The Waterside Inn, Bray, UK

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The Waterside Inn, Bray, UK

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Review of "The Waterside Inn, Bray, UK"

published 03/03/2006 | a4angus
Member since : 30/11/-0001
Reviews : 46
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About me :
Excellent
Pro Best food, fantastic service, great venue
Cons Pricey
very helpful

"The Waterside Inn, Bray"

The Waterside Inn 1

The Waterside Inn 1

The Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire
=============================

One of only three 3* Michelin restaurants in the UK, Bray is blessed by having two such illustrious establishments. The Riverside Inn is owned and run by Michel and Alain Roux (father and son). Alain is the Chef Patron.

The Waterside Inn had one star until 1977 when it was awarded the second Michelin star. In 1985 the coveted third star was awarded which it has held ever since (20 years!). There is no other establishment in the UK with such an illustrious record of culinary excellence.

I decided to organise a once in a very-very-long-while treat for my wife and I in 2006 to celebrate, Birthday, Valentine's day and a love of good food and wine. A mini-gourmet holiday.

The trip was to be a competition or sorts (or at least a comparison) - The Waterside Inn versus The Fat Duck (the other 3* Michelin establishment in Bray, awarded that accodlade in 2004).
You can see my other review of the Fat Duck for the comparison.

Booking
------------
I think the fact that this establishment operates as a hotel helps. The telephone line was answered quickly.

Unfortunately the reservation staff were temporarily unavailable so the helpful chap took my number and promised they would call me back within 10 minutes.
5 minutes later reservations called back and a table was available on my chose Friday night.

I did discover that they book up well in advance for Saturdays (already full 2 months in advance) as well as Fridays.

No credit card was required to secure the booking (nice - unlike the Fat Duck!). They just call you back a couple of days before the booking to ensure you are still planning on dining.

A final note on the process. I had mentioned that this was a birthday treat for my wife in passing on booking. When they called back to confirm, they also confirmed that this was a birthday celebration. I was not really expecting my throw away comment on booking to have been taken so seriously but was pleasantly surprised at this.

Finding The Inn
------------------------
A little tucked away down a quiet lane in Bray, it is sign posted and as Bray is such a small village, it is hard to miss.
At night, the sign is not illuminated so it is worth having a map of the village (www.streetmap.co.uk) just in case.

At the end of the lane, right by the restaurant, there is a slipway into the Thames so you know when you have gone too far by the splash.

Parking
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Parking looks a bit dire as you pass down the narrow road leading to the restaurant. All around are 'residents only' parking. Panic not! As a car approaches, the attentive valet (parking) attendant comes out and offers to park your car.

There are a couple of spaces to the front of the building and a rather more extensive parking area a little distance away to the rear of the cottages opposite.

Keys are kept securely in a key locker just inside the main door (and need to be with some of the cars we saw there!).

On leaving, the valet brings your car to the front again.

I would definitely recommend staying locally or at the Inn so that you can walk to the restaurant and enjoy the wines fully.

Dress Code
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I was advised that the restaurant has a 'chic casual' policy. Suitably vague I thought which leaves a lot to individual taste. I am not sure that this is the best description of those that I viewed in the restaurant. Most were smart or smart casually dressed. Jackets and ties seemed to be order of the day for gentlemen.

Ambience
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The Inn looks like a nice house from the outside with a conservatory and patio to the rear. As you enter the main door, you are greeted by a wooden panelled reception with a typical hotel style desk to the front.

You are shown to the left and into the restaurant which is in a 'T' shape. To the left is a mirrored wall and serving table and to the right a bench row of tables and chairs for couples.

To the front of you are the larger tables adjoining the patio doors and the view to the river beyond. Clearly these are the preferred tables. Others are fitted around this arrangement but without being too crowded.

Décor is a wooden and tasteful colours theme without being too opulent. There are partitions and pillars at points but the overall atmosphere is one of openness. You do not feel crowded and during the evening the room is romantic enough for a dinner for two.

Seating
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The standard seats are very comfortable. In 3.5 hours I was in no discomfort. The bench style seats to the walled area are padded and give an excellent view over the restaurant.
Tables are traditionally laid with white linen, and a range of glassware and condiments. They match the décor without, again, being too opulent or intimidating.

The tables contain orchid flowers in modern vases.

Overall the rooms are comfortable, understated and welcoming. This is not a restaurant where you feel under or over-dressed.

The Menus
---------------
In my humble opinion, the 'set menu' (Exceptionel) here is better than most a-la carte menus in many restaurants. The only slight issue I had was that the menu had to be selected by all at the table so it is not possible to have this and for another diner to have the a-la carte menu.
Nice to see that it includes the coffee course and there are no 'supplement' courses on this (an all too typical trick for some supposedly set menus).

The Meal
========
Rather that opting for an aperitif, we decided to select a bottle of house white, Chablis Roux 2002, and take this through the starter course as well. An excellent choice from the bottom end of the price range (£37), it was well chilled and extremely smooth. No danger of ruining the restaurant reputation with cheap and nasty house wines here!

