Everyone has items on their Disney bucket list. For me, dining at Victoria and Albert’s was high on the list. Not only does it take a bit of budgeting to roll enough pennies to make it happen, but then you also have to score a reservation for a restaurant with very few tables and very limited dining times. So when that all happened to fall into place for the day before my husband’s birthday, you know I had to jump on it.
My husband and I are not total strangers to fine dining, but previously our top experiences at Walt Disney World included things like the California Grill or bluezoo, or Palo on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.
After we dropped our daughter off at Lilo’s Playhouse for her evening of fun, we drove over to the Grand Floridian. Valet parking is included if you are dining at Victoria and Albert’s, so make sure to hand your valet ticket to the server at the end of the meal.
We were about 20 minutes early for our reservation time of 5:45, but they seated us right away. Our two servers for the evening were Sharon and Al, and while they were incredibly professional, they were also amazingly personable. That tended to be a theme for the night—while this is fine dining, and you do have to get dressed up and be on good behavior, it was also more relaxing than any formal meal I’ve ever been to.
After explaining how the evening would progress, we were given the option to select water for the evening. Neither of us are wine drinkers, so we decided not to do the wine pairing (which provides about a Big Gulp-size portion of wine throughout the night), we did splurge a bit for upgraded water. We also had iced tea, which came with ice cubes made of tea. This way when the ice melts, it doesn’t water down the drink.
Then it was time for the personalized menu. A vegetarian menu was available, as well as some items with an up-charge to add on. You had the option to mix and match between the two menus as well.
The first course that was brought out is the Amuse-Bouche. (While some people may not consider this a formal course, because it had its own place setting including flatware that was removed at the end of the course, I think Disney is okay getting away with calling it a course.) Basically the Amuse-Bouche is one little bite of food to awaken the palate and set the tone for the whole meal. Ours was shrimp made into a “sausage” with a curry broth and a soy-ginger glaze and a couple of mushrooms. Somehow I managed not to lick the bowl nor ask for seconds, thirds, or fourths of that bite. It was incredible. The flavor was perfectly balanced, and it was light and refreshing.
Second course was the “salad” course. A word of warning about the meal—it is very protein-heavy. I think that the only change I’d make on a future trip would be to order a couple more options from the vegetarian menu to balance things out. That said, I don’t know what I’d want to remove from my choices! For the salad course, I got the poussin (a young chicken) on a bed of cubed ratatouille and my husband got Colorado bison with black radish slaw and kumquats. All of the ingredients were incredibly fresh, with a combination of local ingredients from Lake Meadows Farm and ingredients brought in from The Chef’s Garden of Farmer Lee Jones (also known as the guy with the big red bow tie on TV cooking competitions).
Along with the second course came the first bread course of the evening—a hand-rolled baguette with Vermont creamery butter.
Next came the seafood course. My husband ordered the Alaska king salmon and crab, asparagus, and Sauce Béarnaise, but I saw something unique on the vegetarian menu that I had to try—fiddlehead ferns. These young shoots from the fern are only in season for a couple weeks out of the year and are very hard to find, so I knew I had to try them. The salmon was “seared rare”, which basically means it is slightly warmed sushi that melts in your mouth. My husband loved it, although he did wish that the piece of salmon had been slightly smaller so that every bite could be a mix of the salmon and crab.
We both agreed that the winner of this course was the vegetarian option, however. The fiddlehead ferns were crunchy with just a hint of a bitter flavor, which went wonderfully with roasted cauliflower, purple and yellow cauliflower and romanesco on a potato “puree” (think texture of soup, but all potato in flavor), and roasted asparagus with Sauce Bérnaise served tableside. It tied for my favorite dish of the whole meal.
A nice touch of this course was that my husband and I received different forks—he ordered seafood, and got a seafood fork, but because I did not order seafood, I got a salad fork. It is little details like this that really up the bar for me.
Next came the hot appetizers along with another bread course (herb brioche with herb butter). I ordered the ash-crusted Berkshire pork with Sauce Soubise and my husband had the quail with cardamom and sunchokes. I think this was the most forgettable of the entrees. It was amazingly delicious, but the previous course just completely blew me away that while this would have been the highlight of a meal anywhere else, it didn’t stand out beyond the rest of the meal. That said, why are sunchoke crisps not “a thing”? It would become my preferred snack food if I could find them. Technically the sunchoke crisp was a garnish, but it was still amazing.
Now it was time for the last bread of the evening (a multigrain with fleur de sel butter) and the main entrees. Chef Scott’s international supplier of waygu beef had been in earlier in the week with a new supply of certified waygu beef. If you are a fan of cooking shows, you’ve probably heard of this ingredient, but it is almost impossible to find it on a menu. At $110 extra for a 4-ounce portion (above the $150 per person meal that we were enjoying), it was a little too pricey for our budget, but when Chef offered us a 2-ounce tasting portion for $55, we jumped on it.
