Food onboard Queen Victoria is generally good with plenty of variety at lunch and dinner. There are two main restaurants where passengers in standard accommodation can eat -- the Lido buffet and the Britannia restaurant. For lighter bites or more delicate appetites, the Cafe Carinthia offers light dishes at lunchtime and cakes and pastries at teatime, while the Golden Lion pub goes the whole English hog by offering traditional English pub fare -- think fish and chips in beer batter or a hearty ploughman's sandwich. Only the top-priced cabin categories entitle passengers to eat in the ship's most exclusive dining rooms -- the Princess Grill and Queens Grill.
Britannia Restaurant (Decks 2 and 3): Queen Victoria's largest dining venue is an elegant space with double-height ceiling offset by cornices and intimate groupings of tables that belie the room's size. Inspired by the dining car of the Golden Arrow train that once linked London to Paris, the restaurant's Art Deco design influences are captured in its original artwork, wall sconces and finishes that include polished wood, bronze, mirror and gold leaf. The room's focal point --- a 10-foot-tall illuminated world globe -- is a sizable yet subtle reference to Cunard's history in plying the world's oceans. The two floors are linked by a sweeping staircase.
Wait staff are friendly and attentive, though on our cruise wine waiters were thin on the ground and couldn't cope too well with the number of passengers allocated to them. Bottles are kept en masse in an ice bucket at a distance from the tables and on one occasion we were offered wine from someone else's bottle. Breakfast (7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.) offers made-to-order omelettes, fresh fruit and compote, hot and cold cereals, yoghurts and breads 'fresh from the bakery' which include bran and blueberry muffins, toasted bagels and banana bread. Buttermilk pancakes come with American bacon, link sausages and maple syrup, while entrees include an egg white omelette with your choice of topping. Fish fans might opt for smoked Finnan haddock or Scottish kippers. Cold cuts include turkey, roast beef and liver pate.
Choices at lunch (12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.) are varied and include calorie-counted selections from the Royal Spa. Regular appetisers include duck rolls and mint confit, while mains feature hot items like grilled swordfish steak and a good selection of sandwiches. Four or five dessert choices mean you may want to make an extra visit to the gym.
Breakfast and lunch are served on the lower level on an open seating basis.
For dinner, passengers are allocated a table for the duration of the voyage, with set dining times of 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Appetisers may include pate de campagne with red onion marmalade or Singapore-style satay chicken. Main courses usually include pasta, steaks and a vegetarian option while desserts might feature a chocolate and walnut slice, cheesecake or ice cream. Dessert coffee comes with petit fours. The room's upper and lower levels accommodate 878 guests and a string quartet or harpist usually performs during the first hour of dining.
Cafe Carinthia (Deck 2): Named after a former Cunard ship, the 59-seat Cafe Carinthia (open 7 a.m. to 12 a.m.) offers the style and sophistication of a traditional French patisserie. This classy space is highlighted by Art Deco elements in shades of gold, blue and rich bronze. An original oil painting on masonite of Carinthia highlights the area. Freshly baked croissants, Danish pastries and muffins are served here; a wide selection of premium teas and coffees -- including cappuccinos, espressos and lattes -- cost extra, between $2.95 and $5.25. This is an ideal spot for a light lunch (12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.) when quiches, smoked salmon sandwich and salads are on the menu. The cafe is at its busiest then. Afternoon tea (3 p.m. to 5 p.m.) satisfies sugar cravings with tortes and gateaux. All food is free. The cafe also has a full bar.
