Walt Disney World closed its doors in March, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. When it reopened 4 months later, not everything was the same. All kinds of new safety precautions were in place, including handwashing stations throughout the park, reservations and attendance caps at the parks, plexiglass “walls” between queues and mask requirements for guests and employees.
Some of those COVID precautions continue to this day, some don’t. Yet there are some activities at WDW that still haven’t returned. The Streetmosphere characters at the parks still aren’t back. Neither is Enchanted Tales With Belle at Magic Kingdom, Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Jedi Training Academy at MGM (OK, OK “Disney Hollywood Studios.” It’s easier to use the nickname of its old name). Restaurants including Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, Takumi-Tei, Tangierine Cafè and Tomorrowland Terrace are still shuttered, as well.
Every time Disney has reopened something in recent months, it’s been celebrated by Disney fans and those who worked at the attraction, restaurant, etc. before the pandemic. The Hoop Dee Doo Revue. The barbershop on Main Street. The new version of the Finding Nemo show. Bippity Boppity Boutique.
I’m still waiting for “Streetmo” to come back (sigh). But for today, I’m celebrating because Orlando Weekly just announced that WDW’s most prestigious and exclusive restaurant, the AAA Five Diamond Award and Forbes Travel Guide Star Award-winning Victoria & Albert’s, finally reopened this past week. What’s more, it sounds as if it got a makeover. Based on pictures in the Orlando Weekly, it’s not a huge one…mainly a color change (psst! I compared the “old” and “new” pictures. It’s even the same chairs – they just repainted them!).
Joe and I last went to V&A’s at the end of April, 2018. It was our 3rd visit, although the last time we had been was just before our wedding in 2002 (prior to that was sometime in the mid-1990s). Although we haven’t experienced it since it reopened (and really, for $295/plate before tax, tip or wine, it’ll be a while yet), we’re still enjoying these memories of our last visit…
Our friend Matt texted me in early April 2018 – his brother Jake was going to be in town at the end of the month and had snagged a reservation for a party of four at Victoria & Albert’s. Joe and I were the “foodiest” people he knew, so would we be interested in going?
Would we be interested?
Actually, make that a “HELL, yeah!” 😉
Victoria & Albert’s (V&A) is the highest of high-end restaurants at Walt Disney World (WDW) and is one of the finest restaurants in the Southeast United States. From WDW’s website:
Victoria & Albert’s features modern American cuisine with exquisite ingredients sourced from around the world, including truffles from Italy, Russian Osetra caviar, beef from Japan, poulet rouge from North Carolina and shrimp from local Florida waters.
Recipient of AAA’s highest accolade—the Five Diamond Award, Forbes Travel Guide Five Star rating and glowing reviews from Zagat and others, this restaurant in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa evokes a genteel era when dining was an elegant ritual, served by an experienced maître d’hôtel and chefs in classic white toques. Whether you enjoy your meal in the Dining Room, the Chef’s Table in the kitchen or the more private Queen Victoria Room, prepare for an extraordinary culinary experience.
Because each season offers its own flavors and fresh ingredients, Chef Scott Hunnel and his team source markets on a daily basis for the finest produce, fish and meats available to create distinctive menus for the 3 Victoria & Albert’s dining venues. From Spanish Octopus with Iberico ham and sherry vinaigrette to a whimsical poached egg with Florida corn and crayfish, flavors shine as Chef Hunnel melds tradition with innovation—all for the enjoyment of his Guests.
So yeah, it’s fancy. REALLY fancy. Like “I even wore a dress and panty hose” fancy (funny story – Jake said when he was getting the information about the dinner, the person on the phone, upon hearing there was going to be one female in the party, reiterated no less than three times that women are expected to wear either a dress or skirt, but if they wish to wear trousers, it MUST be an “elegant pants suit.” Fortunately, I’m not a pants suit kind of person [elegant or otherwise], so a dress it was).
Our reservation was at 5:30pm, so after some pre-meal cocktails at Mizner’s Lounge next door (Mizner’s has since closed and been reimagined into a different lounge), off we went for our dinner.
We arrived about 2 or 3 minutes before our 5:30pm reservation and they were still getting things ready for us, but after a minute or two, they invited our party of 4 into the restaurant.
As we entered V&A, we found ourselves in a relatively small foyer. On the far left end of the foyer was a huge bouquet of fresh cut flowers. To the left of that was the hallway that led to the restrooms and what used to be a bank of pay phones ;-). To the right was the entrance of the dining room.
