Dining at Walt Disney World spans the spectrum of culinary exploration. From simple snack carts to counter service restaurants to themed table service restaurants to high-end food experiences, Walt Disney World has something for just about every taste. Guests who are looking for a fine dining experience have a number of different options, including many excellent restaurants in Epcot and at the on-site deluxe resorts. However, the top of the heap is Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian Resort. The AAA 5-diamond award-winning restaurant helmed by Chef Scott Hunnel (Chef De Cuisine) is one of the most honored restaurants in the southeast, and provides guests the option of three different experiences.
Guests making reservations in the main dining room are treated to a 7-course (depending upon season) prix-fixe menu. The restaurant offers two seatings in the main dining room each night with reservations typically available a few months in advance. Guests with reservations in the Queen Victoria Room are served a 10-course (again, can vary by season) prix-fixe menu in a smaller (only 4 tables), more-secluded dining room with many of the dishes finished tableside by plentiful and attentive staff. Reservations in the Queen Victoria Room can be a little tougher to come by, but can typically be had 4-6 months in advance. However, the crème de la crème of dining experiences at V&A’s and probably just about anywhere in the state of Florida, is the famed Chef’s Table - limited to a single party (up to eight people) 5 nights a week. Because of the nature of the Chef’s Table experience, reservations for this unique dining adventure can be extremely difficult to secure. I have attempted to reserve the experience every time we’ve visited Walt Disney World over the past 10 years, and had been unsuccessful... until our most recent trip. (If the table is already reserved, guests wanting the Chef’s Table experience have the option of being placed on a waiting list or reserving the Queen Victoria Room.)
My wife and I enjoy fine dining experiences from time to time, and like to reserve at least one nice dinner when we travel to Walt Disney World. On an earlier trip, we dined at the Flying Fish Chef’s Counter at the Boardwalk Resort, and because we frequently visit during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, we have booked various festival dinners and events like The Party for the Senses. However, Victoria and Albert’s Chef’s Table had always been on our foodie bucket list, and on our most recent trip we finally had secured the ever elusive reservation.
After 6 months of anticipation, our Chef’s Table experience began as we entered the lobby of the Grand Floridian Hotel. The elegant ivory-hued atrium exuded exclusivity as we made our way to the second floor.
Victoria and Albert’s is rather unassuming from the outside, as the dining room of Citrico’s will draw your eye more than the frosted glass door to Disney’s culinary pinnacle.
Guests approaching the door are immediately greeted by a host, who verifies the reservation. After a short wait, we were led back to the Chef’s Table, which is located near the back of the restaurant and through the kitchen. After being seated, our main server Andrew explained to us how the night would go, and that we would be visited by the Chef Aimee (head chef for the evening) before the meal and periodically throughout. Since there is only one reservation allowed per day, Chef’s Table guests are allowed to dine at their own pace, and have a server dedicated to them with additional staff pitching in where needed. We were then presented with our menu for the evening, and the additional choices to supplement the already impressive lineup, which included a wine pairing. We then had an opportunity to meet with Chef Aimee, who walked us through the menu and made sure we were happy with the dishes that were to be prepared. Finally, we toasted the evening with a glass of champagne and prepared for the amazing epicurean adventure that was about to begin.
Our first course of the evening was an Amuse-Bouche of Maine lobster topped with Siberian Osetra caviar. The dish was served in a small jar to be enjoyed properly with a mother of pearl spoon. The sweet lobster paired extremely well with the not-too salty caviar that clearly indicated the luxuriousness of the meal.
The second course was a very delicately plated jumbo lump crab with cucumber gelee. This dish was almost too beautiful to eat, with edible flowers and micro greens. The soft, subtle flavors were in stark contrast to the previous course and subsequent courses, but paired perfectly with the bright sauvignon blanc which accompanied it. Just one look at this dish clearly demonstrated the level of detail, skill, and talent from the chefs working in this amazing kitchen.
The third course was a show within a show as the hot "smoked Niman Ranch lamb with Fuji apple and curry dressing" was brought to the table under a clear dome filled with a thick cloud of smoke. The domes were then lifted to reveal the sumptuous and flavorful lamb within. The smoke flavor was very pronounced, and was strong enough to carry over the powerful curry dressing. The lamb was so tender and succulent that it melted in your mouth, leaving a pleasant aftertaste of smoke and spice, like a fine whiskey. In speaking with Chef Aimee, she had noted that Chef Hunnel had been presenting this dish in a cold smoked variation earlier in the year.
Our next course was one of the highlights of the meal, fennel crusted diver scallop in a salt bowl. I simply love scallops, and this one was the best I have ever tasted with an amazing beurre blanc and mandarin orange accompaniment. The sauce was so incredible that I would have licked the plate clean if I wasn't minding my manners. Chef Aimee noted that while service in Victoria and Albert's only typically runs from 5:00 PM to about 10:00 PM, work for each day's dishes begins at 7:00 AM with the saucier typically arriving at 11:00 AM.
