Since starting my gastronomic journey to some of the finest restaurants in London and UK, I've always wondered what was the difference between a 2 and 3 star restaurant, and now I know.The Waterside Inn was originally established by the legendary Roux Brothers, Albert and Michel, a family so entwined in the history of fine dining in the UK they form its very bedrock. These days the Chef Patron is Alain Roux, son of Michel, and under him it has retained its 3 Michelin Stars for an astounding 28 years, the longest held by any restaurant outside France.
We arrived late afternoon, and the car parking being taken care of by the doorman and bags taken to reception. We were shown to our gorgeous, luxurious room overlooking Ferry Road and were made tea. We went for a walk around Bray, a beautiful village packed with wonderful examples of historical buildings and architecture, including passing by The Fat Duck to check it out and to give me an idea of where it was so I knew where to come when I inevitably book. After heading back and spending a few hours relaxing and dressing for the occasion we headed down to the restaurant itself. I realised the service was going to be something special, as the door was opened before I could reach for the handle, with one of the staff being positioned behind to listen for footsteps down the stairs.
We were warmly greeted, and chose to sit in the lounge to read the menus and have our champagne and canapes. The Menu Exceptionnel was brought to me, and the vegetarian menu for my wife, along with 2 glasses of their signature champagne. The absolutely charming Diego Masciaga introduced himself and asked on our choice of main course. I also asked if it was possible to change the foie gras course for something else, not wanting to risk my stomach being overwhelmed. This was not a problem of course, and Diego recommended a fish dish for me to try, and as to be revealed later in the post, an superb recommendation and choice. The canapes arrived shortly after, a large but incredibly light cheese gougère, a fabulous smoked eel tempura made with a particular fine smoked eel, and a quenelle of I believe foie gras. My wife had the gougère, a mix of mushrooms and onion, and potato and leek on a stick. The wine list also arrived, and I must confess I have little experience in choosing wine, so it was little more a case of browsing through to find the most expensive bottle, an impressive 12 grand bottle of Petrus. The sommelier arrived and as always I relied on his skill and knowledge to make a recommendation, we chose the wine flight to match the menu.
We were soon invited into the dining room as our table was ready. The dining room wasn't a huge space, but well appointed in a pleasant green colour scheme, with large glass windows and doors overlooking the terrace and jetty into The Thames. We were in the centre of the room behind the service area, upon which sat a large silver duck press, on a good sized table packed with lovely tableware. The menu card and wine menu were already set up on the table. We were offered either a white baguette or brown roll, these were warm and came with a particular fine butter.
Our amuse bouche arrived soon after, for me a roll of smoked salmon, in which was set octopus, prawn and samphire in a light and delicate jelly and a garnish of what I think was sea purslane, a fleshy, salty and juicy plant I've not had before. This was a lovely refreshing start to the meal, the octopus perfectly tender, and all elements well flavoured. My wife had a cute little tureen of a pumpkin veloute, with soft, buttery mushrooms. The pumpkin was sweet, rich and creamy and went well with the mushrooms.
The sommelier then arrived with the first of our wines, a Grand Siecle Laurent Perrier Champagne to match our starter. This was fresh, crisp and fruity champagne and a few sips later our starters arrived. For me a cold dish, smooth parmesan cream, in which were pink fir apple potato, asparagus, truffle and with this a straw of hot almond puff pastry. The pastry straw was simply divine, and stunning piece of pastry work, and dipped into the cream was an amazing taste sensation. The cream, potato and asparagus was a lovely combination, with great ingredients, the potato and truffle earthy, the asparagus sweet all underlaid with the umami rich creamy cheese. The vegetarian starter was a leaf salad surrounding a fantastic celeriac and apple remoulade, this was garnished with root vegetable crisps. The salad was dressed with cider vinegar flavoured vinaigrette, each leaf perfectly coated, the dressing a perfect balance of acid and sweetness. The remoulade was rich and creamy, with the celeriac flavour quite delicate. This was a particularly nice salad and great start to the meal.
Cremeux de parmesan a la truffe et cornes de gatte, accompagne d'une allumette feuilletee aux amandes.
