Victoria and Albert’s, located in Walt Disney World’s flagship resort, The Grand Floridian, is a beyond-signature dining restaurant not included on the Disney Dining Plan. There is often a lot made of the fact that it is the only restaurant on property to receive the AAA 5 diamond rating, a distinction shared by only 38 in the US. The criteria examined include the expected, such as presentation and preparation, and perhaps more obscure subjects, such as grooming, traffic flow, and ventilation. Which makes sense, because I usually find oxygen a nice accompaniment to any meal.
When you arrive at the Grand Floridian for your dining extravaganza, your VIP status begins at the doorstep, as valet parking (usually $10) is complementary. This is a big deal, if you’ve read some of my other reviews (and if you haven’t, feel free to go back and take a look””it’s totally free! And worth the price!) because the self-parking for the Grand Floridian is roughly 1,000 miles away, down the driveway, across the street, and behind the bushes. If you enjoy wearing dress-up shoes as much as we do (which would be “not at all”) then you’ll appreciate V&A not making you walk all that way in them. On the other hand, if you’re going to V&A, maybe $10 isn’t going to kill you in the first place, unless like us, you already gave the maximum amount of blood just raising the money for the dinner.
The entry into the restaurant is through an inconspicuous doorway you might easily mistake for a conference room while walking into Citricos. The entry area housed a Christmas tree when we went, in December, but was otherwise representative of the rest of the restaurant in its subdued, elegant decor. We were taken to our table by our main server and introduced to our associate server” each table has two. They have done away with the tradition they used to have, of all the female servers being called “Victoria,” and all the male servers called “Albert” which perhaps makes it a little less like those themed restaurants, where the waiters dress like pirates.
The menu changes every day apparently, depending on what ingredients are available, and what mood the chef is in, so what we had can be considered representative of the selections that might be offered. There are seven courses altogether, consisting of amuse bouche, appetizer, uhm”¦second appetizer? Fish, meat, cheese, and dessert. The courses are fairly small (what my brother would term “pediatric”) but they make up in number, what they lack in volume.
For the amuse bouche, we were given a choice between the standard, a gratin oyster in the shell and a mango terrine about the size of your thumb, or The White Truffle, which was an extra $40. We skipped the truffle and enjoyed their regular choices, which did a good job of whetting, but not spoiling, our appetites.
They also provided us with rolls; however we were instructed to go light on the bread, in order to save room for the rest of the courses. Our next choice was between walnut oil seared duck with hearts of palm, huckleberry vinaigrette and Fourme D’Ambert fondue, chorizo crusted gulf shrimp with garbanzo beans, Arbequina olives and Banyuls vinaigrette, and Iranian Osetra caviar with traditional garnish for $125/0.5 oz, $250/1.0 oz. Reflecting that we’d have to sleep in the rental car for 4 nights in order to afford the caviar, we tried the other two choices. Of the two, I liked the duck best” it was cooked impeccably, and how can you miss, with cheese rumored to date back to the times of the Druids? The shrimp was also cooked well, but the combination with the beans and olives didn’t seem as unique as the rest of the offerings.
The third course offered a choice of elk tenderloin with cabbage and spaetzle, chicken with truffles, or pan roasted foie gras with Fuji apples and Mostarda di Cremona for an extra $15. Assured by our servers that the foie gras was the best thing on the whole menu, we both opted for it. Yes. It was really good” fruity and creamy, contrasted with the firmness of the apples. It was the best thing on the menu. It was probably the best thing I had the whole trip. It sings to me in my dreams. If we could have paid extra to have that as our entree, we surely would have.
For the fish course, we had our choice of sablefish with lentils, turbot with capers, or our choice, Nantucket scallops with roasted beets and pomegranate reduction. I had asked the server if the sablefish was as good as the scallops, and he didn’t think so” it was nice that the servers had actual opinions about the food, versus just saying “oh, everything’s good.” The scallops were indeed tender and flavorful, but the big surprise was that they were accompanied by a variety of cute little objects of varying colors and shapes”¦and they were all beets! Different types of jeweled beets” I had no idea.
