I am truly thrilled to bring you this guest review from Disney World Moms Panelist Erin Foster and her family of their trip to the Victoria & Albert’s Chef’s Table a couple of weeks ago. The photos alone are breathtaking food art, but this is also an incredibly detailed description of what you can expect as a guest at Disney World’s most exclusive dining experience. Take it away, Erin!
Victoria and Albert’s Chef’s Table: The Perfect Place for Children
Wait, wait, I know what you’re thinking, “They don’t even allow children at Victoria and Albert’s.” This is true; the youngest guests are not permitted at Disney’s premier restaurant, but children age 10 and up are welcome to experience V&A’s. And that’s just what we did, brought our three girls, 13-year-old Charlie and 10 year-old twins Josie and Louisa to the most elegant restaurant in Central Florida.
(More amazing pictures and review after the break)
A bit of background – For years, I had been hearing wonderful things about V&A and finally persuaded my husband to take me there for our anniversary in July 2009. Despite being a jaded New Yorker, with many five-star business meals under his belt (literally), Jeff was completely wowed by V&A’s. Everything about that meal was perfect: the service, the food, and even the music. He still talks about hearing Peter Frampton songs played on the harp. Indeed, Jeff was so taken with Victoria & Albert’s that he wanted to share the experience with our children. He booked us at the private Chef’s Table for our winter break trip to WDW in February 2010.
V&A’s is located on the second floor of the Grand Floridian resort, tucked away in an alcove not far from the band. The restaurant has a dress code, described on the WDW website.
My girls love dressing up, but are past the Disney-princess-attire phase, so this aspect the experience appealed to them – the opportunity to look and be treated like a real princess.
As soon as we approached the V&A lobby, we were greeted by name by a hostess and told that we would be escorted to the Chef’s Table momentarily. I’m sure that not many families in dress-up attire approach the restaurant, so that’s how they knew who we were.
A minute or two later, the Maitre d’hôtel, Israel Perez, escorted us through the hushed, candlelit dining room, into the bright and bustling kitchen. We wended our way past a drinks station, a dessert prep area, around the perimeter of the cooking areas manned by at least a dozen chefs, to a private dining table at far rear of the room.
Sights from the kitchen:
Israel, a charming bear of a man, welcomed us and explained that many aspects of the Chef’s Table are different from dining in the main restaurant. While there are two nightly services in the dining room, there is only one Chef’s seating. The room was ours for as long as we wanted it. He even suggested that since we would be experiencing at least 10 courses, we might want to take a break in the middle and go for a walk around the hotel grounds at some point. Apparently many folks need a breather to make room for more food. We were welcome to make ourselves comfortable. Jeff was invited to take off his jacket. And we were told we could speak with anyone in the kitchen. This relative informality made the Chef’s Table particularly appropriate for the children. My girls are well behaved, but 3-4 hours is a long time for anyone to sit still. In our private area, they were able to stand up and move around the table at will. And any inadvertent clatter of dishes would be indistinguishable from the prep noises of the kitchen. The only “rule” was that if we needed to use the restroom, we had to have a staff escort. With all the hot equipment, they had to ensure that we were safe.
I asked Israel a few questions about the Chef’s Table and learned that it can be booked by parties of one to ten people, with eight being the preferred maximum. The room itself is small and dominated by a large wooden table. Not dissimilar from what you might find in a home. The cabinets in the room are filled with serving platters, some stray equipment, awards for the Chef, bottles of special spices, and several large jars of special cherries (more on them later).
These edges of photos of the Chef’s Table show how close were to the industrial kitchen.
Meeting the Chefs
A few moments after we were seated, sous chef Tom greeted us. He apologized that Chef de Cuisine Scott Hunnel was detained on a conference call and would be joining us shortly. Meanwhile, Tom joined us in a champagne toast (sparkling apple cider for the girls.) He chatted with each of individually and shook the children’s hands.
