|Cunard Queen Victoria's Exotic Voyage 2018
Part 16 - A Question of Balance
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I have decided to finish this write up in an unusual way, brought on by the last night in the Queens room which featured a tribute band called 'The Rewind Project' whose members included a previous member of the Moody Blues whose most famous pieces were, arguably, "Nights in White Satin" and relevant here, "A Question of Balance". Pete saw the Moody Blues live at an Oxford Commemoration Ball after his Finals playing those pieces. One of the main problems in a long cruise is that of balancing the excellent food and service, where excess becomes the norm, and maintaining some degree of fitness overall. This page therefore contrasts our experiences in the Verandah Restaurant and Pete's attempts to improve his fitness in the Gym before some final words on the cruise and its highlights.
Verandah restaurants have a history going back a very long way on Cunard ships. They were certainly in existence on the original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth - we have eaten in the Queen Mary Verandah Restaurant on the Queen Mary, now a floating hotel, in Long Beach California.
The Verandah restaurants were always the top restaurant only available at a supplement to First Class passengers on the Cunard Transatlantic Liners. On the Queen Mary the Verandah Grill was an exclusive a la carte restaurant that seated 80 people for lunch and dinner. In the late evening it re-opened as the ship's nightclub - called the Starlight Club. The fact that first class passengers had to pay additional charges to eat here did nothing to diminish its popularity. Reservations were sometimes required months in advance of a sailing. The walls being decorated with paintings by Doris Zinkeisen showing pantomime and theater scenes. These were framed in column features of silver and gold, echoing a similar ceiling treatment. After the ship's sale to the City of Long Beach, the Verandah Grill was initially intended to be the haute cuisine restaurant and a major attraction.
The Verandah Restaurant was not included in the Queen Elizabeth 2 and even after the refit in 1984 when the First Class restaurants was replaced by the more politically correct Queens, Britannia and Princess Grills . The concept of a top class restaurant above the standard of the Grills and attracting a supplement was reintroduced in the Queen Mary 2 but it was franchised from Todd English. Todd English was at that at that time an award winning celebrity chef with a number of respected restaurants in America and is the author of several cookbooks. The Queen Mary 2 was his first venture at sea and the Queen Victoria initially had the second Todd English restaurant at sea. To quote "He has a contemporary and innovative approach to Mediterranean-inspired fare that combines comfort-food with a deliberate sense of style".
The Todd English restaurants were available to everyone rather than just Grill passengers, a major change in concept. Cunard Diamond World Club members (those who have cruised for more than 150 days) had a number of benefits which included a lunch in the Todd English Restaurant without supplement. We ate in Todd English a number of times on the Queen Mary 2 and the Victoria and there were initially a number of good dishes which were well presented with impeccable service but the menu was short, rarely changed and fell well short of the level of sophistication in the grills, certainly for an evening meal. That said we still have fond memories of the signature Maine Crab Cake, the Mediterranean Paella which was full of mussels, clams, giant prawns, a little lobster tail and a chicken leg, all on top of spicy rice with chorizo sausage all in its own copper pan. The White Chocolate Fallen cake with bitter chocolate mousse and raspberry ice cream was a sweet to die for.
The Verandah Restaurant restaurant was first introduced on the Queen Elizabeth by Chef Zimmermann. Chef Zimmermann is the Culinary Ambassador who is responsible for all the Cunard ships and masterminded the concept and implementation of the Verandah Restaurant which is based on the Verandah Restaurants on the original Queens. He was aiming for the first Michelin Star afloat - he used to have one ashore. The Verandah restaurants are only open for lunch on Sea Days and every evening. They are small with a maximum seating of around 70 but normally limited to about 40 covers to maintain the level of service. Initially the supplement was for each course but the evening there was also degustation menu which we had often have as it lost little in repartition. On the Queen Elizabeth this was a five course fixed menu, followed by an excellent cheese chariot a tasting plate of four desserts and a huge trolley of assorted Mignardise. At this stage the Verandah could not be faulted and the quality and service was better than any restaurant we could afford in the UK, if there was any criticism it was that the menu never changed but we know Michelin Star restaurants where that also was the case such as the "Elizabeth" (a coincidence in names) in Oxford. For a period we shifted our alliance more to the Queen Elizabeth because of the Verandah although destinations also had a major part to play. Typical early Verandah meals on the Queen Elizabeth are written up here including many pictures and when one come to look at the new Verandah Menu one should also look at what has been achieved already.
Although the Verandah as introduced by Zimmerman on the Queen Elizabeth was superior and more popular than the Todd English but it took a while for the Franchises on the Victoria and Queen Mary to run out and we understand there were penalty clauses in place. Eventually both gained Verandah restaurants although the meals and options were never fully harmonised although Zimmermann played a part in their introduction. He never realised his ambition to win the first Michelin Star afloat to match the one he held ashore, it was probably not realistic as, in practice, it would have needed a new categories although with the number of cruise ships it must have been a real possibility. But to quote from the Executive Chef's current Galley write up the concept is still to "re-create the sophistication and culinary experience that was enjoyed on the original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth."