If there is a buffet in heaven, it has unlimited amounts of wagyu beef. It actually started melting on my tongue before I could chew it. It was almost as if it was a cut of beef from a cow crossed with a stick of butter. I’m not a fan of most food trends (acai berries, dishes with foam, and salted caramel, you’re on my hit list), but this is a trend that is worth every bit of hype. It is served with a meat sauce that takes a day to reduce from ten gallons down to one. How so much flavor fits into such a small container, I have no idea. There was also a potato gratin on the plate that would make me give up any other form of potato for life if I could have that on my plate every night. Needless to say, this was my husband’s favorite dish and tied with the vegetarian course for my favorite.
Because the waygu beef was so amazing, it did overshadow our other entrees, which were strong enough contenders for best entrée ever anywhere else. I had the veal with black truffles and my husband had the herb-crusted lamb loin and belly with carrots. Black truffles are another food trend, and while I enjoyed them on the little “mushroom lasagna” that came with my dish, I don’t think they live up to the price tag. My veal was wonderful, and it had sweetbreads on top (a new food for me). The herb-crusted lamb had a ton of flavor thanks to the very obvious herb crust, and my husband did enjoy it. By this point, both of us were getting a little protein-overload, so while we finished our dishes, we were also grateful that our meat-based courses were at an end.
Next came a pre-dessert course, which provided a sweet and a savory option. I went with the sweet option—a white chocolate gelato with a small ball of pear that had been infused with champagne. My husband went with the cheese plate. Most of the cheeses were ones we had eaten previously on other cheese plates, and while the gelato was good, it didn’t stand out for me. The pear was incredibly intense, and a real surprise to the dish.
While our desserts were being prepared, we opted for coffee and tea service. Even if you don’t drink coffee or tea, I highly suggest that you ask to see one of them brewed. Looking like something out of a medieval wizard’s laboratory, water is heated in the bottom carafe, and then rises up into the top, where the tea leaves or coffee grounds are located. When the water has all filtered up, the heat source is removed, and the air pressure pulls the liquid down without bringing the leaves or grounds. It was its own dinner entertainment.
And speaking of dinner entertainment, I can’t write about the experience without mentioning Elizabeth the harpist. Harp music is the perfect accompaniment to a meal of this caliber, and the highlight of the evening for me was hearing her play the best rendition of the theme from Star Wars that I have heard outside of the movie score. She also included some more traditional harp pieces, but mixed in a few other Disney songs. (The theme from Up and At Last I see the Light from Tangled were my favorites.)
Coffee and tea prepared, out came dessert. My husband’s dish was an incredible Tanzanian (dark) chocolate timbale with orange-scented milk chocolate gelato. I went with something I thought would be lighter—the caramelized banana gateau. What I didn’t know is that my dish would be filled with an insane amount of mascarpone and given a “healthy dose” of macadamia nuts. My husband was able to finish his dish, down to the last flecks of 24K gold leaf, but the gateau won. If I had to choose an item on the dessert menu to order, I absolutely would get the Grand Marnier Souffle, but I opted not to get it because it is a dish served on Disney Cruise Line. That said, when I saw someone at the other table get it, I did feel a twinge of regret because the dish is amazing.
At this point, I was completely in sugar overload, so when they brought out a plate of friandises, I groaned a little bit inside. But, for the sake of completeness, I made myself try each one. Next time, I may ask if I could get them to go—or cut back the amount of dessert I eat by a few bites.
To end the meal, I was brought a rose along with the “thorn” (the check). We were also given a small loaf of orange bread to take home as a special extra gift.
In all, the meal took around three hours from start to finish. While there was very little down time in between courses, the meal never felt rushed. With the imported water, the half-serving of waygu beef, the fixed-price meal for two, and the tip, the bill came in just shy of $500. No discounts are available, but the Platinum Package dining plan is accepted.
So, would we do it again? If a lottery check arrives in my mailbox today, or a very generous boss wants a follow-up blog post to see if the experience is consistent on other days of the week (hint hint?), I’d gladly go again. That said, this is a very special meal, and price aside, it is something that you would want to save for a special occasion. If you have a special occasion, can get a reservation, and aren’t going to go into cardiac arrest when the bill arrives, it is well worth the trip. It completely blows away any other dining on property or our experiences at Palo (all of which have been great meals), and it is easy to see why this is the only AAA Five-Diamond restaurant in Central Florida. The food is exceptional in flavor, freshness, and creativity, but doesn’t come across as stuffy or unapproachable. Likewise, the servers are attentive and personable, but still dignified and top-notch.
Special thanks for a great evening to Chef Scott, Chef Erich, Israel, Viviana, Al, Sharon, and Elizabeth, and to the valet staff at the Grand Floridian—because I don’t think I could have walked all the way to my car in a parking lot if I tried after a meal like that!