When you have a reservation at V&A, you have the opportunity to sit in the Dining Room, at the Chef’s Table in the kitchen or in the more private Queen Victoria Room. The latter two are, of course, more exclusive opportunities. Our seats were in the circular-shaped Dining Room.
Interesting story about the domed ceiling over the chandelier, which is in the center of the dining room, in the picture below – Joe and I actually have been to V&A’s two other times. Once was in the mid-1990s with a group of friends (we ate in a room adjacent to the Queen Victoria Room that is no longer available to guests), and the other time was with our parents, two nights before our wedding, in February 2002. Now, as I said, the Dining Room is circular shaped and the tables are set up in an approximate “inner circle” under that domed ceiling and an “outer circle” that’s outside of it. During our 2002 visit (another guest that evening was Ed Asner, by the way), we were sitting in the “inner circle” and noticed that we could hear every single thing that was quietly being said by the people at the table directly across from us – it was sort of like the dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral! That didn’t seem to be an issue this visit, so I asked about it. Apparently they redesigned the dome at some point after our last visit in 2002 so it’s not a “thunder dome” anymore 😉
Adjacent to us was a woman who played the harp most of the evening. Her repertoire was amazingly diverse and included selections such as Greensleeves, Pachebel’s Canon in D Major, the theme from Chariots of Fire, Autumn Leaves, Elvis Presley, Phantom of the Opera, Knights in White Satin, Wicked, New York State of Mind, Coldplay, LOTS of Disney, and my favorite of the evening, The Entertainer (not that it’s my favorite song, but hearing it on the harp was just fascinating!).
We had a choice of the Prix Fixe menu (7 main courses) or the Chef’s Table menu (10 courses). Each menu had some optional items for extra costs, as well as an optional wine pairing. Wine by the glass/bottle was also available.
Years ago, all female servers at V&A wore name tags that said “Victoria” and all male servers wore ones that said “Albert” and it wasn’t until the end of the night when they would reveal their real first names. Times change, and V&A servers now go by their true first names throughout the evening. Our main server was Garrett, who was assisted by a gentleman named Rado. Coincidentally, Garrett had previously been one of our favorite servers at one of our favorite restaurants in Central Florida, Seasons 52, before he got a full time position at V&A :-). Both men were as pleasant and professional as could be, and helped make what was already a wonderful meal that much better.
All four of us chose the Chef’s 10 course tasting menu and some of us got one or two of the extra food options. The guys all got the wine pairing; I chose 2 wines (first a sparkling, then a Pinot Noir) by the glass from their wine list a’la iPad ;-).
And the menu….OH, the menu! Ready? Here goes:
Delta Asparagus with Imperial Caviar
Option: Galilee Osetra Caviar with Traditional Garnishes (no photo of that one, sorry)
Wine Paring: Drappier Carte d’Or NV
MY NOTES: I loved the plate ;-). Oh, and the little spoon for the caviar that looked like plastic? Yeah…Mother-of-Pearl 🙂
Dinner roll with butter and sea salt
MY NOTES: I didn’t write down what the various breads were. Sorry, my bad. Really though, it was just a roll, so nothing to really write home about. Granted, it was still warm :-). The butter was room temperature so it was super easy to spread. And the sea salt with the little spoon was a nice touch.
New Zealand Langoustine with Pickled Daikon and Edamame Purée
Wine Pairing: Dr. Loosen “Ürziger Würzgarten” Riesling Trocken, Mosel 2013
MY NOTES: This was utterly delicious!
Tyree Salmon with Poppy Seed and Lemon Ravioli
Wine Pairing: Daniel Chotard Sancerre Blanc 2016
MY NOTES: The lemon ravioli was fascinating – I’ve had meat in ravioli, as well as cheese, pumpkin and lobster. But never…lemon! 🙂
Option: Wild Turbot with Toasted Capers and Preserved Lemon
Wine Pairing: Salus, Staglin Family Vineyard, Chardonnay, Napa 2014
MY NOTES: Jake got the turbot but he let everyone taste it. I don’t mind fish but as a rule, am generally not in love with it. I was in love with this turbot 🙂
Dover Sole with Spanish Chorizo Bouillabaisse
Wine Pairing: Francois Carillon Puligny-Montrachet, Bourgogne 2014
MY NOTES: The bouillabaisse was so good that Joe sopped it up with his bread (Note from Joe: Sorry, not sorry)
Marcho Farms Veal with Fava Beans and Summer Truffles
Wine Pairing: Cristom, Eola-Amily Hills, Willamette Valley, Pinot Noire Estate, 2013
MY NOTES: This one was just fascinating – especially the truffles!