So then we came to the meat course, featuring options of veal tenderloin, Kurobuta pork tenderloin and belly with banana squash ragout, Kansas City Angus beef with candied Yukon Gold potatoes, Australian Kobe beef ($35 extra,) or Japanese Wagyu strip loin ($80 extra.) Deciding to Go America! I went with the Kansas City beef. It was excellently done to a true medium rare”slightly charred on the outside, but pink and juicy inside. Wonderfully tender, the only thing odd was that the potatoes didn’t seem candied””just roasted with salt. Since I wasn’t altogether sure of the idea of sugary potatoes anyway, it was fine with me.
My Mother chose the pork which she enjoyed but was too full to finish by this time. I tried it and although it was good, I vastly preferred the beef. Pork belly in particular, I think, is something of an acquired taste, as it’s about 50% fat in virtually every incarnation. Of course, I had also had some exceptionally underwhelming pork earlier that week in a restaurant that will remain unnamed (hint: It begins with “Raglan” and ends with “Road”) so I might still have been traumatized.
A cheese course was offered next, with Comte Saint Antoine, 4 year aged Gouda, and St. Marcellin as the featured cheeses. I am not a total cheese connoisseur, but I thought the Gouda, in particular, was very good, and none of the cheeses were of those frighteningly strong ones nice restaurants occasionally like to surprise you with. For those not of the cheese-inclined, they provided a pear-almond gelato with micro mint. It must have been good, because I didn’t get any. I can however, vouch for the fact that the mint was very micro.
Finally, in an attempt to finish you off completely, they present the dessert course. The choices included chocolate or Grand Marnier souffles, vanilla creme brulee, berry gateau with mango pannacotta, caramelized banana gateau, or Tanzanian chocolate pyramid, Hawaiian Kona chocolate souffle, and Peruvian chocolate ice cream and puff pastry. I tried the chocolate trio, and it was, as expected, a veritable parade of chocolate forms. My favorite was the pyramid, which had actual gold leaf on it””we considered trying to melt it down to help pay for the bill, but desisted. The souffle was light and airy, and combined with the rich chocolate sauce was easily a match for the chocolate souffle at Palo.
At the advice of the waiter, my Mom sampled the banana gateau, which was something of a misnomer because, as he had told us, there was virtually no cake in it. It was more of a banana custard wrapped in a sugar cylinder, topped with a spun sugar decoration. Our strongest impression of it afterwards was “sticky” as any contact with the spun sugar instantly bonded it to your fingers faster than superglue.
Coffee or tea was offered as well, after which the bill was discretely proffered. That unpleasantness taken care of, they present every woman there with a red rose in a clever box complete with vial of water. It sustains the rose so well; the roses survived the 5-hour plane ride home in our checked luggage the next day, relatively intact.
The total time for the dinner was about 2 Â½ hours, in what was probably the quietest dining environment I have ever been in, at a Disney resort. During the meal a harpist played soothing tunes which, as far as I could tell, were not Disney-related. If anyone gives into the temptation to send the musician $5 to play “It’s A Small World After All,” let me know what happens.
In all, it was a fabulous night of food experience we would be glad to repeat the next time we win the lottery. Was it the absolute best dinner I’ve ever had? No””I’ve been to other prix fixe dinners at regular restaurants that cost less and had more exotic, more daringly prepared food. Like all the other restaurants around these parts however, Victoria and Albert’s has a little something that your fancy restaurant back home doesn’t have””Walt Disney World. And that, I find, makes all the difference.
Location: The Grand Floridian
Ambience: Quiet, dimly lit, with harp music. Sort of like a boring person’s idea of Heaven. Dinner jackets for men, dresses or pant suit for women requested; roughly 90% compliance while we were there.
Service: Elaborate and sedate. Silverware is changed out after every course.
Prices: The base price for the dinner is $125, with the wine pairings an extra $60 pp. They also accept the Disney Dining Experience card, which takes 20% of the sting off. Chef’s Table is extra.
Best dishes: Fois Gras