Actually, the original consulting chef for the Cunard Princess Grill was Daniel Boulud, one of the top chefs in the world today. He is often on many of the Food Network shows as a guest chef and he learned to cook under Georges Blanc (Carnival consultant). Boulud did not stay long after Queen Mary 2 came out, but I think you can be pretty sure they kept much of what he did and used his ideas on the other Cunard ships.
Kerry Simon (the second restaurant I just went to) learned to cook under Boulud.
Taste is VERY subjective, and the point is that food can be an attraction to cruise for people who know and appreciate "fine cuisine," but not everyone likes a fois gras or wants to pay for sliced truffles and it doesn't mean you can't enjoy a cruise.
Fine food is kind of like wine - its all fermented grapes and who can say one wine is worth $10,000 while another is worth $10? But the point is that it makes a difference to some people and for those people it is important. I personally know very little about wine and would not care to pay an exhorbitant amount for a "great" one.
Some chefs know how to make food that appeals to everyone, while some chefs prefer tripe and brains because it is more of a challenge. Like a rock star singing his "hits" they get sick and tired of doing what they are famous for - but if I am going to eat a steak with $20 worth of black truffles on it I want it prepared correctly. Otherwise I would not know what that experience is like.
I am not saying one is better than the other, I am just trying to give some information to people who might not have known what the cruise lines were trying to do in the area of gourmet cuisine before.
I know over the years I learned to love some of the finer things, but like so many things, a second rate caviar or fois gras can turn you off to something you might otherwise love.
I can also tell you I ate at Nobu's restaurant and after six different kinds of sushi it all tasted like raw fish to me and I really didn't care if one had a certain kind of rare peppercorn or not.
I think one of the problems with HAL's food is that it seems to taste institutional - not very individualized in preparation. And the service can be bad because (my personal experience) is the Indonesian waiters won't admit it when they don't really understand what you are saying (a cultural thing) and understanding what you want is key to good service. On Carnival they use waiters who speak very good english and they do a great job. Plus Carnival retains its workers longer than most cruise lines (according to my research) so they get to be much better at their jobs.
I would expect the service in a great restaurant to be very friendly, and I would be disappointed if I were paying a lot of money and the waiter came across as snooty. The Alain Ducasse restaurant was very good, but they rushed you through dinner. For $200 you want to soak in the atmosphere and relax, not be in and out in an hour. You can get away with that in Vegas, but in New York they expect you to take up a table for the whole night because people like to linger over a meal. You also have to tip accordingly.
ON a cruise ship sometimes people may think service is slow, but for some waiters that is a sign of respect. You are supposed to enjoy the meal. Sometimes it is just slow, though.
We had a night in Phoenix where we were dressed casually (not unusual in Phx) but we walked into a finer restaurant that happened to be in our neighborhood (our first time there). We decided to stay even though it was pricey because we had heard it was good. We were underdressed but it only had a few tables anyway, so we didnt worry about it that much.
The waiter gave us average service but we didn't say anything even though he seemed pretty snooty. He later came over and apologized and said he was wrong for serving us the way he did. I never had a waiter apologize to me for bad service unprompted before.
In the Kerry Simon restaurant the waitress was adorably slutty (the theme of the restaurant is a whore house, by the way) - she had platinum blonde hair and tattoos - but she was very nice. She "lied to management" about it being my birthday to get me that $9.00 cotton candy at no charge when I asked about it - because that is what a really great server does, they get to know you like real people and treat you the way they would like to be treated.
if you want to see what regular waiters are really thinking you can find sites online where they vent. I think you would find some of those neighborhood restaurants may give great service, but they may not be as sincere about it as you might think.
But bottom line (after all this rambling) is that yes - a great restaurant should have friendly and NOT pretentious service. After all, it isn't about making impressions, it is about how good you really are.
The Emiril restaurant was great - a three hour wait to get in at 11:00 pm and worth waiting every minute. The waiter was also extremely nice and friendly. I think a really great restaurant will understand that you don't dine like that every week - they want to make it really special for everyone. If they don't get that, then they are probably overpriced and faux in how they present their supposedly great food.