While there were some issues with the food at the Princess Grill, everything was far, far better than anything we have ever eaten in the Britannia Room over four crossings. The problems stemmed mainly from a lack of attention to detail with respect to prep and par/carry-over cooking.
Service was great in the Princes Grill, just about up to the level one can find anywhere on a Seabourn or Crystal cruise in fact. One of the nicest things about the Princess Grill, however, was the seating layout. There were several cruise ship-style mega-tables for large parties or for smaller ones that wanted more company and camaraderie, but a lot of space was dedicated to deuces and four tops. The deuces were set up so that other couples were seated close enough for intertable conversations but with enough room for two people to have a nice quiet meal if that is what they wanted. Under this arrangement we got to know our dining companions much better than on any other cruise TeamMago has taken—a key factor being the removal of the false camaraderie that frequently mars one’s meal at the larger tables.
In short, I could imagine a princess eating in this space with its Wedgwood china, Gainsborough cutlery, and Riedel-level crystal. Finally, portion sizes tended to be on the smaller side, which is a very good thing on a cruise ship (excuse me, the last of the great ocean liners) where food is omnipresent and temptation unbridled.
Princess Grill Breakfast
In general breakfast was the most consistently well-executed meal at the Princess Grill.
Smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese, red onions and capers: A very generous portion of decent belly lox, softened cream cheese, thinly sliced red onions, and capers. The bagel was a B-, but not too big, which was appreciated.
Eggs Benedict: The hollandaise sauce was light and recently made, but it needed more acid. I solved this for the first egg with lemon juice from the slice of lemon in my glass of Perrier (see, there is a reason to order water at a meal, even if fish have frolicked in it), but utilizing Tabasco sauce with the second egg proved a tastier modification. Eggs were correctly poached with nice runny yolks, but the bacon (not Canadian) was too thin so that the bacon-to-English muffin ratio was all wrong (I don’t think they have English muffins in England; will this change with Brexit?).
Omelette with cheddar cheese, onions and spinach: Omelettes in general were good in the Prince Grill, cooked a’ minute with the correct proportion of eggs to ingredients.
Other breakfast dishes:
- Fried eggs: good, nice runny yolks.
- Kippered herring: good flavor but too many bones.
- Black pudding: too much filler, not enough blood. I suspect these black puddings were made with freeze dried blood—a common, if execrable, practice these days.
- Fried taters and hash browns: solid B.
- ‘Shrooms: fresh and fried in butter.
- Berries: quite good vis-a-vis other fruit on the ship.
- Oatmeal: a Patti favorite.
- Poached egg on toast: Poached eggs on a toasted english muffin with streaky bacon and a blueberry muffin.
Another Patti fave.
Anomalies associated with the menu’s “All American Breakfast“:
- ‘Shrooms vice hash browns as stated on menu.
- I ordered sunny side up eggs but got basted ones instead, however it turned out that the yolks were nice and runny anyway.
- Small scoop of corned beef hash: C-, corned beef was ground way too fine and taters were teeny tiny cubes of soft white ooze.
- Link sausages were actually miniature Cumberlands—so you might as well go with the bigger bangers boys!
Cunard’s Get Up and Go Signature Plate: Omelette with smoke salmon and chives, grilled english back bacon, Cumberland sausage, hash brown potato, black pudding, grilled tomato, and sautéed mushrooms with a croissant. After I hoovered the Princess Grill’s take on the Full English, I waddled back to the “suite” for a nap.
Princess Grill Lunch
The dishes had their ups and downs, but in comparison to the thronged buffets and silly stilted atmosphere of the Britannia Dining Room, we found lunch in the Princess Grill to be a very pleasant experience indeed.
Fillet of rainbow trout Amandine with glazed carrots, peas and red skin potatoes: Nice pink flesh correctly cooked, but bones!! Doesn’t anybody pull the pin bones in fish anymore? To be fair, they seem to have tried but missed some, however, close don’t count with fish bones. It is not hard, just tedious, and exactly what a poissonnier in training needs to do until it is in her/his muscle memory. Peas and carrots were correctly steamed, still crunchy and flavorful. The steamed taters were turned. I like that, especially on a ship that claims to be “the last of the great ocean liners” but really isn’t.
Wild mushroom cannelloni, cauliflower, and black truffle: A solid B, but the truffles were tasteless—a mixed blessing since Patti hates them.
Salad of new ‘taters, olives, and green beans with gerry tomatoes and endive red wine dressing: Nice, light, pretty mini-nicoise. The only sour notes were the canned black olives. How hard is it to get pitted, oil cured, or kalamata olives (attention to detail, again).
Classic Caesar salad: Was not—no raw egg yolk, no anchovies, bland dressing, abominable parmesan, and croutons from a box (if hand made, then they were the biggest waste of time in the history of cuisine). The only really bad salad we were served in the Princess Grill.
