Waterside Inn, Bray – experiencing culinary royalty
The Waterside Inn, as you’d expect, is on the banks of the Thames in the village of Bray, home to more Michelin stars per square mile than, well, anywhere else in the world probably. It boasts three Michelin stars and it’s seriously posh. Driving our hire car up to the front door, Greedy Girl (in her finery and heels) jumped out, for gluttonous husband to head for the parking lot. Not at all – the valet looked after that.
This is an impressive-looking place. On a beautifully warm Royal Berkshire evening, we were invited to take an aperitif overlooking the water. Swans and ducks paddled by; some diners even arrived by motor boat. Greedy Girl, having enjoyed only a handful of three-starred meals in her lifetime, made a rookie error – pronouncing to the sommelier that she would probably order a bottle of champagne to accompany the first stages of dinner.
Our enthusiastic sommelier was delighted. As Greedy Girl thumbed her way through pages of listings, he helpfully pointed out several bottles he said would be ‘fantastic’ with the food. Fantastic was quite the word – not one of his suggestions was less than 300 pounds. Greedy Girl wanted to take a big gulp when looking at the prices, but was pretty sure she couldn’t afford to.
Eventually she decided she would take the wine pairing (a relative bargain at 90 pounds) and gluttonous husband, having to drive back to Windsor after dinner, opted for two glasses, one white, one red.
Sorted. We’d barely taken sips of our aperitifs (a glass of champagne for Greedy Girl and a gin and tonic for gluttonous husband) and consumed only one of the delicacies on the amuse bouche platter when we were ushered inside. Unfortunately Greedy Girl couldn’t get a shot of the complete selection on the platter. We were asked to take one from the plate (we both chose the smoked salmon with scrambled egg) and the remainder, a chorizo and almond pastry and slices of quail breast served in a lettuce cup) were placed before us.
The Waterside Inn is now directed by Alain Roux – Anglo-French culinary royalty. The restaurant was founded in 1972 by Michel Roux (Alain’s father) and his brother Albert. Albert headed for London 14 years later to establish Le Gavroche (now helmed by Michel Roux Jr, of British Masterchef – The Professionals fame). Alain Roux made the rounds of the packed restaurant towards the back end of the evening to formally welcome his guests. It was a nice touch. The building is olde worlde although the open, sliding glass doors to the terrace overlooking the river were a decidedly modern touch. The atmosphere, though, is very formal with a small army of tuxedo-clad waiters, upholstered chairs and starched linen.
Having decided on the tasting menu (with the main course the only selection), we were soon delivered another amuse bouche – a gazpacho with mackerel, strawberry, a little tomato salad and grissini. This was quite refreshing (as you’d hope) and the slight sweetness of the strawberry was a welcome touch. Not a bad start.
So, on to the Menu Exceptionnel proper. First up was flaked Devon crab with sweet piquillo peppers and spicy guacamole and puff pastry tomato bread. Again, this was a light and refreshing dish. The peppers didn’t overwhelm the crab and having it mixed with the avocado was a nice touch. The little scroll of tomato bread was gone in a flash. Greedy Girl happily hoovered hers up but gluttonous husband found a few shards of crab shell in his. This was served with a Taittinger 2000 comtes de champagne blanc de blancs.
No self-respecting French chef would offer a tasting menu without foie gras. This was probably the most interesting dish of the night. A terrine of foie gras and chicken breast was accompanied by salad featuring leaves and baby corn, a mustard dressing and toasted brioche. The little surprise was popcorn dotted on the foie gras. It worked. Delish. The wine match here was a sweetish pinot gris, Vendanges Tardives, Domaine Loew 2009 from the Alsace region of France. This was a glass Greedy Girl was happy to share with gluttonous husband, not being an enormous fan of sweet wines.
Next up was scallop and octopus. The scallop had been pan seared and accompanied by octopus slices with coriander, on a bed of celery puree, coconut emulsion and tamarind sauce. It was as Asian as you’d expect a noted French chef to get. The dish was well balanced and the scallop cooked perfectly. The sauce wasn’t really suitable for mopping with bread but Greedy Girl did it anyway. The wine match here was a Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot 2005, Domaine Duc de Magenta from Burgundy.
Next up was our ‘choice’ of mains. Greedy Girl went for the roasted loin of lamb. The lamb had been stuffed with aubergine confit and grilled pine nuts. It was served with a ‘gateau’ of moussaka, a light saffron jus and artichokes. To accompany, the wine was a Malartic Lagraviere from the Pessac-Léognan appelation, 2007 – from Bordeaux. Unsurprisingly, it was the wine Greedy Girl most enjoyed on the night.
Gluttonous husband went for the duck. Roasted Challendais duck was sliced with cherries, a potato roesti, snow peas and zucchini and a Bourgueil wine sauce. The duck was quite pink but not chewy – a key reason gluttonous husband usually likes his duck cooked through.
Both main servings were absolutely enormous – and it became very difficult to try to pack in so much food. The pace of service, despite asking for it to be slowed, was ridiculously fast. Greedy Girl, trying to keep up with the wine consumption so she could drink the particular style with the food it was designed to complement was getting rather heady. It was way too much. Perhaps, being a Sunday night, the staff wanted to get home early.
The final courses on the menu were dessert (we didn’t even contemplate cheese).
First up (and apologies for the colour of the picture above, the light was definitely fading), was a medley of apricot. Apricot mousse (on the left) topped a shortbread biscuit and, on the right, a rosemary-scented apricot sorbet. The dish was dotted with redcurrants. It was quite pleasant. The wine pairing for these courses was a Vouvray ‘Grain d’Or’ Domaine Gaudron 2010 from the Loire Valley.
The ‘final’ dessert was a warm raspberry souffle. At the table, the waiter punched a small hole in the top to pour in a raspberry coulis. It was very well executed, as you’d hope.
Done. We were once again invited to the terrace for coffee, petits fours and a digestif. Greedy Girl opted for tea and eyed the petits fours stand warily. Admittedly, she did help herself to the madeline, canele de Bordeaux and the macaron before groaning audibly and pushing away the remainder. Our sommelier wanted us to sample some Cognac. We demurred. Greedy Girl was flying and gluttonous husband was driving.
This is very accomplished cooking but there wasn’t an enormous wow factor, really for anything except the setting which, on a mild night, is undoubtedly beautiful. As a one-off, special treat, it would probably satisfy the diner on all counts but after several weeks of French-dominated cooking it lacked any real surprise element to get the tastebuds zinging.
Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire