Dining on the Queen of the seas

  • Dining on the Queen of the seas. From healthy to hearty, from light bites to haute cuisine, award-winning travel writer Jonathan Thompson tries an array of fine cuisine served on board Queen Mary 2. Britannia Restaurant
  • Queen Mary 2’s main kitchen is a rumpus of bustling activity. Chefs scurry; food sizzles; the banana fridge gently hums. This is the culinary nerve centre of Cunard’s magnificent flagship, and the Queen’s guests need to be fed. If “getting there is half the fun” as the old Cunard slogan goes, then eating is a fundamental part of that fun. In my case, the getting there part is a leg of the ocean liner’s round the world voyage, from Singapore to Sri Lanka. And the eating options are mind-boggling.
  • As I walk through the enormous, rambunctious kitchen, Queen Mary 2’s executive chef James Abhilash puts it into context for me. “Almost 16,000 meals are consumed aboard Queen Mary 2 every day,” he says. “We get through 1,200 litres of milk, 500 eggs - and nearly 350 bottles of champagne in that time too.” Not to mention 3.3 kilos of Russian caviar, 73 kilos of lobster, 700 English scones and 6,000 cups of tea.
  • Abhilash and his 148 chefs clearly have their work cut out for them - which is why their kitchen needs clever augmentations like internal escalators for the waiters, and a dedicated banana fridge (with its own full time member of staff). “We’re never at sea for longer than two or three days - or seven on the transatlantic crossing - but our logistics still have to be extremely precise,” says Abhilash. “We don’t have the option of just grabbing fresh supplies whenever we like - until someone invents a really long fishing rod.”
  • Orders are precisely calculated and supplies are taken on board in every port, then secured in small batches below, to insure against rough weather. “We have to be prepared for any conditions, and there is a chance that batches could get wet or spoil, so we counter that with the careful organisation of stores,” says Abhilash. “It’s like an enormous game of edible Tetris.”
  • When the seas do get rough, Abhilash’s team (which includes 326 waiters and 86 galley supporting the chefs), move into “heavy weather mode”, with two members of staff assigned to heavier pots and pans, sauces cooked in half full vats and railings used for balance. “Yes it’s hard work - because the standards are very high,” says Abhilash, a 20-year Cunard veteran. “But we pride ourselves on those standards and wouldn’t have it any other way.”
  • One place where those standards are immediately apparent is the Britannia Restaurant. The ship’s multi-tiered flagship restaurant hosts two sittings of 850 guests every evening - and is also home to the most exclusive seats in the house: the Captain’s Table. Positioned at the heart of the grand art deco dining room, this one table has hosted a myriad of famous guests over the years, from Buzz Aldrin to the Duke of Edinburgh, via Sting (who put on an impromptu concert after the coffee and petits fours). The Britannia Restaurant, along with much of the rest of the ship, recently had a major facelift - as part of an extensive $90 million refit. That refurb was largely food focused, with the elite Princess Grill and Queens Grill dining rooms both completely renovated, and the exclusive Verandah restaurant added.
  • The Verandah - named after the dining room on the original Queen Mary liner in the Thirties - is every bit as exclusive as its forebear, serving spectacular French fusion (think roast beef with snails, exquisite cheese crème brûlée and venison served in its own smoke dome). Aside from the above, the Queen Mary 2 is home to a myriad of alternative dining options, from the chic new Carinthia Lounge (another addition from the recent refurbishment) to the moreish 24-hour buffet available at the Kings Court restaurant.
  • Simply choosing where to eat here is a challenge, let alone preparing the outstanding fare, and for that I can only doff my cap to Abhilash and his extraordinary crew. On the penultimate day of our voyage, I return early from a Malaysian shore visit, preferring the restaurants of Queen Mary 2 to those ashore in Penang. Not the point of a round the world voyage? I wholeheartedly disagree. When you’re sailing on Queen Mary 2, eating there is half the fun.

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