White tablecloths, ceiling frescos and a harpist enhance rather than detract from the immaculately presented plates that arrive in front of you almost as if by magic. This elegant ambiance might not be what you’d expect from a hotel restaurant within a Walt Disney World Resort property, but it’s precisely the detail you get at Victoria & Albert’s, an opulent, Old World-inspired dining room, making it a perfect fit within the realm of Mickey Mouse.
Set in the heart of the Victorian-style Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, the lavish spot shines as Orlando’s only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant.
Its romantic surroundings are only a small part of the reason for the venue’s success, though. Stellar service and enchanting cuisine also reign supreme here under the watchful eyes of proprietor (Disney jargon for general manager) Israel Pérez and chef de cuisine Aimée Rivera.
Be our guest as we sit down with these two Victoria & Albert’s veterans to talk Five-Star service, dining room magic and what the opulent Orlando restaurant is serving up for New Year’s Eve.
Victoria & Albert’s is the city’s only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant. What has the road to becoming a Five-Star dining venue been like?
Rivera: Coming from another property [South Carolina’s The Dining Room at Woodlands] with the same accolades, it was a smooth transition for me. Fortunately, I have worked at this level for many years, so it is a way of life for me. Passion for food and the business, willingness to please, precision, attention to detail and focus on flavor are all major contributors on this journey.
To me, the challenging part is finding individuals that share the same philosophy. Once you do, the road is easier to travel.
Pérez: We have to continue challenging ourselves to get better each day. We cannot rest on the laurels of our past accomplishments. We have developed along the years an almost obsessive commitment for excellence. We are surrounded by a team that understands our incredible appetite for success. Without them it would not be possible.
What practices do you put in place to ensure you maintain that standard of excellence?
Rivera: Constant monitoring, tasting, feeling, coming in every day and reaching for that star like [it] is the first one.
Pérez: We do not take anything for granted.Each step of service is defined, each ingredient is vetted then explained, and each stage of menu planning is followed by intense education before we proceed to its execution.
Being knowledgeable is not enough. We want to be warm and gracious. We strive to be personable and attentive without being intrusive.
What are some of the challenges in running a fine-dining restaurant in Mickey’s backyard?
Rivera: No challenges at all, actually. Quite the contrary. The support we receive from this incredible company is endless. To be able to add to this company’s amazing offerings in such a prestigious way is an honor.
Pérez: Our leadership understands our vision and the purpose of our unique environment amongst this magical place known for making dreams come true. A substantial part of our success is due to our company’s support for us to travel the world to benchmark and get inspiration.
What are the benefits of working within the Disney theme park universe?
Pérez: Food and beverage has become an integral part of the Disney vacation. We offer diverse options ― from food trucks to fine dining ― that enable our guests to choose what satisfies their cravings at their convenience.
For many guests, Victoria & Albert’s has become the pinnacle of their dining experiences when traveling to Disney and Orlando. Over 20 percent of our guests return, and it all starts with their Disney vacation, visiting our wonderful theme parks.
The menu at Victoria & Albert’s changes seasonally. Other than the fresh produce, what is your inspiration behind each season’s new dishes?
Rivera: Integrating world-class ingredients has always been at the forefront of Victoria & Albert’s. We are fortunate to have a great relationship with the best purveyors in the United States and even around the world. Inspiration can come from anywhere — an emotion, a color or a memory. Often times we find our finest triumphs are revealed through perseverance and unwavering standards.
What are some kitchen favorites from over the years?
Rivera: Our Portuguese turbot with root spinach and preserved lemons is a favorite with our repeat guests. It’s timeless.
Disney is known for its mouse ears and other whimsical touches. What kind of magic can Disney fans expect when they dine at Victoria & Albert’s?
Pérez: Our culture of service starts with our ideals and traditions from Walt Disney himself. This culture of service is contagious, and it is passed from one cast member to the next. The magic starts with attention to each and every detail imaginable — from food and service to our lovely harpist.
And yes, there are subtle nods to our Disney heritage at Victoria & Albert’s. Guests will find a hidden Mickey or two or listen to our harpist play “When You Wish Upon a Star” during one of our many marriage proposals we arrange during service.
Is Victoria & Albert’s cooking up any special events for the season?
Pérez: The holidays at Victoria & Albert’s have become a tradition for many of our guests. Up to 50 percent of our guests return holiday after holiday.
Our next big celebration will be on December 31 for our grand New Year’s Eve Formal Gala.
How has Orlando’s food scene evolved over the years? What are some of your favorite local spots? Rivera: Orlando has seen an increase of unique and eclectic dining locations. This speaks to the savviness of the modern diner. The variety of dining establishments in Orlando is incredible. Some of our favorite local spots are: Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria [at Epcot], [Southern contemporary] Soco Restaurant and Kadence [sushi restaurant].