Golden Lion Pub (Deck 2): Seating 116, this is the only bar onboard that sells draught ales and lagers. The atmosphere resembles a traditional English pub with an antique-ish pressed tin ceiling and wide-screen wall-mounted TVs showing the latest news and sport. It is a pleasant space with lots of windows, oval wood tables, some banquettes in wine leather and dark green leather-topped stools. Table lamps with dark green shades are dotted around the room and add an atmospheric touch. The lunch menu (12:30 p. m. to 2:30 p.m.) offers five or six options that are beautifully presented and served by pleasant staff. One of the most popular dishes is the typically English fish and chips -- the fish is cooked in beer batter, served with mushy peas, a pickled onion, slice of lemon and two separate containers of tomato sauce and tartar sauce. The ploughman's lunch is concocted from York ham, Cheddar cheese, vegetable crudites and apple. It is served on crusty bread with a side dollop of Branston pickle. Other menu choices include chicken curry and pasta. Complimentary crisps/peanuts are served with drinks in the evening.
Queens Room (Deck 2): This popular venue serves a traditional English afternoon tea -- scones with cream and jam, finger sandwiches and cake -- served by white-gloved waiters and accompanied by a pianist or string quartet. Afternoon tea has been a Cunard tradition for more than a century, and the brew served is a blend of Ceylon, Assam and Kenyan tea specially selected for Cunard. Other choices are Earl Grey and Darjeeling. Tea is served from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Lido (Deck 9): This is a casual, bright and airy informal dining area with a daylong buffet selection and historic Cunard images lining the walls -- a sophisticated touch. Seating options include tables for two or four, as well as some larger tables. A downside is the Lido does not have separate food stations so queues tend to form at breakfast and lunch, particularly on sea days; at these times, finding a table can also become a chore. Waiters do not help passengers find a seat, and it is rare for them to bring you tea and coffee, so it's up to you to queue at the machine for hot drinks and fruit juices.
Continental breakfast (4 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.) consists of pastries, toast, a selection of spreads, a smoothie of the day and hot drinks. Full breakfast (6:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.) is everything you would expect of a good cruise ship breakfast -- porridge, Bircher muesli, bacon, eggs, sausage, mushroom, baked beans, tomatoes, etc. On the cold counter, there are packets of cereals, fresh fruit, cold meats, cheese, smoked salmon and trout with a made-to-order section that cooks up waffles and pancakes. Lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.) provides enough to keep hearty eaters satisfied. There is meat from a carving section, and separate pizzeria, doughnut and sandwich stations too. Salads vary most days, and puddings are always plentiful. The afternoon snack (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) offers a similar choice to lunch with more emphasis on cold dishes. One section of the Lido offers afternoon tea (3 p.m. to 5 p.m.) with warm scones, cream, jam, dainty but tasty finger sandwiches and cake. Dinner (from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.) has a broader range of hot entrees and a plentiful choice of main dishes. At all meals, Queen Victoria caters for a range of dietary needs including vegetarian, pescatarian, low or no fat, low or no salt, dairy-free, gluten-free, low cholesterol, diabetic, kosher and vegan.
Staying true to Queen Victoria's British roots, the buffet maintains a selection of foods and condiments popular with Brits, everything from HP Sauce to English mustard, Marmite and breakfast cereals like Alpen. The Lido Cafe seats 468 guests and is open 24 hours a day.
Princess Grill Restaurants (Deck 11): The 132-seat Princess Grill Restaurant decorated in gold, green and coral is a visual feast of art deco and classic design. It has rich wood-paneled walls in muted shades of cream and brown, bronze mirrors and cream-colored ceilings, accented with faux gold-paneled moldings around backlit coves. The Princess Grill restaurant is open exclusively to passengers in Princess Grill suites for breakfast, lunch and dinner with waiter service. Breakfast is from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. with lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. There are no set dining times for dinner, so you can roll up anytime between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. to be seated at your reserved table. Expect dishes such as lobster thermidor, Dover sole and chateaubriand to be on the menu.
Queens Grill Restaurant (Deck 11): The 142-seat Queens Grill restaurant, featuring a cream, gold and blue color scheme, is the exclusive dining venue of Queens Suite passengers. During the day, the entire length of the Queens Grill dining room is illuminated with natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows. At night, lighting comes from decorative glass uplighters. Wedgwood bone china, Waterford crystal, sterling silverware and Fili d'Oro Italian premium linens complete the scene.