Charred Leek Dusted Wild Boar with Leek Fondue and Brussels Sprouts
Wine pairing: Vignetti del Vulture Aglianico “Piano del Cerro” 2009
MY NOTES: It was OK. The presentation was lovely, but overall it was probably my least favorite thing of the night :-/
Sometime before this point, Garrett had mentioned that guests at V&A oftentimes liked to “break up” their meal a little to go out and see the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. We all agreed that sounded like a marvelous idea, so with 5 minutes to spare before the the fireworks started, Garrett led us downstairs and out the door, with directions of how to get to the boat dock so we could see the display. It was a wonderful way to give our stomachs a brief rest ;-).
Once the fireworks were over, we walked back to our seats, with another bread waiting for us. You know…in case we were hungry 😉 )note that the butter holder matched the plate I liked from the amuse-bouche).
Australian Kobe-Style Beef with Potato Pinwheel and Ramps (right top & bottom)
Optional Addition: Miyazaki Japanese Beef
Wine Pairing: Groth Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2013
MY NOTES: This course was AMAZING. The Kobe-style beef was as tender as could be and the potato pinwheel, which Garrett explained was pan fried in butter, then rolled, then fried again, had the consistency of a french fry but tasted like potato chips. Joe got the Miyazaki Japanese beef and it was, by far, THE BEST BEEF I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY ENTIRE LIFE! (cuz he left me have a taste). The mouthfeel was thinly sliced beef but the flavor was smooth and fatty (but not too fatty). Utterly delicious!
Selection of Cheese from the Market
Wine Pairing: Vinos Viejos de Hidalgo, Pedros Ximenez Jerez 30 Years Old, NV
MY NOTES: Joe got the cheese. He says it was good but by that point it the night, after so much wonderful food, it was “just cheese.” All 3 guys said that the accompanying wine was phenomenal, though. Jake said it was, “like drinking raisins” 🙂
Lemon Strawberry Crémeux
MY NOTES: The lemon-strawberry had a sherbet-like mouthfeel. The granola and cream that was under it was REALLY good
We had a choice of the cheese or the lemon-strawberry concoction. Joe got the cheese and I believe the rest of us got the crémeux. While we were eating that, we got to watch the famous coffee show. I say it’s “famous” because I remember being SOOO impressed with it the first time I ever saw it. It’s simply a vacuum coffee pot but if you’ve never seen one in action before (or even if you have), they’re very cool to watch. I did videotape our coffeepot but the video came out horribly 😉 I found this one on YouTube, though – and you get to see a bit of the kitchen too, since these people apparently had a reservation at the Chef’s Table.
Matt isn’t a coffee drinker and he was offered a huge selection of tea. His choice was also made in a (smaller) vacuum pot.
Alternate coffees, as well as after-dinner drinks, were also available.
And finally it was time for our last course…
Bittersweet Chocolate Dome on Praline Crunch
Sulawesi Island Coffee by Joffrey’s, Tea and Friandises
MY NOTES: By this point, we were all stuffed to the gills. I took a few tastes of everything in my dessert but was really too full to appreciate it.
Someone, Jake I think? had requested the dessert that was on the 7-course meal and his request was easily honored. Sorry, I don’t remember what it was…but here’s a picture of it.
As a FINAL final course, we were able to choose some of V&A’s handmade chocolates. We were all totally stuffed by this time, so we were able to bring them home in a box.
By the time we left, it was about 11:30pm. We could barely believe we had just spent SIX HOURS eating a meal that was undoubtedly fit for a king!
As we bid goodbye to V&A, Garret gave each of us a personalized copy of our respective menus, as well as the box of chocolates we had each picked out. I also got a fresh rose, as is the tradition at V&A.
So what can I say? The meal, service and venue were all utterly spectacular. When Joe and I went to V&A the other two times (especially that first time in the 90s), I don’t think my tastes or palate were mature enough to fully value all that V&A had to offer. With age and experience comes wisdom, and I think I’m at a point in my life where my appreciation of what we had just experienced was that much stronger. It was truly an amazing night of great times with great friends and great food, and one that won’t be forgotten for a long, long time.
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