DINING OWL AWARDS: 1st – for dates; 5th – for wine list; 1st – for bread
When I visited: May 2015
Location: Orlando, in Disney’s Grand Floridian hotel
Team: Scott Hunnel (Head Chef), Eric Herbitschek (Pastry Chef), Israel Perez (maitre d’)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: Not rated
What to wear: Men – shirt and jacket and nice trousers and shoes (must wear a jacket); women – a smart dress and/or smart trousers and a top
Ambience: Intimate, posh, chandeliers and big flower arrangements
Course of the meal: Roasted Duck with Fennel and Leeks, “A l’Orange”
If I could change one thing: Price (but understandable)
For some reason, the Michelin Guide does not review restaurants in Florida, but if it did this one would surely have at least 2 stars. Particular highlights include the impeccable service: I was on my honeymoon with my spouse Owl and when we told the waitress we enjoyed the harpist’s live music as we had a harpist at our wedding, the harpist came over to speak to us personally. I think that she would have been able to play almost anything you would want to request, whether popular or classical. They also provided menus with our names on for us to take away as keepsakes, which was especially cool as it was the first time I had used my new extended surname after getting married. As they have a requirement for male diners to wear jackets, the air conditioning is turned up pretty high, but in compensation they offer female dinners wraps to wear.
As for the food itself … we had the dinnertime tasting menu with paired wines (well, it was our honeymoon …) and were allowed to substitute any options from the vegetarian tasting menu that we liked. This cost $150 per guest, with an additional $65 pr guest with the wine pairings. I enjoyed making use of the vegetarian options as sometimes too much meat in a long meal can feel heavy, and the vegetarian courses here were really well done.
With our amuse bouche we had a glass each of champagne (Jacquart Mosaique Brut NV Reims) which was very dry and tasty. I then opted for a vegetarian starter but the meat options were a lovely tender poussin with ratatouille and balsamic froth (with Poet’s Leap Riesling, Columbia Valley 2013), which my partner Owl opted for, or Colorado bison with ninja radish slaw and kumquats (with Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc, Malborough 2013). I then enjoyed (as usual) my seared main diver scallop with roasted cauliflower (with Fiano di Avellino Dei Feudi di San Gregorio, Campania 2011), forgoing the other delicious-sounding options of Alaskan king salmon and crab with asparagus and sauce Bearnaise (with Hanzell “Sebella” Chardonnay, Sonoma County 2013) or wild turbot with toasted capers and preserved lemon (with Clos Vroulat “Cuvee Marie” Jurancon 2012). I think that by this ‘seafood course’ point, we knew this meal was going to be pretty special and something we would always remember.
The next options were quail with cardamom and sun chokes (with Highflyer Centerline Syrah Blend, Napa 2010) or onion ash-crusted Berkshire pork with sauce Soubise (with Ridge “Three Valleys”, Sonoma County 2012); delicious and tender. The mains reached their pinnacle with veal with black truffles and sauce Perigord (with Vajra “Albe” Barolo, Italy 2010) or roasted duck with fennel and leeks, “a l’orange” (which I had as an homage to the duck a l’orange served as the main course on our wedding day, with Lafond Pinto Noir, Santa Rita Hills 2013) or herb crusted lamb loin and belly, with carrots (accompanied by Numanthia “Numanthia” Tinta de Toro, Spain 2010). However, there was a third, special beef-flavoured option of Austraian Kobe-style beef tenderloin with potato turnip gratin or Miyazaki Japanese beef (with Il Fauno di Arcanum Super Tuscan, Tuscany 2010). My partner Owl went with the Japanese beef, which had apparently been voted as the best beef in Japan in a competition.
The cheese selection looked delightful (sottocenere al tartufo, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Wyngaard chevre affine, Colston bassett stilton (with Quinta do Crusto Late Bottled Vintage Poton 2010), but as usual I opted for the non-cheese option, which in this case was a perfect palate cleanser: roasted white chocolate gelato with Asian pear (with Bianscospino La Spinetta Moscato D’Asti, Piedmont 2014). The desserts didn’t disappoint either: Tanzanian chocolate timbale with orange-scented milk chocolate gelato, or citrus timbale with violet sherbet, or the restaurant’s recommendation, which I went for: caramelized banana gateau. Further options were vanilla bean crème brûlée or a Grand Marnier souffle, or Hawaiian kona chocolate souffle – so plenty to choose from!
This spectacular meal was rounded off with “celebes” coffee, tea, and friandises. One of the special things about this restaurant is the contraptions it uses to brew and serve tea and coffee in front of you: like the smoothest, flashiest science experiment you’ve seen on a dinner table since some of the courses at The Fat Duck.
In an effort to make us remember them the next day (as if there was ever any danger) we were presented with a takeaway orange and almond cake for breakfast, and a long-stemmed red rose, a nice way of summing up the simple elegance of the dishes and atmosphere that we had experienced. If you are in Orlando and want a break from Disney-themed ice cream sandwiches and apple slices with caramel sauce on the side, be sure to book a table at this restaurant.