appetizer, even in the Britannia Restaurant.
I decided to forgo the soup and instead had a salad, thinking it would be lighter, and I was right. The stewardess told me that all the dressings are, of course, homemade. (I really loath that seemingly corporate term “house made,” and fortunately they did not use that phrase on the ship.)
The main course was served table side with much flair and was a perfectly prepared rare, as I had asked for, Chateaubriand. The steak was fork tender, and the Béarnaise sauce was amazing with glorious hints of the wine and herbs used in its reduction. The English mustard was up to its usual standards and is the same served in the lower dining rooms. Why mess with greatness? However, the horseradish sauce was a revelation, containing actual small shaved bits of horseradish with just the right amount of heat, and it was far better than the mostly mayonnaise mix that I long ago stopped asking for in Britannia. In fact, all the sauces, dressings, and the like used in the Grill were obviously homemade and really delicious.
The only real disappointment of the evening was the asparagus that was brought out specially for me because it is my favorite vegetable. It was broiled but had no salt, pepper, or oil on it. While I did not specify this, as I do in the Britannia Restaurant, I was surprised that such talented chefs would let something so bland and frankly over cooked out of the kitchen. Still, it did nothing to mar the meal as our stewardess also brought some scrumptious garlic spinach, which was quite suited to the rich steak.
Next up was a real treat, Crepes Suzette…. I have had this before in the Britannia Restaurant as well as on other lines, but it has never been flambéed table side by the head waiter in the traditional fashion. The head waiter smilingly nodded and indicated without a word that the “fire” moment approached for the crepes. He was quite used to people wanting to capture the flambé moment on film, and it was obviously something he enjoyed performing and at the same time was always a crowd pleaser. The citrus was freshly squeezed and, when mixed with the liquor, produced absolutely shocking results. This was without question the best desert I have ever had anywhere. Full stop. I am still dreaming about it. I was full but still scarfed it down as the flavors were perfect. This was paired with a delightful iced wine at the suggestion of our sommelier.
Petit Fours were then served, and while not at all hungry, I tried a few. They are also superior to those served in Britannia and, of course, brought out on their own silver stand. After such a sumptuous meal, what could have ended it better than petit fours and an after-dinner aperitif?
The crew, of course, knows all and has largely seen it all. After the meal in the Grill, I went down to tip and to say goodnight and goodbye to my lovely stewardess in Britannia. Being the last night, I knew I would not see her again. She told me with a twinkle in her eye that she had known hours before that I would not be dining with her that night as she had already heard I was in the Grill. News among the crew travels fast at sea.
Throughout my Grill experience, the ever-cheerful and smiling staff frequently dropped by the table to make sure we were lacking nothing. They chatted with us, made sure we were happy, and above all (and most importantly) made suggestions. Every member of the staff was beyond polite and helpful. Having four or even five people attending a table for three passengers was quite an experience. In fact, the meal and the service were likely as close to the service and tradition of the old Queen Mary’s Verandah Grill that you can get. It was almost like time travel over steaks if you will. If you have the means, I highly recommend sailing in the Grills.
If I could sum up the experience, I would say dining in the Grills on QM2 is even a nicer dining experience than on the 5 start all-inclusive ships. After all none of the all-inclusive lines can give you the lovely and wondrous Queen Mary 2 to enjoy! All in all, it was a wonderfully fine evening and a superb ending to an amazing crossing. Go Cunard Grills because getting there is still half the fun!