Pre-Starters
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We were presented with a rather nice plate of 3 hand made canapés which were well presented both visually and by the waiter. It is nice to see them taking the time to explain every course, and not just dump the plate and run as in so many lesser restaurants.

This was followed with a thoughtful 'amuse bouche' of foie gras for wife and pumpkin soup for myself. Somewhat excellently, they had varied the course to account for ourt starters selection. Needless to say, this really set the scene for the level of care that followed for the rest of the meal.

Starters
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My wife selected the Bisque of Cornish hen crab with Japanese rice, whilst opted for the Pan-fried escalope of foie gras with a thin slice of home made ginger bread served with the juice of pickled damsons and a few cranberries. Both were superb and a resounding 10/10. The foie gras was not too sweet, an all too common problem, and the ginger bread completely complemented the taste whilst balancing the smooth texture with a crunchy bite.
Neither course was unduly mean on quantity and the proportions of meat to accompaniments was excellent.

Fish Course
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Both my wife and I selected the turbot baked "à l'étouffée", served with sautéed slices of cep and jus. The fish was perfectly cooked and very light. An excellent pre-main course dish that tantalised the tongue without overfilling you.
The wine we had selected from before the meal was again very complimentary to this dish. As usual, the presentation was immaculate.

Intermission Course (for want of a better phrase)
-----------------------------
No choice with this course, and it was certainly not a 'meal'. This was presented by the waiter as a palate cleansing dish, to prepare us for the main course.
A small quantity of orange sorbet with a twist of campari was just right to prepare our mouths and tongues for the forthcoming main course. Slightly tangy, the sorbet melted in the mouth perfectly, not the usual 'straight-from-the-freezer' lump but a crafted blend of hand made sorbet.

Main Course
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Again, no dispute here - both of us opted for the roasted Challandais duck glazed with spices, confit kumquats, gnocchi seasoned with horseradish, Cabernet Sauvignon sauce. This must be ordered by 2 people so good thing we agreed or one of us would have been disappointed. There is only one other choice of main meat course. As we later discovered, this is a speciality of the restaurant and it showed.

After an appropriate time, the waiter approached our table with a trolley. On this was the whole cooked duck, griddle marks visible across the back, waiting to be carved. It looked superb.
The waiter dispatched this task with ease - the duck sliced through perfectly and we were presented with the prepared plate and expertly carved slices of duck. While we were waiting, the aromas that wafted across the table just served to gear up our taste buds for the forthcoming feast.
It is difficult to describe this dish - it is the best duck course we have ever tasted. Moist, flavoured with sauce but not so much that you lose the unique taste of the duck. Perfectly cooked with just a hint of pink meat.

To accompany, I selected a bottle of Moulin St George, St Emilion Grand Cru, 2000 (a not insubstantial £88). Far from the cheapest, this is my favourite chateau from St Emilion and one which I have visited on a number of occasions, from way before they received their Crand Cru rating. It is rare to find it on a wine list and it really was a pleasant surprise to find it, and a bonus that it is a good year.
It is a beautiful heavy tannin, blackcurrent flavoured wine which is well crafted.
Perfectly warmed, the sommelier decanted this as soon as we ordered so that, come the main course, this was just ready for drinking.

Desserts
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We had previously spotted the cheese trolley rolling around the restaurant whilst dining. As cheesophiles, this was our natural choice for dessert. Described on the menu as a large selection of French and English unpasteurised farm cheeses, this was an understatement.

Two levels of trolley were filled with cheese. There were no yesterday's left overs here - all were fresh pieces. The range was staggering.

We selected a half bottle of Michel Roux dessert wine (£32) to accompany this as the red bottle has mysteriously 'evapourated' during the main course. Strange that :)

I was enjoying the meal so much that I decided to crack a joke with the (French) waitress who was serving the cheeses. I asked if she had any camel milk cheeses, joking that this might be strong enough that I would finally find a cheese I did not like.
Somehow this got lost in translation (my sense of humour being somewhat 'enlarged' by a bottle or so of wine). The poor waitress was flustered, but in a good humoured way, and apologised profusely. Ooops.
My embarrassment was complete as a few minutes after she finishing serving us. The head waiter appeared enquiring about the 'problem'. I had to explain that it was my sense of humour and that I wasn't really expecting camel milk cheese. Fortunately my faux pas was understood and off he went (I hope to explain to the poor waitress).

The cheeses were accompanied by an excellent selection of cheese biscuits and a homemade relish. I naturally managed to spill the relish down my tie and trousers. The cheese course was a fine finish to an epic meal.
All the cheeses were at the right temperature - soft cheese were soft but not so runny you had to spoon them onto the biscuit. Hard cheese were nicely ripening at room temperature but not too hot that they were sweating.

Just keeping all these cheeses at the right temperature in a hot and busy restaurant is a feat in itself.

Birthday sweet
----------------------
As a final gesture, there remained one more dish ……a thoughtful and attentive response to a casual comment on my first booking.
Out came a plate of one rum baba, raspberries, cream with candle and delicately written birthday message on plate.
What a nice, and not over-the-top way to recognise a special occasion!

