Like it or not, the ship's class dining system still exists, which means those passengers staying in non-suites are allocated to the Britannia Restaurant or Britannia Club, while suite-class passengers eat their meals in either the Princess or Queens Grill restaurants. If suite guests would like to experience the Britannia Restaurant it is possible, upon request.
We found that while dining options onboard cover all tastes and requirements, food is hit and miss in the main dining room -- it lacked in quality and culinary flair. Dishes were often overcooked and as a result they lacked in flavor and texture. Vegetables tended to be overcooked and some elements of a dish, such as a potato Dauphinoise on one occasion, had dried out because of overheating.
Health conscious guests are well catered for, however, with Canyon Ranch healthy options listed on the main dining room and Grills' menus for passengers counting the calories.
Specialty dining in the Kings Court offers excellent value for money with a daily changing themed menu keeping the options fresh. The Verandah restaurant offers passengers a prix fixe fine-dining experience reminiscent of a Michelin-starred restaurant. Although predominantly a lounge bar, Carinthia Lounge offers an epicurean selection of dishes not to be missed at breakfast and lunchtime.
Vegetarian options are available on all menus, although some are more limited than others, particularly on The Verandah's menu. While all dietary requirements can be catered for, it is advisable to contact the line to make any requirements known ahead of sailing.
Kings Court Buffet (Deck 7): The ship's extensive buffet is open on a nearly continuous basis with continental breakfast (5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.), full breakfast (6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.), lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), afternoon snacks (3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.), dinner (6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.) and late snacks (11 p.m. to 2 a.m.) served throughout the day.
Transformed during the ship's refit -- with two central elevators removed to make way for an additional serving station -- the space is ultra-stylish and has a chic city canteen feel, with a mix of tall tables with stools and two-, four- and six-seat tables, the design features on-trend Art Deco-style floor tiles and gold lamps hanging over the food stations.
We really enjoyed the food at Kings Court. It felt diverse with a balance of staple dishes such as chicken, steak and salmon, complemented with more unique dishes such as a fall-off-the-bone lamb shank and baby back ribs. The cheese station was impressive -- and far better than the cheese board served in the Britannia Restaurant -- including several different types of cheese, chutneys, crackers and accompaniments such as a selection of nuts. Desserts at lunch and dinner usually includes selections of dishes such as tiramisu, chocolate mousse cake and cheesecakes, along with one hot dessert, such as a Bakewell slice (a traditional British pastry-based dessert consisting of a cherry base, a light sponge filling and an almond-flaked top) and custard. There are three self-service ice cream machines serving vanilla and chocolate ice cream in the Kings Court. Tip: Don't pull down on the ice cream lever with too much force. It can get messy! Cones are also provided for ice cream.
During busier periods it can sometimes be difficult to find a free table in the Kings Court, particularly a window seat. We did wonder why the serving station which has been added wasn't actually in use on our voyage, while there was still a demand for more tables. Would it have been a better use of space to add more tables and a smaller station instead of another four-sided food station? Although, despite occasionally searching for a free table, the space didn't feel chaotic or congested during our voyage. We didn't experience lines at the food stations and waiters were quick to attend to drink orders at the table.
Cutlery is neatly wrapped in cloth napkins and both Wedgwood mugs and disposable cups are provided at the self-service drinks stations.
Breakfast includes fruit, cereals, pastries, cold meats and cheeses, smoked salmon, a range of breads and hot items such as eggs cooked to order, two different types of sausages, back and streaky bacon, baked beans, black pudding, hash browns and sweeter dishes such as pancakes with maple syrup.
Lunch includes items such as salads, pastas, tiger prawns, smoked salmon, cheeses and meats, pizza, different types of fish and roasted dishes such as beef and pork, complemented by items such as burgers and hotdogs in the Chef's Galley.
A similar offering is available in the evening, with a range of cold meats and cheeses, made-to-order pizzas in the Chef's Galley, salads such as smoked chicken, Waldorf and orzo, steamed vegetables and usually two types of potato dishes along with a selection of cooked meats and fish selections.
Complimentary drinks in the Kings Court include a selection of Twining teas, coffee, water and fruit juices such as cranberry, pineapple, apple and orange juice. The beverage menu allows passengers to order sodas, beer, wine and spirits, too.
Britannia Restaurant (Deck 2 & 3): The Britannia Restaurant is the largest of the ship's main dining rooms, serving breakfast (8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.), lunch (12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.) and two dinner sittings (6 p.m., with last orders at 6:30 p.m., and 8:30 p.m., with last orders at 9 p.m.). The restaurant features a range of table sizes, from two- to 10-person tables -- although two-seat tables are more limited and often get booked up in advance (passengers can request a specific table size pre-cruise). Tables are fixed, too, so diners sit at the same table with the same tablemates each day.
