Queen Victoria has three "main" dining venues. Passengers occupying the most expensive cabins (cabin grades Q1 to Q7) dine at the intimate Queens Grill. Those booked into the next most luxurious accommodations (P1 to P4 grades) are assigned to the Princess Grill, which is just as cosy. And for the majority of passengers, residing in everything from inside staterooms to cabins with balconies, the Britannia Grill, a more traditional big-ship restaurant, is the eatery of choice.
All three are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Britannia is open seating for breakfast and lunch and then goes to a set-seating scenario at dinnertime (6 and 8:30 p.m.). Oddly, and this is a Cunard tradition, those dining at either of the Grills have assigned tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner, though can dine at any time during the restaurants' opening hours.
As an occupant of a Britannia-class cabin, I dined there. The Britannia Restaurant is located in the stern of the ship and windows on the lower level offer a good view of the sea, while on the upper level you will mainly see the promenade deck. The setting is rather elegant, with a work of art depicting Western Europe fronted by a huge globe on a black marble plinth as centrepieces.
The food is generally pleasant and the same goes with the service. There is a good choice of options for each meal in general and for dinner in particular. For instance, in recognition of loyal clientele from both sides of the Atlantic, you can choose British or American bacon for breakfast -- the latter one being crispy and the former not quite so. A spa menu offers a lighter yet enjoyable option for each meal.
The Britannia is a large room, and although unobtrusive partitions have been used to create a feeling of intimacy, the lack of that particular feeling is the venue's biggest shortcoming. This restaurant is not particularly bad in this sense compared to other ships -- rather, it's the fact that the big space is hardly in tune with the otherwise cosy elegance created by the mostly small public rooms onboard. The tables at the stern on the lower level (Deck 2) are probably best if you want to feel like you're eating in a more private venue.
Like Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria's alternative restaurant is Todd English. The American chef, known for the success of Olives, his Mediterranean-inspired chain of restaurants, offers similar fare here. Lunch is served from midday until 2 p.m. and involves a $20 per person cover charge. Dinner is available from 6 until 9:30 p.m. and the service fee is $30. You need to book a table in advance, but it is worth the effort and every cent.
Both the restaurant and an adjacent bar are decorated in warm reds, browns and yellows. Banquettes on the port side offer a sea view, and while a few tables are located in the centre of this rectangular room, it maintains a feeling of intimacy throughout. Imaginative use of soft furnishings, such as curtains to gently separate the tables by the windows, work to fine effect.
The food is just great. While purists would argue that Maine is not necessarily known for its crab, the so-named "Maine crabcake" is paired with a fiery sweet and sour tomato sauce as a starter. Excellent as well was the pan-seared salmon as the main course. A Thai coffee tiramisu to finish the meal convinced me that it would be a good idea to come back the next day.
There is an excellent selection of wines, with prices from the low $30's upwards to Petrus 1994, which will set you back to the tune of $2,000. You can also buy a good selection of wines by the glass -- Nobilio Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is $6 per 12.5 cl glass. The service is attentive, yet you never feel that somebody is breathing down your neck. Presentation of the food scores a high mark as well.
The Golden Lion pub on Deck 2 serves lunch from midday to 2 p.m., with British pub grub such as bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes), and fish and chips on the menu. Be prepared: With lots of Brits onboard, the place gets very busy!
The Lido, the ship's buffet area, is perhaps the least successful of all dining venues.
The quality of the food is fine -- if not memorable -- but what doesn't work well is the venue's layout. In an era of ship design when cruise lines have moved to buffet "stations" (separate areas for salads, hot meals, sandwiches, desserts and the like), Queen Victoria, inexplicably has retained a cafeteria mentality. As such queues develop very easily.
Open pretty much around the clock, you can begin the day with Continental breakfast from 4 until 6:30 a.m., move on to full breakfast from 6:30 until 11 a.m., return for lunch from 11:30 a.m. until after 3 p.m., and enjoy pre-dinner snacks like pizza afterward.
Dinner is served at the Lido for those passengers who want a casual, sit-down alterative to main dining; it's available from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. with waiter service. A snack service is available through the wee hours.
On Queen Victoria, in-cabin food service is available 24 hours at no extra charge. The food menu on offer depends whether you travel in Grill or Britannia accommodations; if you have opted for the latter, be prepared for a limited number of choices in terms of food. The Mediterranean salad of seafood is pleasant and the hamburger substantial. Your order arrives in about 25 to 35 minutes. Continental breakfast is served to your cabin as well, with a reasonably good choice of options and prompt service.
Finally, Cunard Line prides itself on its afternoon tea service -- and for a reason. This ceremony, performed every day from 3:30 until 4:30 p.m. in the Queens Room and Grills Lounge (even when in port), reminds you of grander days of ocean travel. A big table is laid in the centre of the room, from which all white-gloved waiters leave simultaneously to serve tea first and then sandwiches and scones with jam.