Salade hivernate garnie de celeri remoulade et pomme en l'air vinaigrette au vinaigre de cidre.
Our next wine was meant to be a sweet wine, a Coteaux du Layon St Lambert Domaine V. Ogerau 2011 to go with the Foie Gras course, and but I had to remind the sommelier we had a vegetarian and fish course instead, but asked if I could try anyway as I have a sweet tooth and would love to try. This was aromatic, sweet and fruity and delicious. The fish course, recommended by Diego arrived at the table and immediately bowled me over with a simply awesome aroma, a fillet of halibut, poached in sea water came coated with oscietra "Royal Belgian Caviar" and with a sea urchin sauce. The fish was beautiful, soft and delicate, the caviar sweet and salty without overpowering the fish and the sauce an absolute sensation, fantastic in aroma and taste, this came with 2 tiny turned new potatoes, a duxelle of mushrooms and some samphire. This was easily one of the best fish dishes I've ever had, every element was perfectly cooked, rich with flavour, well balanced and combined to provide a triumph of a dish. I cleaned every single scrap of sauce and caviar egg with the bread, not wanting to miss even the slightest bit. Thank you Diego! For my wife, the vegetarian alternative was the parmesan cream, and I am glad she did not miss out trying this dish. She too adored the pastry remarking it was the best she has ever had. A white accompanied this course, but alas we did not record the name.
Filet de fletan poche dans son eau iodee et nappe grains de caviar oscietre "Royal de Belgique" sauce oursinade.
Our next glass was the nicest of the evening, a Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Nuits "Clos St. Philibert" Domaine Meo-Camuzet 2004, an aromatic and flavourful white, crisp and fresh. This was unlike any white I've had before. With this was a classic Waterside Inn dish, lobster medallion with a white port sauce and ginger flavoured vegetable julienne. The plate held a generous tail segment and huge claw, the sauce was sticky and sweet, with a bite of chili heat, matched perfectly with the ginger in the vegetables. The cooking of the lobster was again timed impeccably, soft and sweet and I know the restaurant keeps their lobsters in a tank, it couldn't have been fresher. Again I mopped the plate clean with the bread, not wanting to miss a single taste. My wife had a fantastic cream of Jersusalem artichoke soup, the soup well flavoured with earthy jerusalem artichoke, but quite light, in which were some fine mushrooms and chestnuts. The chestnuts in particular earned full marks from wife and this was an excellent dish.
Tronconnettes de homard poelees minute au porto blanc.
Veloute de topinambours garni de champignons sauvages et chataignes.
With our main course we had a red wine, a Chateau Marquis De Terme Margaux 2006, a fruity bordeaux. This was of course well matched with my game dish, a duo of venison and partridge. The venison was served pink and was tender and tasty, the partridge was particularly good, deboned, surrounded with a forcemeat stuffing and utterly delicious. This came with a brilliant poivrade sauce, an amazing buttery subric of pumpkin, a super smooth buttery cake of pumpkin filled with spinach and wild mushroom. I loved this course, the meat and sauce and pumpkin combined to form a delicious mouthful. My wife had chosen well, a disc of artichoke was topped with saffron scented celeriac, over this was a fantastic veil of puff pastry, a complex decorative touch reminiscent of classic dishes from Escoffier and Careme. Again the pastry was excellent, and providing a buttery textured crisp bite to match the perfectly soft artichoke and celeriac. With this a sweet rich puree of pumpkin. This was a great ending to her meal, a dish rooted in classical french cookery, yet modern, inventive and delicious. Not a single vegetarian dish fell back on any cliched alternative to meat dishes, all were designed to hold their own against any of the other dishes on the menu.
Duo de gibier se saison, subric de potiron et champignons sauvages enrobes d'epinards, sauce poivrade.
Fond d'artichaut et lamelles de celeri-rave safranees habilles de dentelles de feuilletage, coulis de potiron.
Our pre-dessert was a tequila sorbet topped with raspberry. This was a lovely palate cleanser, holding the tequila taste really well and an aromatic and sweet raspberry to top it off.