The menus at Victoria & Albert’s change daily so that the chefs can take advantage of the freshest seasonal ingredients. In the main dining room you are presented with a menu of two to four choices for each course, plus a vegetarian option at each course. At the Chef’s table there is no menu from which you select your meal components. Instead, you have a conversation with the chef to determine what the best meal experience would be for your unique party.
Tom asked us about allergies and food preferences. He assured us that if at any point the children were not happy with any of the exotic foods, they would be happy to make them anything we wanted. While we did not take them up on this offer, I am 100% sure that if I had asked for a chicken fingers and mac & cheese, it would have appeared almost instantly. Again, this relaxed atmosphere put all of at ease. Within a few moments, Charlie (13) bonded with Tom about the results of the last season of Top Chef.
During our conversation with Tom, I mentioned that one of the reasons I had enjoyed our previous visit to V&A so much was that I was completely surprised by the deliciousness of some unusual ingredients. Specifically, I thoroughly enjoyed several bites of sweetbreads (thymus gland), a dish I swore I would NEVER eat. (More on this later too.) Two of my daughters also told Tom that they found caviar to be “creepy.” He smiled and nodded.
At this point I should mention that while two my daughters are fairly open-minded and adventurous eaters, one of them, Louisa, is most definitely not. She is an all-carbs and no-sauce girl who thinks strawberries are “too spicy.” We knew that much of the meal would be a challenge to her rigid food sensibilities. We decided to power on and not give her alternatives. There would certainly be enough food available that she wouldn’t starve and we wanted to see if being in such a unique environment might spur her to try some new things.
We were also introduced to our dedicated server for the evening, an older gentleman who was clearly having an off night. He dropped items more than once, was wobbly when pouring beverages, and had a few other missteps. This was the only glitch in an otherwise flawless experience. Without us having to say anything, members of the staff noticed the problem and he was replaced with Allen, who was warm, gracious, and completely professional. I was impressed that when a problem did arise, it was resolved so seamlessly and without any drama for the guest.
Chef Scott came out to greet us. He too shook hands with the children and then explained our first course.
The amuse-bouche consisted of four one-bite items: a thimble-sized smoked salmon panna cotta with salmon caviar, a popcorn-crusted shrimp, crispy Buffalo Mozzarella resting in the tiniest puddle of creamy tomato sauce, and a poached quail egg with Galilee caviar. I apologize that I have no photo of this plate. We were too darn eager to get eating that we forgot to slow down and document this part of the meal. I can say that the amuse-bouche was the perfect way to ease the girls into the meal. Each of the items bore some resemblance to familiar items. For example, the mozzarella was in the same family as the cheese-sticks they knew from family-style Italian restaurants. (But much, much tastier.)
Course two was an unused caviar tin used as the plate for a peekytoe crab cake with Ostera caviar and petit herbs.
Chef Scott stopped by to explain to the girls the rationale behind the mother-of-pearl spoon – you don’t want to impart an off taste to the fish by using a metallic utensil. He also spoke about where the crab (Portland. Maine) and the tiny Hearts of Palm salad accompaniment (Costa Rica) came from. Coincidentally, we had been on family trips to both these places, so the children were able to have a real feel for the foods’ origins.
Because the girls had proclaimed caviar to be off-limits, both their quail eggs from the previous course and their crab cakes did not have this topping. But later when Charlie expressed regret about not trying the caviar, they brought out a large tasting portion for her, which she loved. She learned the valuable lesson that the caviar from the supermarket California rolls is not of the highest quality :).
Here’s Josie giving her opinion of the crab:
Third Course: “Eating Fog”
Course three was a showstopper. Our servers told me that I would want to have a camera ready. Here’s why:
That incredible presentation was cold “smoked” Niman Ranch lamb with Fuji apple and curry dressing. This was the highlight of the meal for the girls from both an entertainment and a taste perspective. The curry gave a slightly sharp Indian feel to the meat, which was nicely balanced by the sweet, almost candy-like apple. Our server Allen was kind enough to show us the technique behind the “smoke.” Underneath the food, was a chamber of dry ice. We were protected from the dry ice by a firm seal of glucose holding the two layers of the special plate together.