Since then the Verandah Menus have evolved in a slightly different way on the three Queens. We have had a large number of meals on both the Queen Victoria and on the Queen Elizabeth and have pictures of many of the courses on both which show how they have evolved over time. It is arguable that they have not changed enough to reflect seasons and to deal with regular cruisers as those with a Diamond level in the Cunard World Club get a voucher for a complementary lunch once per sector and we must have had a dozen or more of the lunches over the last couple of years so the limited choice is a problem, especially if one leaves out the vegetarian options and sweets which have chocolate one is down to very few choices.
Changes are on their way starting with the dinner menu. We spoke with both Jamie Firth from 'head office' and the Executive Chef and the intention is too bring in more texture and change the presentation of the dishes which can be seen in, for example, the meringues which are now alongside some of the savoury dishes and there is less emphasis on the French style although that is not brought out in the 'inserts' in menus although the daily program has the new descriptions. The meals are now less comprehensive in general than previously where there were degustation or other fixed menus which had 7 or more courses when you count in the Amuse Bouche, pre-deserts, Cheese and Petit Fours.
We were honoured to be invited to dine during on the first evening the new Verandah Restaurant menu was launched and the following section has pictures of the majority of the courses we had as well as many of the main characters involved in the new menu and the excellent evening itself. We could only try a small subset of the dishes so subsequent sections will cover many of the remaining dishes we sampled during ordinary dinners and in Wine Pairings.
We have not yet had time to OCR or transcribe the new and the old menus so there are pictures below on a purely temporary basis until we can transcribe them.
The Queen Victoria often has Wine Pairing Dinners or sometimes lunches and on the World Cruises they try to bring some local winemakers on board to give a talk and showcase their wines. These are not to be missed and we went to several during the cruise. We have added the tasting notes on the wines to the menu for the Valdivieso Wine Dinner and note it was an excellent evening with a very interesting talk by Cristian Urra, the export manager of Valdivieso for Latin America.
Amuse Bouche, Parmesan Creme Brulee
Valdivieso Brut, Aconcagua Valley
Fresh and Fruity aromas outlined by green apple, toasted almonds and floral notes. Round and balanced in the mouth with a fresh and lively acidity.
Special Cured Highland Salmon, Duck Egg, Baby Fennel Salad, Herb Croutons
Single Vineyard Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc, Aconcagua Valley,
Intense aromatic profile, savoury with a distinctive mineral character. Full bodied, with a tight structure. Very flavoursome earth and spice, complementing the mineral character of this wine. Long elegant finish.
Valdivieso Valley Selection Viognier, Maule Valley
Ripe apricots, pears, floral notes, subtle hints of sweet spices from the oak ageing. Full of exotic Fruits with a crisp acidity and a lovely balance.
Warm Salad of Anjou Squab Pigeon Breast, Textures of Beetroot, Raspberry Vinaigrette
Caballo Loco No 16 NV, Central Valley,
An intense aromatic profile of dark Cherries, cassis, espresso with elegant underlying sweet cooking spices. Full-bodied, with a beautiful lingering structure.
Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta, Colchagua Valley,
Complex and intense. Dark ripe fruits, plumbs and a touch of black pepper. Soft tannins and firm structure. Elegant, with soft spicy notes.
Herb Crusted Rack of Salt Marsh Lamb, Gratin Potatoes, Provencal Vegetables, Lamb Jus
Caballo Loco Grand Cru Maipo, Maipo Valley,
Complex, aromatically intense. Dark ripe fruits aromas, fragrances of black pepper, menthol, sweet vanilla, cinnamon and coffee. Exciting mouth feel.
Caballo Loco Grand Cru Limari, Coquimbo,
Intense and complex, Syrah spice aromas, black pepper, olives and dark red fruits. Full bodied with texture which fills the palate From the start. Very fine tannins and long finish.
Cabaiio Loco Grand Cru Sagracla Familia, Curico Valley,
Bright primary fruit aromas, predominantly dark cherries, berries, subtle oak ageing aromas. Full bodied with dark fruit favours with a slight mineral edge, sweet spices. Fresh acidity with fine grainy tannin.
Fine Lemon Ile Flottante Brulée, Manuka Honey Crust, Créme Anglaise
Eclat Botrytis Semillon, Curicé Valley,
Lovely honeyed grapefruit with some gentle candied lemon on the nose. Very intense on the palate with some good natural Fruit sweetness and vibrant acidity. Well made and very enjoyable.
A full description of Valdivieso and their wines will follow if Pete or Pauline gets time!