The dessert wine was a Chateau Climens Barsac 2004, a complex taste with a recognisable scent of burnt sugar and candy floss. Our first dessert was for me a teardrop of milk chocolate, with chocolate and caramel mousse and topped with mango and passion fruit. The mousse was gorgeous, light and packed with flavour, the caramel part in particular absolutely gorgeous. The passion fruit and mango providing an aromatic perfumed topping, sweet yet a hint of sourness to balance the chocolate and mousse. My wife had a creme brulee of pistachio with a croustillant of vanila ice cream. This was a fine example of its kind, the pistachio flavour and caramelised crunch providing a rich and luxurious mouthful. By this point descriptions and photos might be a bit blurry, the full effect of our wine flight being apparent.
Larme de chocolate lacte au caramel, coeur de mangue et fruits de la passion.
We both ended with the warm soufflé of orange with cranberries. The souffle was light, fluffy as a cloud with good orange flavour. Together with the cranberries provided a classic winter taste combination, and an outstanding example of a soufflé from a Roux kitchen.
Souffle chaud a l'orange et airelles.
After being treated to an exquisite slice of coffee and chocolate birthday cake for my wife, our coffee's came with a huge selection of petit four's, each a perfect example of its kind and again the flawless patisserie I would expect from Michel Roux's kitchen. A tiny lemon tart stood out, as did the parmentier biscuit but all were amazing and we shared half of each. I was also treated to a little bit of theatre, the liquor trolley was wheeled up and I asked for a cognac, I was then given a description of their four best cognacs, and given a blind smell test and was asked to choose which one I liked, and was then shown the list with prices. Luckily I had asked for prices, one of the ones I liked was an 1879 bottle coming in at £210 a glass! Not being a billionaire I eventually settled on the "cheapest" on offer, a 40 year "Inspirations" bottled for the Inn itself. This was a lovely cognac, smooth, potent and yet not a hint of harshness. We finished up and stumbled up to our room. I was really glad our journey was measured in mere feet that night!
The service throughout was exemplary, a host of waiters acting in silent choreographed concert to provide for every need of the guests, acting with near psychic abilities to pick up exactly what you wanted and when. Diego chatted with us a few times, a charming gentleman who instantly knew how to put you at ease and ensure you enjoyed your meal. A number of spectacular a la carte dishes were served by the table, with duck and chicken being carved and plated up to a number of people. I particularly enjoyed watch Diego himself serve an impressive looking sea bass baked in a seaweed and salt crust, the crust being removed and the fish deboned and filleted quickly and efficiently, not a second wasted or a single morsel missed. At one point I dropped my napkin, and before I had barely even noticed it had dropped, a waiter silently appeared at my side, picked it up and replaced it with a fresh napkin held in between fork and spoon. The sommelier was also wonderful, explaining each choice and checking we enjoyed the choices. Although service we've had elsewhere has always been excellent, nothing was quite as masterful and professional as the team at The Waterside Inn and this was clearly why it is a 3 star restaurant.
The appearance of the food itself was outstanding, everything was very classic, the presentation beautiful without any modern touches, no paint brushed sauces, superfluous flowers, dry ice or fancy custom serving plates. Not a hint of modernist techniques, no foams or gels to be seen. The dishes themselves were made with the best ingredients, cooked to perfection with recipes born of decades of experience and near flawless. Every single mouthful was to be savoured and remembered.
The next morning saw a fantastic breakfast tray, with an excellent brioche and pastries, again sealing the reputation of the kitchen for patisserie. They are literally masters of their craft.
The Montgolfier Room. Note the balloon prints!
All hail the Patissier!
Our signature experience was £560, this included service and VAT and covered 2 glasses of champagne, the food, a standard double room, breakfast and a copy of the brother's "Patisserie" signed by Michel Roux, a bag of goodies including half a bottle of their signature champagne, a lovely Wedgewood plate and some coffee and jams. Addtionally, the wine flight was £93 a head, and cognac £39. Although very expensive I don't believe anything was overpriced, just a case of you get what you pay for, and in this case you got the best of everything. The whole experience of the evening was one we will always remember.
The Waterside Inn
The Waterside Inn