This is certainly not a review I thought I’d be writing anytime soon. Dining at Victoria & Albert’s has always been on my bucket list, but in a very far-off context: it would be perfect for an anniversary in, say, five or ten years. Or perfect for some other grandiose occasion – a once-in-a-lifetime promotion, getting to meet the actual queen of England – something like that. My meal at Victoria & Albert’s happened almost by accident, a tale I’ll regale you with in an upcoming post. Note that the photos in this review were taken with an iPhone, and so maybe aren’t the best. But, imagine the food looking ten times better than it does here and you’ll have an accurate impression of our dining experience.
The basic setting is this: because of the blizzard in New England, my boss and I were waylaid in Florida for an extra 48 hours. We found ourselves passing the time at Disney, and on a spur-of-the-moment impulse I decided to call and see if V&A’s happened to have a reservation open for that same night. A Saturday reservation at Victoria & Albert’s with no notice would be impossible, right? That’s what I thought, until the reservation specialist offered us the last available reservation at 9pm that evening. Normally not a fan of late dinners, this time worked in our favor – we could have a full day in the parks, switch hotels (we still didn’t know where we’d be staying that evening), and cap off the day with a decadent and relaxing meal. Needless to say, we took it.
We arrived at the Grand Floridian about 8:40, and were directed to the valet stand for the complimentary parking that comes with a V&A’s reservation. I then spent a few minutes showing my boss around the Grand Floridian, a property she had never visited while vacationing at Disney with her husband and kids. A little before nine we proceeded to the Victoria & Albert’s lobby, where we were greeted warmly and asked to take a seat while our table was being prepared. During check-in a manager discovered that there had been a spelling mistake in our reservation, and thus she made a phone call and had my boss’ personalized menu reprinted on the spot. A good first impression.
We were soon led to our table in the back of the dining room. It was dark but cozy, and the tables are spaced well apart from one another so that it almost feels like you are dining privately. A harpist played unobtrusively in the back of the dining room. We then met one of our two dedicated servers, Chris, who poured us water and welcomed us to the restaurant. Our second server, Sharon, wasn’t far behind, and she gave us our personalized menus and a general overview of the dining experience we could expect over the next three hours. When I made the reservation I noted to the specialist that I had a shellfish allergy, and so Sharon assured me that she chef was aware of the allergy and had made a special menu just for me. A great second impression.
It didn’t take much prodding from Sharon for both of us to order the $65/pp wine pairings to go with our meal. Sharon gave us a few minutes with the menu, and then came back to take our full orders; that is, we gave our orders for all six courses right up front. Chris then returned to pour us the champagne that would begin our evening, and soon brought out our amuse bouche:
The amuse bouche contained three elements: a vegetable panna cotta (left), a delicious smoked salmon belly (center), and a tomato and avocado aspic with fresh herbs (right). My boss’ amuse bouche was much the same, although her aspic contained fresh king crab. Aspics are something I generally associate with Julia Child and a bygone era, but it was indeed delicious. The clear winner, however, was the salmon.
Next up was the salad course. Although I’m generally a bit wary of some Asian flavors – I feel about dark sesame oil the way some people feel about cilantro; it just doesn’t taste right to me – I ordered the Tsukemono Salad with buckwheat noodles and edamame puree:
Not only was the salad beautiful, but it just worked. Perfectly balanced flavors with nice hits of umami, the salad was a refreshing reminder of how wonderful Asian flavors can meld with one another. My boss had the Octopus “A La Plancha,” and proclaimed it a very tasty dish. My salad was served with a Poet’s Leap dry Riesling (wonderful, especially if you’re like me and don’t care for sweet Riesling), and my boss’ octopus was served with an Albarino to complement the Mediterranean Spanish influences in the dish. She had never had an Albarino before (it’s one of my favorite go-to whites), and really loved it. (If you’re curious, it was a 2010 Paco & Lola Albarino.)
Following the salad course was the fish course. When I ordered, I somehow overlooked that I had ordered the option that required a $30 upcharge, but let me tell you, I have no regrets. I am by no means a fish person – I’ll eat salmon when I need to, but generally I don’t go out of my way to eat fish – and this was not only the best fish I’ve ever eaten, but one of the best foods I’ve ever eaten, period. I had the Wild Turbot with toasted capers and preserved lemon, a wonderful, firm whitefish that had been caught off the coast of France on Friday, then packed on dry ice and shipped to Florida, where it was filleted just a handful of hours before I ate it. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. My boss had the diver scallop, obviously something I can’t eat, but she reported that the scallop was cooked perfectly and was exceedingly fresh.