Britannia Restaurant has been smartened up with new carpets and fresh upholstery, while retaining its original features that make this room so iconic. From the towering fabric Queen Mary memorial in the background to the stained-glass internal domed roof and sweeping staircases, the restaurant retains all of the glamour that is reminiscent of the Art Deco period. The room fills with energy during the evenings and particularly on formal nights, it has a fantastic atmosphere.
The breakfast menu is traditional, starting with a chilled juice followed by fresh fruit, compote and yogurts, hot and cold cereals, fresh bakery items and assorted cold cuts and cheeses. This selection is followed by a "main course" of Cunard's Get Up and Go Signature Plate, featuring eggs with smoked salmon and chives, bacon, sausage, hash brown, black pudding, tomato and sauteed mushrooms. There is also a selection of other breakfast entrees, including eggs cooked to order, a variety of omelets, additional sides or pancakes and waffles.
The lunch menu includes a selection of appetizers, salads and sandwiches, entrees and desserts. Typical dishes include spaghetti carbonara or grilled swordfish steak.
Dinner service includes six appetizers, six entrees and six dessert options. On our voyage, appetizers included dishes such as the beef consomme, frog legs and a mushroom feuillete with a mascarpone and herb cream sauce, followed by a salad course. Entrees included chicken curry, roasted rack of spring lamb and fillet of haddock. Vegetarian dishes -- usually two per menu -- included vegetable moussaka and a potato pancake with Quorn croutons and bean cassoulet.
The dessert menu features classics such as caramelized pear, chocolate fondant and dulce de leche. There's always a cheese board featured among the dessert options -- although we found it a poor choice -- and there's also a spa selection of low-calorie dishes.
While service in the Britannia Restaurant was generally very good -- our servers were professional and charismatic -- the food was generally poor. Dishes felt mass produced, and there appeared to be a lack of quality control. For example, the quality of the cheese board deteriorated during the voyage.
Britannia Club Restaurant (Deck 2): Serving the same menu as the Britannia Restaurant, but set off in a smaller, more intimate area, Britannia Club passengers can dine from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. for breakfast, 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. for lunch and anytime between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. for dinner, giving passengers flexible dining times in the evening.
Princess Grill (Deck 7): Breakfast (8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.), lunch (12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.) and dinner (6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.) is served in the Princess Grill for Princess Grill suite passengers only. Both Grill restaurants have received a contemporary makeover, giving each their own individual character. Princess Grill now accommodate more tables for two, which is much more sensible when you have open seating.
Lunch options include a selection of low-calorie Canyon Ranch Spa dishes, such as a cream of tomato soup followed by a chicken meatball sandwich and finished with a fruit plate. The regular menu starts with appetizers and soups, followed by salad and sandwich options, entrees and desserts. Typical dishes include grilled pork cutlet with horseradish mash, wild mushrooms and a Madeira sauce or a pasta dish with arugula, sun-dried tomatoes and a chicken sauce.
Two menus are available in the evening -- the Dinner and A La Carte -- allowing Grills passengers more choice. Appetizers include dishes such as zucchini and goat cheese tart and the terrine of ham knuckle. This is followed by a salad and a selection of entrees, such as Scandinavian Arctic char, New York strip steak au poivre or the caraway roasted pumpkin risotto. There's also a daily Cunard Signature Classic dish, which must be ordered by lunch on the same day. On our sailing, this included a Dover sole meuniere. Typical desserts include parfaits, panna cottas and souffles, and for those who have saved space, the cheese trolley is presented at the end. Food is notably improved in the Princess Grill, with ingredients of a better quality and dishes more creative.
Queens Grill (Deck 7): Breakfast (8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.), lunch (12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.) and dinner (6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.) is served in the Queens Grill for Queens Grill suite passengers only. Queens Grill has also benefited from the addition of extra tables for two for those who prefer to dine as a couple.
The transformation of the Queens Grill has seen a new color scheme, exclusive artwork and a more contemporary look applied to the room, which has the feel of a private club restaurant.
The menu works in the same way as the Princess Grill. Breakfast flows with several courses, including fresh fruit, cereals, yogurts and smoothies and bakery items to start, with a choice of pancakes and waffles and/or a breakfast entree dish to follow. Entree dishes range from a full English or American breakfast to the more extravagant petit fillet mignon with fried eggs and hash brown potatoes.
Lunch includes a three-course Canyon Ranch option plus a series of appetizers and soups, salads and sandwiches, entrees and desserts. Typical dishes include an avocado and grapefruit cocktail and a broiled ocean perch with sauteed spinach.
Typical dinner dishes include quail breast saltimbocca, crayfish salad and roasted pumpkin veloute to start, followed by a salad and a selection of entrees. Entrees include dishes such as the fillet of hake with a sweet corn risotto; rack of Romney Marsh lamb (note the improved quality of lamb); and usually at least one dish designed for sharing, such as the chateaubriand.
