Reviewed by The Wild Boar
Here are the facts:
- There are only three restaurants in the UK bearing three Michelin stars (out of 72 restaurants in the world); Waterside Inn is one of them.
- Opened in 1972, obtained first star in 1974, second star in 1977 and the third star in 1985 which it has retained since.
- Le Gavroche was the first restaurant in UK to obtain three Michelin stars; Waterside Inn is the second to do so.
- A member of the prestigious Relaix & Chateaux group, which also includes Fat Duck and Le Gavroche in their menagerie.
- Started up by Michel Roux after the success of Le Gavroche in London, now the chef patron is Alain Roux, son of Michel Roux; meanwhile Michel Roux Jr. (son of Albert Roux, confusingly!) is in charge of Le Gavroche.
Yet surprisingly, Urbanspoon’s page of Waterside Inn is just a bit empty with one fan, zero reviews, no photos and only two votes so far. Googling for blogger reviews turn up nearly nothing except Andy Hayler, but then he’s a bit special when it comes to Michelin stars; his blog/database is a veritable shrine to good food. Perhaps this is partly explained by its location in Bray, an hour’s drive from London with good traffic, while London itself has plenty of French restaurants to distract.
Still, my friends have been planning this visit for over a year now (we’re quite bad at organising our social lives, hence why it took so long). Our party of six rocked up well in time for our 7pm reservation in our respective cars, which we left to the valet. We were the first to arrive and to be seated, but the maître d’ was keen to tell us that it was a full house tonight. The décor of the restaurant was reasonably impressive and it’s worth noting the grounds outside the main dining room and the pier for guests to arrive by boat.
Whilst making our choices from the tasting menu, some canapés were provided. Moving from right to left in the picture, I started with the cucumber jelly in the spoon; we as a group didn’t really like this one as it felt a little plain (PigPig: tasted really green). The goat’s cheese was better, full of flavour and thankfully the goat smell was quite mild. The duck rillete was not bad and quite smooth, but nothing very special either. Overall the canapés were a little dull and disappointing.
The bread selection was either white or brown and neither was particularly outstanding. Although nice and warm, they were a bit chewier than I would have preferred.
Just a quick explanation on Le Menu Exceptionnel here; for £110 (including service charge) you get five courses and each course has two choices except for the sorbet mouthwash which is default, and the dessert which has three options (cheese being one of them).
After we made our choices to the waiter, lobster bisque was served to start the meal with. The bisque itself was really rich and tasted really good, without the bitterness that you sometimes get with bisque as my friends noted. The little piece of lobster meat provided was nice but then, quite little. There was also a little slice of potato underneath the lobster which provided a nice contrast of textures.
First course: “Bluefin tuna and scallops marinated in virgin olive oil and yuzu juice, garnished with a spicy guacamole and lamb’s lettuce”. Both the PigPig and I were presented this, although I had actually requested for the other choice. I complained as such to the waiter, and he smoothly advised that I should just enjoy this one anyway, while they prepared my correct order. Essentially this was a ceviche, which I’m not a big fan of. However this one wasn’t overly sour, yet I felt the seafood taste wasn’t particularly appreciable. Also I think they were quite stingy with the portion size here, especially when compared to the terrine option.
First course: “Terrine of pressed foie gras and supreme of guinea fowl with truffle, young red chard salad leaves”. The terrine actually used pretty decent quality foie gras, and the gamey taste of the fowl together with the aroma of truffles was an excellent combination. We were all a bit bemused by the jelly though and I would have personally preferred a little compote for some sweetness to go to the terrine. The toasted brioche was simply brilliant and a wonderful alternative to the usual hard crunchy breads provided with foie gras.
Second course: “Pan-fried lobster medallion with a white port sauce and ginger flavoured vegetable julienne”. Most of us chose this option and to be honest, it was quite hard not to (my sister-in-law couldn’t as she has a mild crustacean allergy). Anyway the lobster itself was really good and the sweetness of the meat was complimented by the sauce and slight gingery-ness very well. Apparently, Waterside Inn has their own lobster tank so the lobsters are all freshly cooked. There were definite resemblances to Chinese style lobster noodles as well as the “Scallop baked in the shell, flavoured with ginger” in Le Gavroche.