When we reviewed the menu prior to the meal, our next course gave me pause. I am not a fan of poached eggs, and don't normally eat anything with runny egg yolks. However, in the spirit of the culinary adventure I did not raise any concerns with the staff about the fifth course, which featured a poached chicken egg in ravioli with corn foam. Boy, was I glad I didn't have the chef substitute this course. I've seen dishes like this cooked on TV many times, and understand the prowess needed to properly execute it, but was always turned off by the yolk spilling across the plate. The variation that was served to us was perfectly prepared, and the sweet, creamy yolk combined with the salty corn foam and bacon, was a pleasant surprise.
The next dish again demonstrated the luxuriousness of ingredients Victoria and Albert's has access to and the level of skill of their chefs. The Marcho Farms veal served with crispy sweetbreads was a delight, and was matched by an impressive pea and chanterelle mushroom side topped with generous shavings of black truffle (and by generous, I mean big thick slices). Chef Aimee pointed out that one of the walls in the Chef's Table area was adorned with a truffle spade. This dish again presented an ingredient I had never had before, but the sweetbreads were quite good, especially when eaten together with the veal and reduction. The fattiness paired perfectly with the lean, tender veal and savory sauce. I love umami flavor profiles, and the pea and mushroom side was Nirvana for that part of my palate.
The final savory dish of the evening was a Wagyu rib eye served with a potato sphere. Since we were eating at a slower pace than those in the dining room, we had seen the potato spheres being prepared earlier in the evening trying to figure out what they were. Our initial guess was croquettes or doughnuts. However, what looks like a simple lump of mashed potatoes rolled into a ball and deep fried was anything but simple or pedestrian. The fluffy potato inside was nothing what I would expect from what it looked like, and in the very center, there was a piece of oxtail that was like the gooey center of an éclair. I can only imagine the number of iterations it took for the staff to perfect this relatively simple looking side, and that's before you even examine the rest of this plate. The Wagyu beef was presented as both a prime rib slice and short rib portion, and served with an oxtail reduction that was like liquid gold. I had asked earlier in the meal what stocks were being prepared in two large pots close to where we were sitting. In fact it was this oxtail reduction that was slowing stewing in those pots, and probably what was creating such a tantalizing aroma in the kitchen throughout our meal. Chef Aimee mentioned that it takes about 9 days to create the sauce, and that it takes 12 quarts of stock to make 2 quarts of this mesmerizing reduction.
After working through 7 incredible savory dishes it was now time for a cheese course, which would serve as the bridge to the desserts. Our cheese plate included Flagship Reserve, Comte St. Antoine, Wyngaard Chevre Affine, and Rogue River Blue. The plate also included some raw honey, a thin slice of fruit cake, a poached pear, and an apricot reduction. All of the cheeses were excellent, particularly the strong, salty blue at the end.
While we enjoyed the cheese, the staff prepared our coffee and tea, which were brewed through a rather unique process. Victoria and Albert's uses Cona brewers, which put on quite a show utilizing vapor pressure and temperature differential to pass the water through the coffee or tea without the use of filters or screens. The end result is a cup of coffee that is as strong as an espresso without having that burnt taste caused by passing high-pressure steam through finely ground coffee.
Our first dessert of the evening was a pear quark mousse. This dish was artistry on a plate with a caramel sugar "drop" that must have taken some serious skill to create. The mousse and its graham base contrasted well texturally with the slightly crispy poached pear.
Our final official course of the evening was a Peruvian chocolate timbale with roasted white chocolate gelato. The timbale was appropriately topped with 24-karat gold flakes, again demonstrating the extravagance of the meal. The dark chocolate was excellent, and the gelato was well executed. This dish was a chocoholic's dream, and the soft chocolate "dots" were the sweet yin to the savory yang of the oxtail reduction.
Little did we know that there was still more to come, as Andrew brought out a board full of confections for us to select. Truffles, bon bons, chocolates, and candies created by the Grand Floridian's master chocolatier lined the board, and humbly my wife and I were perfectly content to choose just one or two. However, Andrew insisted on giving us more with us each trying 4 of the sweet delights.
Sadly, after nearly 4 hours, our meal was complete. In addition to the 10 courses, wine, coffee/tea, and confections, we were also served a "bread progression", which featured three different breads and butters spaced out through the savory courses of the meal.
Ladies dining at Victoria and Albert's are presented with a rose, and diners receive copies of their menus. At a cost of $250 per person plus optional wine pairings, luxury add-ons, and gratuity, dining at Victoria and Albert's Chef's Table (or the Queen Victoria Room, which charges the same price) is a once in a great while type of experience. After all, if you were to eat like this every day, these amazing dishes and culinary works of art would cease to be special. However, for the diner intensely into food, and or in search of the ultimate special occasion meal, this is the place. Not only are guests bathed in luxury and impeccable service, but they have the opportunity to see behind the kitchen door and observe how these amazing masters hone their craft. Chef Aimee was a warm and gracious host, and the time she spent talking to us about her work and the sometimes overlooked precision and attention to detail was wonderful. We had an incredible experience dining at Victoria and Albert's Chef's Table, and look forward to the chance to do it again in another 10 years or so, if we can get a reservation.Tweet
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