For those of you waiting patiently for a classic MagoGuide rant, your longanimity is about to be rewarded. The refit provided the opportunity to swap out Todd English for the Veranda Grill as the QM 2’s alternative specialty (read, this is gonna cost you) restaurant. For lunch in the Veranda Grill, you can get by with President Lincoln, but for dinner you need to show up with General Grant (prices are per person).
The Veranda Grill is named after and supposed to evoke the iconic restaurants of bygone Cunard vessels from the interwar period of the 20th century (in case you haven’t noticed, we don’t get those anymore). The hype for this snobby eatery was intense from the moment we came aboard. For example, Cruise Critic–the obsequious corporate shill–gushed the following: “Kudos to the restaurant’s chefs who pack serious culinary flair into every dish,” and going so far as to equate the Veranda Grill with “a Michelin-star restaurant.” Even so, MagoGuide thought there was at least a chance that our ducats would not be completely wasted by an evening away from the Princess Grill. Boy were we stooooopid.
The first sign of culinary catastrophe started before we even ordered. We sat down at the bar for a drink and were immediately presented with a list of grand crus that ranged from $250 to $450 a freakin’ glass. Otherwise the wine list was loaded with four figure bottles. We got the first stink eye of the evening when we settled for over-priced and indifferently made kirs royale.
The veranda Grill menu is pre-fix with very few choices and it does not change during the cruise. The amuse bouche was the best thing we ate (little did we know at the time): Pont l’Eveque Crème Brulee—they got the custard right, rich and savory, but there was no crunchy membrane on the top, more of a froggy crème catalan.
Next came four types of bread:
- Elongated crackers: lined with thin strips of zucchini, actually not bad.
- Olive, artichoke, pepper, focaccia: where was the focaccia? This bread was more like two thin slices of slightly stale bruschetta stuck together.
- Semolina multi-layer roll: looked nice, but tasted like gritty, dense, popin’ fresh muck.
- White bread rolls: you could get the same at any all-you-can-eat salad bar.
I thought all of the bread was improved by the smoked French butter served with flaked sea salt, but Patti hated it.
White crab and sea urchin with textures of cauliflower and squid ink crackers: If this uni had been served at a sushi bar, the chef would be well advised to pen a haiku and then kill himself messily before the health inspectors arrived to ship him to Gitmo. I really hoped I would not get sick (I didn’t). The ultra obsequious staff asked me what I thought and I had to tell them that it was horrible. They spent the better part of five minutes trying to get me to say I liked the dish. Finally, they gave in and asked me what I did not like about the dish, as if I had not explained it to them about six times “so that the chef can improve the dish.” I suggested keel hauling whoever supplied the uni and after another round of stink eye they went off to torture another table.
Scottish langoustine ravioli with shaved bottarga, banga cauda, and parsley puree: the wrapper was tough and thick while the stuffing was gluey. The langoustines were AWOL, at least in terms of flavor, and the sauce was disconcertingly acidic.
Squid ink cracker: a black tasteless gimmick served on top of an equally tasteless dot of glop (supposedly pureed cauliflower). The whole florets were just as bad. In fact, that execrable cauliflower pana cotta on the Canyon Ranch menu was better, way better.
Wild mushroom with truffles cappuccino with a thin biscuit on top: I instantly conjured what I thought was a rather witty MagoGuide description: this is what happens when a foam machine meets cream of mushroom soup. But a woman from a neighboring table did us one better: “mushroom water” (she was from France by the way). The truffles were on the lam with those langoustines.
Lamb three ways:
- Lamb rack in a salted dough crust: This turned out to be pretty good, but it was a fight. The waitress offered a choice of well done or medium and seemed confused when I asked for medium rare. I get the same feeling when dealing with technical support and the “expert” on the other end reads from a script regardless of what you say. Finally, she got the message and the lamb pupa emerged from its chrysalis nice and pink shading to a discrete red center. The meat was decently seasoned for once (salt in the crust don’t you know).
- Confit of shoulder: was wrapped in a slice of soggy zucchini that actually made the tasteless confit even worse than it needed to be.
- The sweetbreads: were over-cooked and rubbery (par cooked? if so there is a special place in hell reserved for the perp).
The accompanying fava beans and peas were superannuated to begin with and then blanched to death. Left-over pizza box would have tasted better. Chickpea fritters must be cooked a’ minute, but they suffered from the same fate as the sweetbreads. The rack was served on top of a smear of tapenade that was harsh and served to unbalance the decent jus, which would have been plenty with the well-seasoned lamb. What a mess. The stewed tomato was actually pretty good (go figure).
I ordered the pistachio soufflé for dessert and was informed that it would take 18 to 20 minutes. As our server babbled on about how the chef only cooks things to order, I wondered why at every other restaurant afloat or ashore you are informed about the time required for dessert soufflés and allowed to order them when you order the main course. Guess that did not make it into the script.
I did not want to spend any more time in this culinary hell hole than was absolutely necessary, so I opted for rum baba: The waiter spent five minutes describing the virtues of the three different types of rum I could choose from and then drowned the poor thing. It was enormous, soggy, and alcoholic—no syrup that I could find and the lemon cream also diluted, cloying, and sharp. I took one bite for the team and quit in disgust. Waste of good rum.
The kitchen really went out their way to exorcise any flavor from the chocolate ganache. It even needed more sugar!! The accompanying olive oil ice cream was an ugly brown. Isn’t olive oil green, as in you know, olives?
In general, service was omnipresent and amazingly bad. It was not their fault, but the staff tried way too hard. Three of them hovered around us constantly trying to describe bad, pretentious food in orgasmic terms. The two male servers and the som were drenched in very potent colognes that clashed with each other making one’s olfactory experience almost as bad as the crimes committed against one’s palate.
Despite Cruise Critic and other paid (or otherwise compensated) sycophants, Cunard simply cannot disguise the fact that the Veranda Grill is a huge, unappetizing, and pretentious gouge festival from start to finish. None of our dining colleagues in the Princess Grill had anything good to say about their meals at the Veranda. Even the senior concierge in the Grills Concierge Lounge took particular pleasure in dissing the Veranda Grill, declaring “I am French, their food is not.” Note to Cunard: the only way out of this looming PR disaster is culinary euthanasia. Fire the whole kitchen crew from chef to commis and then crawl on your knees to Todd English and beg him to come back.