The Waterside Inn
Very rarely, if ever, some of us are fortunate enough to stumble upon a dining establishment that folds us into its warm embrace once we cross the threshold into its realm. This is how I felt the moment K and I arrived at The Waterside Inn – holder of 3 Michelin stars for over 25 years; started by Michel Roux and now, with his son Alain Roux at its helm. Please indulge me as I muse over the afternoon where we were courted and made to feel, for a few hours at least, like a part of The Waterside Inn family.
Let’s start from the very beginning. I had made reservations for us to have lunch on K’s birthday. This was all done about a month in advance but the day before our lunch date, I called the restaurant to ask if a small birthday treat could be prepared for K.
- Reservations: Unfortunately it’s too late to order in a birthday cake but yes, of course we can prepare a small special cake for him.
- Me: Great! Is food photography allowed?
- Reservations: Yes, no problem.
- *BIG SMILE FROM ME* 🙂
K, of course had to be told that we were visiting The Waterside Inn. We both took a day off work and he drove us there. It took us almost 2 hours to get to Bray but the sun was out so we were in a buoyant mood. He was definitely more excited than me though, I was a little apprehensive – it was our first 3 Michelin star restaurant experience, what if it was too stuck-up for me? What if I’m not dressed-up enough? Too bad and too late to pull out now!
The valet appeared to park our car for us as we approached the driveway outside the cottage that houses The Waterside. This is the first of many pleasantly unexpected little gestures showered upon us. On entering the restaurant, we were greeted by at least 4 members of the team. My coat was taken and we were escorted into the dining room. At this point, I must admit I did feel slightly overwhelmed – there must have been at least 20 members of the front of house team and each one we passed stopped whatever it was he or she was doing to greet us a warm welcome. Everyone smiled at us. Everyone said ‘Good afternoon Madame’, ‘Welcome Madame’.
The Waterside is poised on the bank of the river Thames, where in warmer weather, the sliding doors are opened leading onto a terrace and then a tiny pier. We were fortunate enough to be shown to a corner table which gave us lovely views of the river. This part of the dining room is like a large conservatory of someone’s home, with in my opinion, perhaps slightly dated decor. But it worked well with the cottage-y building.
We started with champagne and here we got our first glimpse of the pride and confidence this establishment had of its people and product – we were simply asked to choose between white or pink champagne before being presented with a bottle of the ‘Michel Roux’ champagne. It didn’t even cross our minds to ask for any other type.
Next, we were presented with the menus and yet another little gesture demonstrating the high level of attention to detail – as the reservation was in my name, my menu contained the prices whereas K’s didn’t. Without fuss, my handbag was taken from the back of my chair and replaced on a little bag hook on the table, something not uncommon in high-end restaurants in Singapore. The general manager, Diego Masciaga comes round to ask if we would be having wine with our meal to which we declined as K was driving. I did, however later on have a glass of Cōte de Beaune 2007 with my main course.
From hereon, we settled into an afternoon of perfectly cooked, classical French dishes. First came a medley of amuse bouche which included a slice of pata negra (Iberian cured ham) with parmesan and pepper, a mini mushroom slice, a spoonful of potato with anchovies and a savoury biscotti with olives.
We then selected the Menu Gastronomique which is a lighter (on my pocket and on my waistline) three course menu compared to the Menu Exceptionnel, the tasting menu. Amazingly, the selection was perfect for us and we ended up ordering each of the dishes on this menu. Each morsel of food was of exceptional quality, this is truly cooking at its best. The food presentation was classical (no huge round white plates with a tiny speck of food in the middle), only the best ingredients coming together on each plate like they were made for each other. The cooking was assured with each item on the plate playing a part in making up a perfect combination of flavours and textures to each dish.
K started with a beef consommé scented with tarragon and garnished with diced vegetables. The consommé was silky smooth with an intense flavour. It requires great skill to achieve a clear consommé, and this one? Crystal clear.
I had the artichoke heart with soft asparagus and beetroot mousse, crayfish tails, young salad leaves dressed in orange vinaigrette. This to me was the most beautiful dish of the meal. The colours were a real feast for the eyes. The different textures came together so well, from the light mousse to the firm crayfish tails.