Fatoosh salad: Quite good, except that the pita croutons were tiny squares of old untoasted pita bread.
Watermelon and feta cheese salad with radishes, pumpkin seeds, and spring onions: Another missed opportunity. Nice cubist presentation and the sweet salty flavor profile was distinctive. But the pumpkin seeds were just thrown in as an afterthought. If the kitchen had taken the time to toast and then dust them with cumin and a hint of cayenne, it would have elevated the dish (and again how hard could that be?).
Gnocchi with roasted squash sauce and zucchini: I was prepared for disappointment, but this was one of the best dishes we had on the cruise. Somehow the gnocchi were light and al dente, while the sauce was not too rich or cloying—bravo.
Chicken Tika Masala (misspelled Marsala on the menu): Decent curry with a nice touch of heat. The Jasmine rice was surprisingly good for a cruise ship.
Plum tomato and buffalo mozzarella with basil oil: Buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes are two things that do not belong on a transatlantic cruise. They both must be consumed with no more than 48 hours of their production/picking. However good the ingredients were when they were brought on board, they bore a closer resemblance to cellulose and cardboard when served.
Princess Grill Dinner
We actually looked forward to dinner at the Princess Grill with our new friends, or without them when they were dining elsewhere.
Soups: Like everything else, they were under seasoned (especially with respect to salt, but this might be Cunard policy given the large number of dietarily restricted passengers and easily remedied—salt was always on the table):
- Chilled yoghurt and blueberry soup: A-, those sturdy blueberries held up like champs throughout the cruise.
- Chilled watermelon soup with port: B+, the watermelon soups have always been good on the QM2 and this one continued the tradition.
- Cherry: B-, very bland, the cherries could learn a thing or two from the blueberries.
- Parsnip: B+, due to the use of winter parsnips, sweet and rich.
- Vichyssoise: A+, a classic prep.
Parsley crusted crottin de chavignol with red onion and coriander marmalade and melba toast: nice chev that paired quite nicely with the marmalade, but melba toast? Really? Give me real bread or a decent UK cheese biscuit any day.
Butternut squash with crisp red apple, red radish, golden raisins, walnuts and sherry vinegar dressing: very nice use of texture for a vegetable that usually does not get much respect.
Serrano ham with roast fig and celeriac salad and aged manchego cheese: A-, quite nice—the ham was the real thang and the fig/celeriac combo gave it a sweet crunch.
Loch duart salmon tartar with pickled cucumber, caviar, and pumpernickel bread: a generous amount of fresh salmon that was not junked up with a lot of other stuff and served with a decent dollop of caviar. Black bread was OK but superfluous (it should have been swapped for the melba toast in the chev dish described above).
Amazing menu typo number 2: Gravadlax for Gravlox. Translation: mini-capers=caper berries. The gravlox, though hideously misspelled tasted great, but the lemon puree proved to be terrible, harsh, and too thick.
Quail breast saltimbocca, crispy quail’s egg, and potato salad: a good idea spoiled by indifferent execution. The quail was overdone, as was the not really crispy quail egg— the yolk should have been runny. The dish sat somewhere way too long before service. The potato salad was surprisingly good, adding a nice hit of acid to contrast with the salty prosciutto.
Escargot Burgignon: classic, and like Dover sole, an excellent excuse to consume butter
Salad of fattoush with tomato, cucumber, red onion, watercress, zaatar spice, feta cheese, lemon olive oil, pita bread croutons: a nice refreshing small salad, but it was marred by a reappearance of the vile pita bread croutons, which were obviously on the push list.
Sole Bonne Femme: yet another classic. The accompanying taters were excellent.
Côte de Boeuf: A-, there was plenty of meat for two people but the cut was a bit thin. Also, for every beef or lamb dish at the Princess Grill, our server inevitably offered a choice of only well or medium, so that one had to specify medium rare, which always turned out to be between medium and medium rare. Strange, even if you take into account the very Britishness of the ship’s cuisine in general.
Beef duo: fillet and braised shin. The filet was slightly over-cooked (despite specifying medium rare, see above) and the braised shank a failure (dry and tasteless). Also, the béarnaise sauce throughout the trip was some ersatz glop made long ago in a galaxy far away that was more orange than yellow in color. Again, this is what any saucier trainee should be able to do in her/his sleep. If the kitchen could produce very decent hollandaise, why couldn’t they do the same for béarnaise, which is basically hollandaise without lemon juice and a different herb profile?
Glazed Barbary duck breast: correct color, decent flavor, but rubbery skin—symptomatic of an epidemic of par-cooking that plagued the kitchen throughout the voyage. To add insult to injury, the duck breast was sliced lengthwise right down the middle instead of fanned out with the grain of the meat, making it needlessly tough. On the plus side, the underlying red cabbage and spicy jus were surprisingly good.