We have added a few dishes which we had at other times during the cruise below, the first ones were from another wine dinner and the second block is from Dinner on Pete's Birthday.
We have written about the Verandah Lunches which we have as part of the benefits of being Cunard World Club Diamond and have put many pictures on the web in the past. We have a few favourites but this time we have consciously tried to have different options and a few of them follow. If time allows we may try to also add pictures of our past favourites.
It is now time to consider the balancing act and how to ameliorate the excesses one indulges on a Cunard cruise. Pete actually sees the Cunard cruises as the time when he gets fit because and even to lose weight as there is an excellent gym on all their ships and far less distractions from using it, especially early in the mornings. But first a bit of history about how this habit of going to the gym for an hour or more at 0600 started.
We did not 'discover' gyms on ships until fairly recently when we were rather forced into using it because Pete had suffered a fractured arm and damaged shoulder following a boating accident. He was determined to continue his Physiotherapy program, and perhaps improve his general fitness which had deteriorated seriously when he was partially immobilised and put on weight rapidly. This was 15 years ago and in the QE2 days and the QE2 had a gym like the Queen Victoria with professional trainers there to give advice and run classes. In addition to the free group training sessions in the Cunard Gyms, there are also personal sessions. The first time it seemed important for Peter to have some professional instruction so we committed to 3 hours of Personal Training with Kristy.
This was all a bit of a shock to the system as we had never been in a gym before. On our first session we were shown the equipment, used the bike and treadmill, and Kristy promised individual training programs, which responded to Peter's shoulder problem, to be collected on the next session. The second session was much more hard work. The warming up with treadmill and bike was OK but it was followed by a cross trainer which was harder. The aim was to use up 100 calories before being allowed to stop in a target time of 7.5 mins! There was restricted work on the machines with weights for Peter, but there were lots of stretching exercises. We had 'homework' to do in the cabin, and extra material to read before appointments. We were however benefiting so much that he booked another set of 3 classes. By the end of the cruise we had a regular morning routine of cardiac work and exercises before breakfast and we subsequently bought ourselves a cross trainer for Christmas.
Pete has managed to keep up the program since November 2003 when he started on the QE2 and will always be grateful to Cunard - without the training on that cruise the chances were that he would never have got full use of the shoulder back, even so it took three years before his right arm was once more the dominant one. He still regards the cruises as a time to top up his fitness and even if he does not lose weight on board working out for an hour every morning on cardio machines (600 cals a day) and weights at least it contains the damage of all the good food - Over the last 13 cruises he has actually lost weight on average, about 3 lb on this 75 day cruise! The Gym on the Queen Victoria is the best yet with plenty of machines including 3 cross trainers that he mostly uses for 40-50 minutes a day, two rowing machines he also uses on occasion if the cross trainers are in demand, a dozen treadmills and countless bicycles as well as about twenty specialist 'weight' machines. There is also an area for Free Weights which are part of every days workout along with a programme of stretches. It is right at the front of the ship and there is a special magic in watch dolphins playing, the sun rising or a port approach as you are working on the cross trainer or treadmills before breakfast of fresh fruit in the Lido.
This has been a memorable cruise which took us from Southampton across the Atlantic via the Azores and Port Canaveral to Fort Lauderdale from which there was a complete circumnavigation of South America returning via the Panama Canal to Fort Lauderdale then back across the Atlantic to Southampton. Of the many places we visited fourteen were new to us whilst others overlapped with our South American Journey last year. Not all of the places of interest were 'ports' in the conventional sense and included the Beagle Channel, Cape Horn, then the Magellan Straits at the tip of South America, and also two Chilean Glaciers and a long period in the Chilean Fiords. We had our first visit to Ecuador where we saw the classic Panama hats being made and bought a couple ready for the Panama Canal where it was our first passage since it had been widened. We saw two major Mayan sites in Belize and Mexico. Charleston in the USA was a surprise with its magnificent old houses from the plantation days. The Azores gave a welcome break across the Atlantic. There were many long sea passages which we quite like and there were many excellent speakers covering the areas we visited giving us a much better understanding of a large area of the world.
We always enjoy all the excellent food and impeccable service on board and we indulged in the specialist Verandah Restaurant many times, not only for the complementary lunches but also for dinners and Wine Pairing meals, several of which had local winemakers coming on board to provide wine tastings and wine dinners which have opened up new areas to us. There were also a number of memorable parties along with all the other advantages of a Cunard World Cruises including a special lounges area with a concierge, various perks and gifts and one must not forget the Gala Event at Tango Porteno in Buenos Aries.
Normally we would try to identify some highlights but this time there have been so many special times it is difficult to chose - perhaps in a few weeks some will stand out more than others but for now it was a continuous highlight.
Many thanks to all our friends at Cunard for making it yet another very special time.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 28th March, 2018