Following the fish course was the hot appetizer course. My boss had the Long Island duck breast (paired with a Pinot Noir), and I had the braised oxtail and cherry ravioli with roasted red peppers (served with a 2008 Highflyer Centerline), which was served atop braised short ribs. I have never met a short rib I didn’t like, and this was no exception. The appetizer was the perfect balance of sweet and savory, and was substantial enough that I could really get a good handle on the flavors, without stuffing me too much before the main course.
And now for the entree, a perfect dish that rivaled the turbot for my favorite of the evening. My boss and I both had the Mangalista pork tenderloin, a rare breed of pork whose flavor is even better than that of the Berkshire and Kurobota breeds. It was served with roasted beets and a toasted caraway vinagrette, and was presented with a 2009 Cuvelier Malbec. The dish also featured a piece of pork belly that was cooked to perfection, as well as pave potatoes made with a healthy amount of bacon. Delicious. Absolutely delicious – I tend not to salt my food at home, and so at first the pork entree seemed salty. But I soon realized – as with most courses at this meal – that proper salting is really key to appreciating the complexity of flavors in each dish.
By this point in the meal I wasn’t sure how I could go on eating. But next up was the cheese course, and I am not a girl who says no to cheese. I apologize for the picture; honestly I dove into the cheese before photographing the whole plate. The plate featured a parmesan, a gouda, and a stilton cheese, as well as an incredibly rich truffled cheese. All were served with traditional accompaniments. The cheese course was also served with a 2007 Quinta do Crasto port, and honestly, this meal didn’t really change my attitude toward port. I don’t love it. While I can drink sherry and sweet syrahs, the port’s texture is so syrupy sweet that it’s hard to drink. My “lightbulb” moment, however, came when I paired the port with the stilton, an incredibly stinky (in a good way) blue cheese. It made the port absolutely sing, further driving home the point that thoughtful wine pairings can make both food and wine taste better. True symbiosis.
Rounding out our meal was dessert and coffee service. The coffee service was something that caught my eye when we first sat down; the restaurant uses a Victorian contraption known as the Cona Coffee Maker to make coffee tableside. The Cona uses vacuum pressure to brew the coffee, and is supposed to give you a perfect cup of java because the coffee never comes in contact with metal or paper, both of which can alter the flavor of the grounds. And, while normally I wouldn’t drink regular coffee at 11:30pm (seriously!), I did on this evening, and it was fantastic.
At the beginning of our meal, Chris gave us his three top choices for dessert: a caramelized banana gateau (cake), a Grand Marnier souffle, and a Hawaiian Kona chocolate souffle. My boss ordered the banana gateau, and I opted for the chocolate souffle. While I loved my dessert – it was sweet, but not cloyingly so, and the homemade ice cream was perfect – the banana cake was the clear winner. Smooth and crunchy, salty and sweet, it offered the perfect balance of everything I want in a dessert. Here are pictures of both:
Along with the astonishingly large check, Chris also brought us a plate of friandises: small sweets to conclude the evening. Included were a pineapple ginger candy, a raspberry almond cookie, and an incredible caramel rum chocolate square that paired perfectly with the coffee we were drinking. There wasn’t much room left, but we certainly found a way to polish off the last bits of our meal. We were also presented with fresh red roses, and warm wishes for safe travel home after the blizzard had cleared.
For those of you curious about the numbers, our meal was $135 per person before tax, and we added in the $65 wine pairing per person. My seafood upcharge was $30. Altogether the bill came to something like $457 – if you gasped there, I don’t blame you. The one piece of good news I can offer you is that the main dining room accepts Tables In Wonderland; with this card, you can save 20% off of your food and alcohol, although it adds a (well-deserved!) 20% gratuity. The way I see it, though, we saved the cost of a substantial tip, and every little bit certainly helps.
So, would I recommend Victoria & Albert’s? I’d be hard-pressed not to! Indeed it was a fancier dining experience than I am typically accustomed to, but it was formal without being stuffy. Our servers were fantastic – attentive without being at all smothering, and their training is perfect. I have a real pet peeve about servers clearing one person’s dishes while the other is still eating (and this is actually a real etiquette faux pas), but here Sharon and Chris made sure we were served and cleared at the same time. Anything we could have needed would have been provided to us. At the end of the meal, Sharon even called the Valet to bring around our car, a thoughtful touch that really rounded out a perfect evening.
I’m of the opinion that everyone should eat here at least once. Add this meal to your bucket list, save for it, and savor it – you won’t be disappointed.