Salad of French rabbit with a saddle confit of leg and poached rhubarb: the rabbit was decent but underseasoned—needing something like a hint of heat, smoked paprika, or curry. The pearl onions should have been pickled—a real missed opportunity to add another dimension to the dish’s flavor profile. Dots of rhubarb sauce were good—piquant and sweet at the same time—but the poached rhubarb rib pieces were tough and sour (this problem could have been solved with sweet pickling or eliminating the rhubarb ribs altogether).
Prime mixed grill including aged beef fillet, calves’ liver, and lamb rack with slow cooked plum tomatoes, salted potatoes, portobello mushrooms, and choron sauce: Here’s how you get rid of surplus rack of lamb and filet mignon on a cruise ship, and there was a lot of that to go around. Why you can’t have lamb loin chops or shoulder and New York strip or flatiron on a cruise ship is one of the industry’s enduring mysteries.
But the calf liver was killer. It could have been a bit rarer, but I inhaled that sucker and wished I had asked just for the liver and eschewed the other meat in order to get more of it. The medley of “wild” ‘shrooms was on point. The taters were soft, slightly sweet, and redolent of thyme. The choron sauce was an abomination that combined overly tart tomato puree with that execrable béarnaise. Fortunately both the demi-glace and horse radish sauces were very good. The “underdone but not too underdone” mature lamb was worth it for the mint sauce alone—a very, very British triple execution (the animal, the oven, the sauce) and one I thoroughly enjoyed. The filet was, uh, filet (again, again).
Whole roast chicken for two: best dish of the voyage. Nice small chicken (a fryer) with crispy skin and both light and dark meat thoroughly cooked but still slightly moist. Sides involved decent sage stuffing, carrots, broccoli, and sprouts—all good. The yardbyrd was carved and finished table-side with panache and accompanied by rich thickened chicken jus (uncharacteristically and humbly referred to as gravy).
Beef Wellington: second best dish of the voyage, sporting a classic decorated crust. A layer of ham twixt the crust and duxelles was a nice touch. The duxelles was on point, and the filet was perfectly cooked.
Aranccini with fresh tomato and basil puree piperade of roasted peppers: Right after buffalo mozzarella and fresh tomatoes, arancini (the correct spelling) should be banned from cruise ship menus. First off, the Princess Grill menu needs a copy editor. Secondly, these fried rice balls were technically suppli (the Roman cousins of arancini), and did not have nearly enough molten cheese on the inside. Thirdly, why junk up the dish with tasteless “fresh” tomato puree and a Gascon/Basque pepper preparation? Other than that, I loved it—NOT!!
Yogurt panna cotta with strawberry film and sweet basil croutons: The panna cotta was seriously Goldylocks, not too heavy, not too rich, not too sweet. And those basil croutons turned out to be a tasty surprise. The strawberry film, however, was more like thick plastic laminate made with gelatin and Kool-Aid. Oh well, it was easily removable and went back to the kitchen on an otherwise clean plate. Then again the Cauliflower panna cotta from the Canyon Ranch spa cuisine menu (served throughout the ship’s main restaurants) was horrific in all of its manifestations, so complaining about a real panna cotta seems a bit churlish, but it ain’t gonna stop MagoGuide baby!
Ice cream and sorbet trio: The Mango ice cream was good, while the rum raisin was excellent. But champagne sorbet? Why bust up the fruit theme? Why go with sorbet at all? Also, there was not a decent petit four on the whole ship and what is up with that?
Other desserts from the Princess Grill:
Mocha tart covered with white chocolate shavings with vanilla ice cream: we both hate white chocolate, but that’s probably just us.
Coconut and brandy fruit cake ice creams with mango sorbet and cherry sauce: this time the sorbet worked perfectly with the other delicious ice creams.
Chocolate semifreddo mango sorbet, white chocolate, and coconut crunch: again with the white chocolate! They should have put together a white chocolate mouse and served it with pita croutons.
Wines by the glass were very good in the Princess Grill and the Grills Bar. Faves: Veuve Cliquot rose champagne, Chablis, and Rioja.
The prominent cheese trollies, however, were a mixed bag: decent triple cream, good gorgonzola, rather disappointing cheddar (a capital crime on a British ship), and OK manchego. There was also an abomination called apple pie cheese that was some horrible amalgam of nutmeg and cinnamon crumbs, bits of apple, and cheese in there somewhere. We took one for the team and tried it. The server had to hack it viciously with a cheese knife to produce a pile of inedible crud. It was gone from the trolley by the next day. I just hope that they disposed of it responsibly and did not throw it into the fragile ocean.