The Queens Grill is open for breakfast (7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.), lunch (12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.) and dinner (6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.), with assigned tables at all meals. The dinner menu is a many splendored thing, with appetisers that might include sevruga caviar or seafood bisque. Typical choices for mains could be lobster flambe with Cognac truffle and wild mushroom risotto, while a choice of around six desserts (including a sugar-free option) regularly features the popular baked Alaska. The cheese selection is beyond magnificent. Here however, the menu functions merely as a guide because, in grand Cunard tradition, staff will accommodate any request, on or off the menu, if available.
The Queens Grill also offers an additional menu with a la carte pricing. This menu offers cold appetizers such as marinated poached jumbo shrimp or sturgeon caviar, while hot appetizers might include lobster ravioli or seared sweetbread medallion. There is a choice of hot and cold soups and salads while main dishes might be broiled beef chateaubriand or salmon.
The Grills Courtyard (Deck 11): Princess and Queens Grill passengers who wish to dine outside at breakfast, lunch or dinner can book a table on a first-come, first-served basis at The Grills Courtyard. It's an intimate Tuscan-inspired space with seating for 40, and it offers the same menu as the Grills restaurants. In good weather, this is where passengers can also enjoy pre- and post-dinner cocktails and afternoon tea. Private cocktail parties and special occasion dinners can also be arranged here for small groups.
Room Service: Complimentary room service is available 24 hours a day and offers everything from soup and salads to specialities such as chicken fajitas, warm sandwiches, burgers and desserts. Every day, a room service breakfast card is left in your cabin and if you want breakfast delivered to your cabin the following morning, fill out the card, hang it on your door before going to sleep and you'll wake up to whatever you fancy from fruit and cereal to bacon, eggs-how-you-like-them, pastries, coffee, tea and juice.
Passengers in standard cabins have two choices for extra-fee dining: the Verandah, a French-style restaurant, and the alternative dining area in the Lido. Food is consistently good in these venues, and waiter service is attentive.
The Verandah (Deck 2); $20 for lunch and $49.95 for dinner: Reservations are necessary in this intimate, stylish French restaurant seating 87, which is on the second level of the three-deck-high lobby. A full bar and wine service is offered. While our waiters -- and the food -- couldn't be faulted, the wine service left much to be desired. We had almost finished our main course before the sommelier came to pour the wine.
The meal began with an amuse bouche of frogs legs. Starters include duck rillette and escargot crumble (included in the cover price) and a trio of smoked fish and seafood, which came on a trolley (with a supplement of $10). Mains include pan-fried sirloin steak served with melted blue cheese in a red wine jus, and gratin of Dover sole with vanilla truffle, which again costs an extra $10. No matter what you order, the food is exquisitely presented. Don't expect to rush; the atmosphere in the beautiful space encourages lingering.
The menu, which is printed in pale grey on white paper, is available in large type for passengers who can't see too well. The restaurant also provides reading spectacles for those who have forgotten to bring theirs to the table. A thoughtful touch!
The Verandah serves dinner from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Occasionally the Verandah is the venue for the 'Enhanced Afternoon Tea', with a price tag of $29.99. (A free afternoon tea is served in the Queens Room.) With the enhanced version, you get a glass of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV or Rose Brut Champagne and a selection of gourmet sandwiches and homemade cake together with tea or coffee. The ship's daily newsletter alerts passengers to the days that this is available.
The Lido (Deck 9); $17.50: In addition to the free dinner buffet, a section of the Lido restaurant is transformed in the evenings into an extra-fee, bistro-style dining venue offering cuisine from around the world. Each night, the space becomes a different restaurant with changing names and menus, including Asado (South American), Prime (American fusion food with steak as its main offering), Coriander (Indian) and Bamboo (Pan-Asian). It is a pleasant experience and fairly popular with passengers, so it is recommended to book in advance. Open 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.