The Waterside Inn

20130723_184320The overwhelming realisation as I sit here to begin my review of The Waterside Inn is that I am in no way qualified to write a review of The Waterside Inn. I mean, I’ve eaten some good food in my time and not all of it from a random food festival stall or M&S £10 deal I’ll have you know. Silver service, separate fish course, menu translation requirements yes, I’ve been there and done that and wasn’t it lovely. This however, was something else entirely.

20130718_164151To bring you up to speed you will find The Waterside Inn in the village of Bray, a Michelin Star heavy postcode in Berkshire. It lives up to it’s name with a glorious Thameside location and is a self billed ‘restaurant with rooms’ rather than a full service hotel. It is a Roux family restaurant, currently headed up by Alain Roux who I had the fortune to come into contact with during our stay and can summarise as charming and gracious and clearly not entirely comfortable with his level of celebrity. We didn’t like, hang out or anything…..Anyway, here we are in beautiful Bray, blazing sunshine, watching the rowers and the sailors and the rest of them from the shore with a glass of bubbles to kick off the celebrations of my Dad’s 60th birthday. It is a willing understatement to say that my family and I were ‘treated’ to an overnight stay and a private dining experience here- reason number one that I cannot really put together an actual restaurant review. We were in a decadent private dining room away from the main restaurant with a menu selected by the old man over several torturous previous visits. A real struggle for him, that was. An equal struggle for the rest of us to relax in glorious surroundings with constant but subtle chair holding and wine pouring service and eight courses of absolutely exquisite cuisine. This is reason number two why I can’t write a proper review- because I don’t have the relevant experience or refinement of palate to go much beyond ‘exquisite’ as the main adjective. The Waterside Inn is the only restaurant outside of France to have held three Michelin Stars for over twenty five years, it shouldn’t take a schlubby amateur like me to tell you that they make some ridiculously wonderful food.

In brief, we sampled a slivered sea trout with a bright, vibrant avocado shot that tasted every bit as green as it appeared; fois gras (yes, yes the shame, I know I know) with brioche toast, a fantastic punchy salad bundle and popcorn; just cooked salmon in a fresh herb sauce; a rose sorbet made from the petals from the neighbours’ garden (red for the ladies, yellow for the chaps); beef-not-quite-wellington wrapped up in a mushroom pate and ultra thin, crispy brioche shell; a selection of cheeses two of which were surprisingly British with apricots and celery; the piece de resistance dessert plate of seven miniatures (introduced by Chef Roux himself. Squee!) and finally coffee and the most beautifully presented, perfectly formed little morsels of pastries and chocolates. It. Was. Exquisite. If I’m going to go on about anything it will be the beef- which was just rare in the middle and melt in the mouth tender but somehow not a trace of blood or excess moisture to be found. How the hell do you manage that? I will also go on about the wine served, ceaselessly, to compliment each course so well including a fish course Chablis that I shall continue to weep dream about for years to come. Oh and the pastries, the tiny, light tarts, the cloud like melting macarons, the little chocolatey pralinely thing that tasted like a big bite of Heaven’s Gates. I could go on about all of the food. But again, in brief, Exquisite.

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But the food, well, that’s not all of it. You might get your stars from bloody great food, but it’s the entire experience which keeps all three of them there for a quarter century in a changing world rife with competitors. It is the Waterside Inn experience that is truly wonderful. Taking a drink on the terrace while the evening rowers slip by. Settling in airy luxury, literally waited on hand and foot by gracious and friendly staff who don’t miss a beat but avoid making you feel embarrassed about having such a jolly time while they are all at work. As the manager Diego told us as we took our table for the evening, ‘you are at home’. It really felt like that, relaxed, indulgent and comfortable. Actually not much like my little slice of home in Colchester but that’s besides the point. It’s a beautiful sentiment. They even let Dad have his ipod on throughout dinner, Barry Manilow tracks and all. And they waited patiently, smilingly, topping up the after dinner drinks (cognac for the chaps and a complimentary pink champagne for the rest of us) until we came in from the private terrace or out of the back room with the dramatic arm chairs and taxidermy exhibits and reeled our merry ways to bed.

Our little boathouse room.

Our little boathouse room.

And what chambres they are! Mr and I were in ‘the boathouse’, along with a little tray of fruit, a stack of fabulously moreish almonds and full air conditioning (praise the lord). The final, heart warming touch was the little personalised card on the bed as we got back upstairs, wishing us pleasant dreams and a good strong coffee in the morning. Plus a bag of sweets. You can’t beat that shiz people, not anywhere! You can read all about it, and make bookings or just be jealous of me by clicking here. I can’t do somewhere like this justice on my little slice of cyberspace here. I’m not daft about food, but I’m prepared to admit that I’m far from expert on a lot of it. It was just all utterly wonderful and I don’t expect to ever have another evening like it in my life, I feel rather pathetically grateful to have been a part of it, just for that evening and just for a little while.

I could spam you with more photos or wikipedia facts, or the history of wines in Bordeaux or a load of other stuff but I shan’t, I shall leave it here. I can offer no great insights or scandals. The three Michelin starred Waterside Inn is awesome and if you get the chance to go there, do it. Save up and do it. Sell your mother in law and do it. Just don’t sell a kidney to do it, you’ll need both of those to process all that Chablis.

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