The Waterside Inn is one of only four restaurants in England to hold three Michelin stars (and has done for over 25 years) and resides in the rather charming village of Bray – which is also home to The Fat Duck. We decided to visit for my gentleman companion’s birthday and to be honest – we were a little apprehensive. Our prior experiences of two Roux family restaurants had been expensive and rocky. At Le Gavroche the bill was astronomic and the food was totally underwhelming. The Roux at Parliament Square set lunch was dismal – however the pricey a la carte was perfect.
As we pulled in next to the entrance, only ten minutes late after a brief hold up on the M4, a smartly dressed gentleman kindly told me to leave my car there and he’d park it for me – what a lovely touch. It was then suggested that we have a drink on the terrace before our lunch and we gladly agreed. As we walked through the restaurant the millions (and there were millions) of staff each smiled and said hello – I’ve never been wished an enjoyable lunch by so many people.
The weather was glorious (what a relief!) so sitting on their terrace was the perfect experience – it really was beautiful. As we sipped our £12 gin and tonics whilst perusing the menu the backdrop of the Thames was stunning – we could have stayed out there forever. We hadn’t even eaten yet but we had fallen in love with the place.
Our enjoyment of the view was interrupted only by the arrival of some very attractive canapes. The shot of gin, rocket and cucumber was delicious – we had never drunk rocket before but it worked really well. The coronation chicken on a poppadom reminded us of being at a picnic. The cube of warm battered fish with tartare sauce and mushy peas was the highlight – a little mouthful of crunchy heaven. A mini olive palmiere with its dellicate buttery pastry, ended a selection of canapes that were some of the finest we’d ever tasted.
We were then shown to our table in the restaurant which at 12:30 was empty (however by 2pm it was packed). We were seated in the first of two sections and our view of the river wasn’t as good as it could have been.
We decided to order the “Menu Gastronomique” priced at £75 for three courses (yikes!) with just two choices per course.
To start, my gentleman companion ordered the chilled avocado soup served with sea trout tartare and melba toast with “Royal Belgian caviar”. It looked lovely but to be honest, it wasn’t the most exciting starter in terms of flavour. The soup tasted simply of liquidised avocado, which was pleasant for a few mouthfuls – but you wouldn’t want a whole bowl of it. The crunchy melba toast topped with salty caviar pearls and the sea trout tartare did add some tasty flamboyance though.
My duet of foie gras accompanied by a smoked magret duck salad with black figs and fresh almonds was far more impressive. The duet being a slice of terrine and a shot of parfait – all of which was beautifully presented. The sweet figs were wrapped in thin slices of duck and were a classically perfect combination with the rich foie gras.
My gentleman companion’s main course of roasted breast of chicken with Lyon style potatoes and a lemon Verbena scented jus was very pleasant and a generous portion. There was chicken with a crispy skin, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms and potatoes – there was nothing new or different here. It was simple classic cooking at its best.
I opted for the pan fried fillet of stone bass with a ratatouille filled cannelloni, warm tomato and clams vinaigrette. It was the perfect summery dish. The vinaigrette was salty from the clams, sweet from the tomatoes and had a zing of flavour that complimented the perfectly cooked fish (which had a very crispy skin). With the sun shining I felt like I was eating this on holiday.
For dessert, the gateau St Honore style with roasted apricots and a lightly salted caramel cream and vanilla ice cream looked beautiful. A gateau in the style of St Honore basically means a gateau containing profiteroles – these had been dipped in caramelised sugar and had a tangy apricot filling. The lightly salted caramel cream had been too lightly salted – we couldn’t taste any – but the sweet caramel flavour with the flakey pastry worked well.
The second dessert was iced pineapple parfait surprise served on a gingerbread struzel sable. The presentation was simple but pretty. We weren’t quite sure what the surprise was – as this simply seemed to be pineapple ice cream wrapped in thin slices of pineapple. We shared both desserts which was far more enjoyable than just having one.
We were then offered to enjoy our coffee et mignardises (bite sized desserts) on the terrace and we couldn’t wait to get back out there to enjoy that view. A selection of treats arrived and were all delicious. The nougat being a highlight – crunchy and chewy yet light as air and totally addictive.
As a birthday treat, I arranged a ride on The Waterside Inn river boat (£65 per half hour). This allowed us to slowly chug down the Thames, on our own, and was so much fun. I had terrible visions of my gentleman companion crashing the boat into the side of the restaurant on our return but he was very elegantly directed by one of the staff and he moored the boat like a pro! This was the perfect end to our lunch.
The Waterside Inn provided us with an unforgettable experience – an expensive one but worth it. The food was delicious (if not a little ordinary) but the service was outstanding. The weather played a large part in the enjoyment of our day – if it had been raining we would have had a totally different experience. But for us, the sun was shining and it showed off The Waterside Inn in all it’s beautiful glory.