The liquid poured over the food at the beginning of the course was warm apple cider. The cider reacted with the dry ice to create the dazzling effect. Still supremely cool, even when you see the man behind the mirror. The girls loved telling their friends at home how they ate fog on their vacation.
The fish course was wild turbot with toasted capers and Meyer lemon. Louisa, my I-hate-fish girl ate hers, and some of mine. That’s all you need to know about this excellent dish.
Next up was Vermont squab with root vegetable flan and pomegranate jus:
Once we told the girls that squab was “like chicken,” this was also a big hit.
While eating our meal, we were able to chat with several members of the kitchen team. We watched as one chef made a garlic mayonnaise and then later a veal sausage, both of which were served as part of dishes in the main dining room. At one point Josie got into a conversation with a chef about a puree he was making. This turned out to be a squash and apple filling for a ravioli, again for the main room. When Josie remarked that she liked both squash and apples, but had never had them together, he gave her a spoonful of the filling to try. This was a lovely interaction. Here is the mayonnaise being made:
Next up was Minnesota elk tenderloin with braised red cabbage tart:
This was my favorite course. The elk, cabbage, apple sauce (in the center) combination was, for me, the perfect blend of savory/sweet and delicate/hardy — the five-diamond version of comfort food.
We then had Australian Wagyu beef tenderloin with oxtail jus. The girls recognized this as steak and devoured it. Jeff was speechless.
Next Chef Scott brought out a surprise special course of crispy sweetbreads, simply because I had mentioned that I like them before:
I must confess that this was not a hit with the twins, but Josie did give it try and Charlie ate most of her portion. I was proud that they felt comfortable enough to experiment. Truly, I felt like our enjoyment and comfort was the top priority of the restaurant. When Jeff very sheepishly asked for a Diet Coke, afraid it would offend the staff’s sensibilities, he was brought one right away and immediately put at ease when server Allen told him that almost every table they serve at V&A’s includes a soda drinker.
Another component of the meal I should mention was the bread. During the main courses of the meal, we were presented with three different bread and butter servings, progressing from a light roll to a more substantial full-grained slice. All were superb. Also, the meat courses were presented with an array of salts. I felt like the dishes were perfectly seasoned, and didn’t end up using any of the salts, but they were beautiful to look at.
At this point, the staff told us that we were at a good break point in the meal. We got up and walked through the main dining room into the Grand Floridian lobby. We spent about 20 minutes listening to music and browsing in the boutiques. We got to stretch our legs and digest a bit before continuing with the meal. On the way back to our table, we passed by the dessert station. Jeff saw caramelized banana gateau he had during our previous visit and remarked how much he had enjoyed it.
Next up was the cheese course: Couronne Louchoise, Abbaye de Tammie Robbiola, and Rouge River. Each came with a bit of fruit or honey for contrast. I thought they were all outstanding, but two of them were a bit strong for the kids.
Toward the end of the meal, I ordered coffee, which is vacuum brewed at the table. The pot itself was entertaining.
Then came the fruit course, which we mistakenly thought was the dessert course. You can see why:
This is green apple mouse and white chocolate gelato with hazelnut cookies. The long spiky things are candied hazelnut enrobed in hard sugar – tasty and beautiful. The red berries are candied cranberries and there is sliced apple atop the mouse.
Then Chef Scott and his team brought out the actual dessert: Tanzanie chocolate mousse and white chocolate gelato. Amazing food with another amazing presentation. The plate in the back is the banana gateau that Jeff had mentioned in passing. The moral of the story is, at the Chef’s Table, they will indulge your every whim. Each thing we even offhandedly mentioned we enjoyed (caviar, sweetbreads, gateau) was simply brought out to us to increase our pleasure.