I didn't get much of a look in but the taste I had indicated that this had been prepared with as much care as any of the real meal courses.

Coffee
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We finished with a coffee course. This was offered in a choice of filter or expresso and was exceptionally well prepared. I later viewed the machine that created these fine coffees sitting behind the bar. What a beast. It was at least twice the size of any I have seen previously. I am not sure why (maybe a store of heated water?).

Naturally, the coffee was accompanied by sweets (mignardises).

We were offered refills on our coffee in a timely manner (no extra charge here) and I accepted a second expresso.

And so it was over.

Alain Roux
==========
A nice touch, but the Patron Chef took the time to come out of the kitchen to talk to us.
Alain was keen to talk about the duck course where we learnt that this was a speciality.
Immaculately presented, as everything here, Alain spent five or so minutes enquiring of the meal and the evening. It was a really nice way to round off the evening.

Service
========
All the staff were exceptionally friendly and courteous. They really make you feel welcome.

Get up to find the toilets, and the nearest available waiter will guide you to your destination.

The Maitre d' was very effusive in his greeting. A more cheerful greeting I have never experienced in a restaurant. We both agreed that this could be toned down a little without imparing your visit. What you need is friendly and efficient. It was like meeting your best friend with whom you share a fantastic sense of humour.

The greeting staff on reception were available instantly - no queuing because this is an Inn, rather than just a restaurant. The front desk that greets you on arrival was manned by at least 2 staff with at least 2 more in attendance front of desk.

We were ushered to our table, despite arriving earlier than the booked time, as soon as our names had been confirmed on the guest list. My only quibble here is that
it would have been nice to have a drink in a lounge first before moving to the table. I think that they tend to use this for after dinner drinks as it is fairly small.

On completing the meal, we were rather left to our own devices for a fair while. I was sort of expecting to be offered a digestif in the lounge but service seemed to slow down. Perhaps we were just on a buzz, but it seemed like an eternity.

Eventually I decided to go and seek the bill - by now it was 23:15 and we had been at the restaurant for 3.5 hours. We both want to get back to our room. I think I surprised them when I wandered up to the bar and asked for the bill. Perhaps they like to let the customers digest and discuss after a meal?
My view is though that they dropped the ball at this point and they should have been a little more attentive to our needs as we finished the evening. Not a big issue, but a minor point.

Overall though, superb.

The Guests
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A mix of people from groups to couples. All were reasonably discrete and the layout of the restaurant helps keep the noise intrusion down. There were no 'loud' conversations. Everyone was smartly dressed.

The Damage
=============
If you have read my other review on The Fat Duck, you will already be sitting down.

There is no way of easing the pain - either you are prepared to save up and pay for a first class dining experience, or you may consider a 2 week vacation money better spent. Not for me to judge.

Food: 2 'Menu Exceptionel' (set menu) + bottle of water £184.00
Drinks: £157.00
Service (12.5%) £42.63
Grand (wallet weeping) total: £383.63

Other Information
===============
Wine List
--------------
A comprehensive book of wines, ranging from the reasonable 'house' wines (excellent from our selection) to scary vintages that cost the price of a cheap car.

Definitely biased towards French wines (unsurprisingly give the owners nationality) , but with enough choice for everyone.

The sommelier is very willing and offers to help with a selection. In this case, we made our own choices.

Smoking
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Is permitted outside of the dining room.

Outside
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There is apparently a private dining area in a courtyard outside, and during the summer months it is possible to dine on the patio, overlooking the river Thames. With the ducks and swans outside, this must be an even better way to enjoy the experience at the Waterside Inn.

Hotel
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The Waterside Inn is not just a restaurant but also an hotel with 10 bedrooms, all air conditioned.

Opening Hours
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Lunch and Dinner, Sunday to Wednesday (also Tuesday dinner in June, July and August).
The establishment is closed from Christmas (Dec 26th - Feb 3rd in 2006) and Easter (April 17th - 20th , 2006).

Reservations
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44+ (0)1628.620691

Website
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www.waterside-inn.co.uk

Overall
==========
Although I am sure that well behaved children would be welcome, I would suggest that this is the sort of restaurant to go with your wife/partner (or bank manager - see 'damage' above).

Do not visit here unless your wallet has had sedation first, or your savings bottle is one of those particularly huge whiskey bottles (and is copiously filled).

This is an exceptional restaurant in all respects: service, ambience, food, attention to detail, wines, experience are all top notch.

I can unhesitatingly rate this restaurant 10/10.

Truly worthy of the 3 Michelin stars. I will be saving hard again to go back here.

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Comments on this review

  • hazeydazey published 08/03/2007
    Very well written and informative. I will definately consider dining there for the next special occasion, as I pass through Bray everyday. I think you can also get married there. Although I'm scared to think of the 'damage' that could do. x
  • matt_fantastic published 03/05/2006
    I've been lucky enough to have dinner here a few times (work was paying) and agree with your excellent opinion. i only wish I could afford to go without a load of clients...!
  • read123 published 10/04/2006
    Great review, would love to eat here gonna have to start saving!
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