Next, K had the halibut fillet poached in sea water, on a bed of seaweed tartar, and champagne sauce with fresh herbs. The halibut was perfectly cooked with the flesh flaking away easily when cut.
I love lamb and was delighted to have the main of roasted leg of lamb under a herb crust and grilled cutlet with wilted spinach and a medley of simmered pulses with savoury scented jus. The lamb was tender and slightly sweet, very well balanced with the pulses and jus.
For dessert, I had the dark chocolate and cranberry dessert served with an orange liqueur sorbet. The chocolate was rich but so perfectly balanced by the tartness of the cranberry sauce and sorbet.
While K had the bavarois (Bavarian cream) dessert flavoured with kaffir lime, coconut biscuit and mango sorbet. The cream and biscuit-sponge-like base were both light and fluffy.
After our three courses, our plates were cleared and coffee was ordered. Hhmm… where’s that birthday cake then? Did they forget K’s little birthday treat? Having thoroughly enjoyed every part of my Waterside experience so far, would I be disappointed at the last minute? Tsk – oh ye of little faith. K’s birthday ‘cake’ was presented – candle and all, to him who, by the look on his face totally did not expect this extra little gesture and absolutely could not stop smiling! *one big brownie point for the wife!*
A couple of the waiters came to wish K a happy birthday before we were served our coffee and mignardises – little bite sized petit fours including a Madeleine, palmier, chocolate macaron, nougat, lemon glacé, a financier (I think?) with raspberry and other delicate pastries (sorry I’m not great with my French pastry names!). Without fail, each piece of pastry was perfectly made.
Towards the end of our meal, K asked if we could visit the kitchen and they willingly obliged. So when service was almost over, one of the front of house team escorted us to the kitchen. I don’t know what I expected – I mean, this is a 3 Michelin star kitchen, they won’t have time to give a ‘guided tour’ to guests. You stay out of the way at the peripheral of the kitchen, nod but don’t speak and if you’re lucky enough, you might catch a glimpse of the head chef. In and out in 3 minutes. But that is NOT the 3 star way.
Head Chef, Fabrice Uhryn himself greeted us warmly. Fabrice has been Head Chef at The Waterside Inn since May 2007 but part of the kitchen team since 2001 as Sous Chef. He talked to us about the different stations in the kitchen, the origins of their produce, explained the ways in which kitchen staff work, introduced us to his chefs and even showed us the bakery (a separate room with controlled temperature ensured to be perfect for baking). You could see and hear the great pride he took in everything he told us about. In the middle of this little tour, who walks by? Alain Roux himself – who shook our hands, said hi with a little smile and went about his own business. Star-struck? Moi? Of course not! 😛
All the little gestures by the team really made our experience extra special and I came to realise why The Waterside Inn has kept its 3 Michelin stars for over 25 years. Yes, consistently exceptional cuisine is difficult to achieve. But pride is an emotion that is impossible to instil unless genuine and each person whom we spoke to about the establishment, its people or the food had that hint of pride in his/her voice. Yet, each aspect of the service reflected a team that was comfortable in its own skin but always perfectly tuned to the requirements of each guest – I literally look up from my dish and they are there to respond to anything I wished for. They are so discreet I hardly noticed when our table was cleared. You want to chat about the village? ‘No problem.’ You want to take a photo of the food? ‘Here let me adjust the dish just so’.
Understated elegance, formal but with so much warmth. I was actually sad to leave, I was that smitten. I thanked our waiters for taking such good care of us. I congratulated Fabrice on the wonderful meal we had. I tell them I look forward to visiting again. I sighed with a silly big smile on my face on our trip back to London. Diego, Alain, Fabrice and their team made our time with them a pleasurable and memorable experience. Truly, the Waterside Inn is ‘worth a special journey’. I will be back.
Price for plates as above with a glass of champagne each, a glass of red wine for me and a bottle of still water = £170
The Waterside Inn is located at Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AT.