After dessert was the post-meal friandises, trays of additional sweets. At this point, we were stuffed to the limit, so server Allen kindly brought us boxes to bring home these treats which included chocolate-covered candied orange peel, pecan and chocolate chip cookies, fruit gels, and filled chocolates. The final touch was the chocolate-covered cherries made from the jarred cherries, which we had seen in the Chef’s Table dining room. We were also each given a miniature loaf of orange date bread from the Grand Floridian bakeshop to have for breakfast the next morning.
Wine Pairing Review
I should note here that I did opt to get the wine pairing with my meal. While all of the wines I tasted were excellent, I’m not going to talk about the wine in any detail. And I’m fairly sure that I wouldn’t get the pairing again. I felt like there was so much wine presented to me so often that I was overwhelmed. I lost count, but there were at least seven or eight different substantial pours. Even with Jeff sharing many of my glasses, it was simply too much alcohol to enjoy. Or, if I had enjoyed that much alcohol there’s no way I would have enjoyed, or even been aware of, my food. I think the champagne toast at the beginning of the meal, one nice glass to last for the main part of the evening, and then perhaps a small port at the end of the meal, would have been more than sufficient.
After the Meal
At the end of the meal, the staff presented me and each of my daughters with a perfect long-stemmed red rose in a box. We posed for photos with Chef Scott and said our good-byes at about 9:15; just about four hours after our meal began.
Early the next morning, we headed back to New York. The Chef’s Table was the perfect ending to our vacation.
Is it Worth the Cost?
We’ve been home a full week now, and the roses are still in bloom, without a hint of wilting. And we’ve just finished the last of our boxed chocolate treats. By rationing them, we’ve been able to make this outstanding meal linger with us.
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the cost of this exceptional meal. Here’s the scoop: the main dining room costs $125 per person; the Chef’s Table costs $175* per person, plus alcohol and gratuities. Clearly this is an expensive undertaking, but worth it on many levels. Obviously the food is magnificent; you’d be hard pressed to find a better meal anywhere. The entertainment value is extraordinary too. Dinner and Broadway show or Cirque du Soleil are in the same price range. A Victoria and Albert’s meal is at least as engaging as this.
There is also a huge educational component to the meal. My personal philosophy is that I want my children to be exposed to as many situations possible when they’re young so that they know how to respond to them when they’re older. The first time I had to go to a business meal in a fancy restaurant, I was terrified because I had never experienced anything like that before. I hope that my kids will not feel that kind of intimidation in any dining situation.
Back to my original point – the Chef’s Table was a wonderful and memorable experience for the kids. Although this would not be the place for very young child, older children are welcome. And Disney certainly knows how to work with kids. My girls were treated with the utmost respect. They were spoken to directly and courteously and engaged in substantive conversation with real professionals. They now have a real life experience to remember.
Will we be returning? Of course! Jeff and I have already booked a reservation in the main Victoria and Albert’s dining room for our next anniversary in July. And we’re contemplating Christmas dinner there with the children.
Thanks again, Erin and Family, for sharing an incredible experience.
Specs: The Chef’s Table Dinner at Victoria & Albert’s seats only one party per evening at 5:30 p.m. and costs $175* per person plus alcohol and gratuities. (A wine pairing can be purchased for an added cost.) Table size can accommodate up to 10 people, but reservations can be made for parties as small as 1. Reservations are required and can be made up to 180 days in advance. Guests ages 10 and up will be served. Valet Parking available at no additional cost. Call (407) WDW-DVNA or 407-939-3862 for reservations.
*Note: Per a March 7th call to Victoria and Albert’s, the cost for the Chef’s Table and the Queen Victoria Room at Victoria and Albert’s has gone up to $200 per person. The cost in the regular dining room remains at $125.