Scores: 3 M* / 7 GFG
Bray is a small town on the River Thames just south of Maidenhead, it has a population of less than 5000 people; however, despite its small size the village contains restaurants with a total of 7 Michelin stars, including two out of the four three starred ones in the UK. This is obviously a very strange situation for the town and must bring in car-loads of people from London and elsewhere into the town every night. By car it is surprisingly close to London, it took us about 40 minutes to get there from K&C.
The Waterside Inn was founded by brothers Albert and Michel Roux Snr. Alain, Michel’s son is currently the chef patron. As such the restaurant could be described as the cousin to Le Gavroche (well at least the chefs are cousins). It has held its three Michelin stars for over 25 years, while Le Gavrouche currently has two but purposely produces simpler food.
Unlike the Fat Duck, five minutes’ walk down the road, The Waterside Inn is on the banks of the Thames (hence the name) and has very pleasant surroundings. There is plenty of room to sit on tables outside the front of the restaurant, next to the river and on a summer’s evening this is a fantastic place to be. There is also a bar and plenty of other seating inside if the weather is not so good. The main dining room has large windows overlooking the terrace and river and the tables are reasonably well-spaced apart.
Several canapés were served with drinks before the meal; these were an olive twist, scallop tarter on lettuce leaves and cheese rice balls with paté. An amuse bouche of mousse with red currant jelly with a pancetta wrapped breadstick was also served at the table after we had ordered. All of these were very good if not particularly noteworthy.
The tasting menu is perhaps like many restaurants with similar prestige the best value here, at £152 (although coffee is included!) is far from cheap (see my rant on prices here) but taking three choices from the a la carte is not far from this and at least with the tasting menu you get seven courses. On this occasion we were not up for the tasting menu so opted to go a la carte, the problem this creates is that you actually have to choose your food, and with that menu this proved difficult! There ended up being some tactical ordering between partners so we could all try multiple things we fancied.
The food here could be described for the most part as classic French cooking, sometimes with a modern twist. A starter of flaked Devon crab with sweet piquillo peppers and spicy guacamole, puff pastry tomato bread was superb. It was a really nice dish to eat on a summer’s evening, the crab was excellent quality and the pepper and guacamole complemented it with fresh flavours but in no way overwhelmed it. The puff pastry tomato bread wasn’t really needed but was nice on its own anyway. Lobster salad with citrus jelly and raspberry vinaigrette was very nice, containing a lot of very large chunks of lobster and the slightly sharp but fruity dressing worked, perhaps surprisingly, well with it. Pan fried scallops and octopus slices with coriander, served on a bed of celery puree, coconut emulsion and tamarind sauce was again excellent, this contained some of the biggest scallops I have had in the UK for a while.
Pan fried fillet of halibut and langoustine tails, agnolotti filled with minted peas, grapefruit juice emulsion was very good. The fish was perfectly cooked and the langoustine tails were superb; however, I found the accompanying sauce to be a little rich although to be fair this was cut slightly by the grapefruit flavours. Again pan fried red mullet served on a medley of vegetables and green pawpaw, tomato fondue with seafood and anchoyade sauce with a great fish dish. The red mullet was perfect and the overall plate of food came together very well. Roasted loin of venison in a pastry crust with wild mushrooms, garnished with florets of broccoli, Hermitage wine sauce with blackcurrant vinegar contained perfectly cooked medium-rare version in crisp pastry. This was basically an exquisite venison wellington, all the layers were perfect and the dish came together nicely, the sour fruit sauce helping balance some of the richness.
One slightly disappointing point was that there was no pre-dessert, although this was not actually expected it is pretty common at similar restaurants. The actual desserts were very good quality, a raspberry soufflé was perfectly made and a well-balanced raspberry sauce was poured into it. A selection of six desserts contained two mini versions of two of the desserts on the menu plus an ice cream, crème brulee, jelly and a mousse. All of these were great and the selection was a good way to taste a variety of these creations. Petit fours were also very tasty, a selection of at least 8/ 10 were brought to the table including madeleines, macarons, chocolate truffles and jellies.
The wine list here is exclusively French and a lot of the bottles are quite expensive- there is little below the £70 level, we had a very good white burgundy and left bank red, these were expensive but the mark-up was probably just towards the top of the normal London range. The service throughout was excellent, very professional but while remaining very friendly and welcoming.
Overall I have to say that I think the food here is not quite at the three Michelin star level, this was definitely not up to several meals in France this year and was surpassed IMO by at least one meal at a two star place in the UK. However, this is not the whole story with the Waterside Inn! Although usually in my reviews I am primarily concerned about the food in this case the overall package of location, atmosphere, service and food made for a terrific visit. I would say that this restaurant is well worth the, very expensive, bill and well worth another visit.