Second course: “Fillet of turbot baked in a vine leaf, served with white grapes and a “verjus” emulsion”. I only had a couple of bites from sis-in-law but the fish seemed perfectly cooked and juicy. A light cream (if it was the verjus emulsion, it wasn’t very sour) went along well with the richness of the fish.
Third course: “Refreshing tutti-frutti citrus sorbet”. Arriving in between the starters and main, this mouthwash is probably one of the better sorbets I’ve had. Equal amounts of sweetness and tartness along with a generous slug of vodka at the bottom provided lots of sensations for the tongue to enjoy.
Fourth course: “Spit-roasted Suffolk duckling from “Loomswood Farm”, served with a velvety spinach puree and green olive flavoured sauce”. Presented to us in its entirety before being professionally deboned at the table, this was the outstanding dish of the night. Each half of the breast was filleted into five slices, laid upon the spinach puree before having the olive sauce poured over it. The meat itself was cooked to juicy pinkness (as requested) and seasoned quite delicately as the sauce was a perfect foil to the meat. Brilliant example of cooking meat in a simple manner while picking the exact sauce to compliment but not overpower the meat.
Fourth course: “Roasted loin of venison in a pastry crust with wild mushrooms, garnished with florets of broccoli, Hermitage wine sauce with blackcurrant vinegar”. Again, I only had a couple of bites from sis-in-law, but it struck me as a well constructed dish and the cheese within the pastry was a pleasant surprise.
Fifth course: “Warm mint and chocolate soufflé”. As the waiter explained, it is actually more of a mint soufflé with chocolate bits scattered about within. I thoroughly enjoyed this (the PigPig didn’t, but she hates the combination of mint and chocolate) and I felt the soufflé was suitably light and airy. At the end of the day though, it’s just a soufflé, regardless of how well it was executed.
Fifth course: “Our selection of three individual desserts”. Alain Roux actually specializes in desserts, and the quality is certainly evident here. Starting from the top and moving clockwise, the tart-like thing was just a mere edible plate decoration (which I didn’t realise until much later). After that is a sandwich of sabayonne with pears and the entire combination involving a faint whiff of pear liquor was magnificent. The little crème brûlée was one of the better ones I’ve eaten, maybe because it had chocolate mixed inside. I thought the white chocolate mousse with tonka beans was a bit ordinary but the PigPig certainly enjoyed it.
We were all well and truly stuffed by this point so when we were invited to have our coffee and petit four in a conservatory, it was a good chance to stretch our legs. When we entered, the petit four were already prepared and it was a more extensive range than other restaurants I’ve been to so far; highlights include the mango tart and mango macaron although they were all pretty good.
Altogether the bill came up to £123 each including a bottle of wine and several bottles of still water. I didn’t choose the wine and didn’t bother looking through it as I suspected from the hefty tome that it was just as elaborate and pricey as Le Gavroche’s.
Throughout the night the service was excellent, being both attentive and unobtrusive at the same time. I felt their attention to detail was also pretty good, like how they provided little handbag hooks to attach the bags to the table, rather than leaving them lying on the floor; in fact the waiter actually apologised as he only realised the bags were on the floor midway through our canapés.
The verdict? Well, we were discussing this in the conservatory while safely away from prying ears (we think so anyway) and the conclusion: disappointing, we expected more from a three starred restaurant.
So I spent the next day thinking about the cause of my personal dissatisfaction and so far I’m thinking: the food was actually delicious, perfectly cooked, well constructed and the ingredients complemented each other quite well really. In fact I can’t actually put my finger on anything particularly negative about the entire experience from arriving and handing my car keys to the valet to getting it back from him.
In the end, I have to say that despite the rather excellent cooking, it just didn’t really suit my personal preference of a more modern approach, which is a shame because I would have really liked to love this place. (PigPig: having dined at the Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn, I think both deserved the 3 stars but I prefer the Fat duck. It was an “experience” dining at the Fat Duck but it’s just a “perfect meal” at the Waterside Inn.)
Would I eat here again? Honestly, I prefer Le Gavroche.
Tel:+44 (0)1628 620691