Desserts include several options, from the fruity to the chocolaty. This is all rounded off by the cheese trolley. Better quality ingredients, improved cooking techniques and the clever pairing of ingredients make this one of the most refined restaurants onboard.
Boardwalk Cafe (Deck 12): The ship's fast food restaurant on Deck 12, by the Kennel Suite, serves burgers, fries, hot dogs and soft drinks, but has no seating, and as a result is weather-dependent. Opening times vary.
Carinthia Lounge (Deck 7): The ship's brand-new Carinthia Lounge isn't just a stylish space to meet with friends or enjoy a drink, it also serves some of the tastiest dishes on the ship. We often opted for the Carinthia Lounge for breakfast (8 a.m. to 10 a.m.) or lunch (12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.) as an alternative to Kings Court, because of its small gourmet plates.
Feast over a delicious breaded haggis ball or a gooey fried egg over spicy sauteed mushrooms and tomatoes. There's also the classic eggs Florentine and breakfast panini as well as a range of gourmet pastries, yogurt and granola pots available.
At lunchtime, passengers can graze on an equally appetizing selection of plates, including an addictive pulled BBQ beef flatbread; chicken, asparagus, mushroom and Gruyere cheese savory crepes; a charcuterie platter and club sandwich; among other dishes, with a selection of eclairs and cheesecake pots for after. All dishes are freshly prepared by the chefs behind the counter.
Queens Room (Deck 3): A signature Cunard service is the line's afternoon tea offering, which is served in the ship's Queens Room. Served daily (3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.) to the backdrop of classical music, the traditional afternoon tea includes a selection of fine leaf teas, finger sandwiches, pastries and fresh-baked scones with clotted cream and fruit preserves.
Golden Lion (Deck 2): Serving pub lunches (12 p.m. to 3 p.m.), the menu features dishes such as cottage pie, fish and chips and other British pub classics.
Room Service: 24-hour room service is available to all cabins. The menu is varied with two salad options, one soup, sandwiches, a varied selection of hot dishes, hot sandwiches, burgers and desserts. The room service menu has a limited number of vegetarian options, with five of the 18 savory dishes listed suitable for vegetarians. A service charge is not applied to food orders. Room service arrived timely -- we ordered drinks to the room on one occasion -- which arrived in less than 10 minutes, while breakfast arrived on schedule with items hot and fresh.
Kings Court Specialty A La Carte (Deck 7); $17.50: Between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., a section of the Kings Court is transformed into a specialty dining venue. Every night is a different theme: Aztec, offering regional Mexican cuisine; La Pizza, which is a celebration of Italian cuisine; Bamboo, a Pan-Asian theme drawing on Japanese, Singaporean, Indonesian, Thai and Chinese cuisines; Coriander, focusing on Indian regional cuisines; and the brand-new Smokehouse, featuring classic American barbecued dishes. Expect dishes such as buffalo chicken wings and Maryland crabcake to start and coconut-crusted shrimp or the buttermilk southern fried chicken and mac and cheese on the Smokehouse menu.
Each individual menu also features a tailored drinks menu. For example, Smokehouse's menu plays on American wines and beers, while Coriander's drink menu features international wines -- including some Indian wines -- and Indian beers. Kings Court Specialty A La Carte offers great value for money; as testimony to its popularity, it was fully booked on every night of our voyage.
The Verandah (Deck 8); $20 for lunch and $49.95 for dinner: The Verandah is a throwback to the original version of the restaurant on Queen Mary. Subtle details of the original are weaved into the decor -- there's a circus theme in the contemporary artwork and splashes of color that featured in the original to create an elegant, but playful ambiance.
The seasons influence the French menu, with a particular focus on regional cooking from the South of France. The prix fixe menu, which stays the same during the voyage, starts with a light amuse-bouche -- a mackerel creme brulee on our sailing -- followed by a selection of eight starters, such as sea scallop ceviche and the white crab and sea urchin. We tried the tender frog legs, served in a delicate tempura with crispy shallots and caramelized black garlic. A soup is served before the main course, with options including a wild turbot; slipper lobster tail, octopus and red mullet; or the crusted rack and shoulder of Dorset lamb for two that is carved at the table. Desserts range from the classic rum baba to a poached pear served under a blanket of melted Valrhona chocolate. That's not all; a trolley of confectionary -- macaroons, jellies, chocolate mints -- is wheeled to the table and served on a silver-plated miniature cake stand to round off proceedings.
Kudos to the restaurant's chefs who pack serious culinary flair into every dish. Although the result felt like dining in a Michelin-star restaurant, we felt the wine service could be improved -- while we started with a glass of Champagne, the rest of our drink order wasn't taken until our first dish arrived, meaning we didn't have a drink to accompany our appetizer. Wine pairings are offered, but we felt the sommelier wasn't forthcoming with recommendations.