When I look at this 1950 menu from the Ile de France I am struck by how simple the dinner seems to be. (Also very curious about Chicago Soup.)
I have just returned from a transatlantic voyage on the Queen Mary 2, and can report that the shipboard dining experience of today has been upscaled a great deal compared to the menu of 65 years ago. And there is a great deal more choice. But whether the food is superior in quality or flavor to what might have been served on the Ile de France is impossible to know.
The lunch menu below provides a good idea of the types of dishes served on the QM2.
Crab, Avocado and Tomato Salad with Espelette Chilli Oil
Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Parcel with Cauliflower Cheese Sauce
Asparagus and Chervil Velouté
Poached Fillet of Salmon with Herb Pappardelle and a Tomato and Red Pepper Sauce
Roast Rack of Spring Lamb with Boulangere Potatoes, Crushed Minted Peas and a Mustard Scented Jus
Vegetable Wellington with glazed shalots and chive cream sauce
Praline Mousse, Toasted Mashmallows, Carmelised Pecan Nuts, Fudge Sauce and Chocolate Shortbread
Hot Grand Marnier Soufflé with Anglaise Sauce
Continental Cheese Selection with Fig Chutney and Fine Biscuits
Passengers also had their choice of other dining options on the ship, as in the following list. The King’s Court is a self-service buffet with much longer meal times than the dining rooms. Also, significantly, passengers who chose to eat there were not required to meet the dress requirement for the three formal nights held on the ship. They were even allowed to wear denim after 6 p.m (provided they did not stray into other areas of the ship where they might give offense to their better dressed peers).
There is also a Todd English restaurant on the ship for anyone who wanted to take a break from the Brittania Restaurant (or, if they were in the highest class, the Queen’s Grill or the Princess Grill). I did not find Todd English worth the extra price since the food and service were quite similar to the Brittania’s.
As for food quality, there was a great deal to choose from and yet I found little of it truly delicious or memorable. It looked much better than it tasted, undoubtedly because the meals served in the dining room were essentially banquet food provided by the food service industry, much of it in a frozen state, and prepared in advance of meal time. Top of the line banquet food, perhaps, but still banquet food. Salads and especially dressings were quite hopeless and often menu descriptions did not give much idea of what the food would actually look like when it arrived at the table. For example, I was expecting a caramelized pear dessert to look like a pear. Instead it looked like a little layered cake and had no discernible pear flavor.
The self-service King’s Court (pictured) was in some ways more satisfactory. There you could assemble your own meal. But even with the many choices of hot and cold food on offer, there were striking absences. Cold drinks in dispensing machines were low quality, as was the too-weak coffee. Sodas, beer, or wine entailed running a tab which showed a strong propensity to mount up an impressive total. Should you crave one, you could get a true English breakfast but no decent toast. The sushi seemed to have pickles in it. Odd seasonings abounded. I could swear that some baked potatoes had been marinated in Kitchen Bouquet. And so on.
On the other hand there was no shortage of one of my favorite foods, cured salmon, which I ate a lot of. You could put it on a bagel for breakfast but not lunch and there was no cream cheese.
Most people seemed quite happy with the food. Only grumps like me or my tablemates who were gardeners and skilled home cooks complained – to each other – about how often meals were tasteless. Dessert eaters were deliriously happy because cakes, mousses, cremes, custards, soft-serve “ice cream,” and other sweets were readily available no matter where you chose to eat. Beautiful pastries and excellent scones were served each day at afternoon tea.
All in all, the food was undoubtedly as good as could be expected. Still, I was thrilled to get back to a diet of simple food — just-picked fruits and vegetables from farm stands, local cheeses, baked bread, fresh fish, and all the other wonderful food available in Western Massachusetts.
© Jan Whitaker, 2015
3 responses to “Dining at sea”
I have dug into my Jean Conil haute cuisine book and Chicago soup is a Bisque of lobster and tomato puree garnished with diced tomatoes and nizam pearls (which I think is a pearl couscous)
Also you took a tourist class menu of the ile de France, the Cabin class menu was as elaborate as the QM2 menu now, but the Princess and Queen grill class on QM2 are now more private dining fully a la carte so evolution will always continue.
My guess about the Chicago soup is that it is a beef stew or a beef broth soup. Chicago had many stockyards where cattle were processed.
You could be right but why would they use such an obscure name?