The Waterside Inn’s setting is very attractive, though the sun stayed in today, which meant it was not shown at its best. Alain Roux is now in charge here, though the head chef is Fabrice Uhryn. It has held three Michelin stars since 1985.
The wine list is extensive and expensive. Weinbach Pinot Blanc 2008 was one of the cheaper wines, at £52 (plus service of course) for a wine you can buy in the shops for £11, Didier Dagenau’s Silex 2007 was marked up relatively less at £175 for a wine that costs £72, but the high end of this shows no respite: Latour 1982 was eccentrically priced at £4397.50 (plus service) compared to a retail price of £1,133, so over four and a half times retail price even at this price level.
Bread is a choice of rolls with either plain or rye flour; this was made from scratch, enjoyable and with a firm crust (17/20). A courgette flower was filled with wild mushrooms and spring vegetables tossed in a warm olive oil with chopped truffle; the mushrooms were good quality and the vegetables cooked properly, though this was an enjoyable rather than an exciting dish (17/20).
A trio of scallops wrapped in breadcrumbs and sesame seeds with a cauliflower mousseline was supposed to be my next course. As I tried to cut into the first scallop with the knife provided, the blade simply bounced off. I switched to my main course knife and was barely able to cut in to the scallop flesh. Oddly, one of the three scallops was cooked fine, one was like rubber and one was in between. I sent this dish back and they decided to switch tack and offered the pan-fried lobster medallions with a white port sauce and ginger flavoured vegetable julienne. Ironically this worked out well, since the lobster was the dish of the meal. The flesh was tender and packed back into the shell for presentation, the sauce having a very nicely controlled but distinct hint of spice from the ginger; lobster is a tough thing to get right, and this was very good indeed (19/20). Challons duck was spit-roast and carved at the table, served with prune and Puy lentils and a “Grand Chartreuse” jus. The duck was cooked nicely enough and the dish was fine, but I have had much better duck elsewhere (17/20). We skipped cheese but this was now £26.50 per person.
My lemon dessert was refreshing and well-made, the lemon parfait having good balance and served on a crisp biscuit base and in this case with a very good lime sorbet (18/20). I also tasted some other desserts, the best of which was an excellent rhubarb soufflé. Coffee was good, and the petit fours were classy (easily 18/20). Service was generally very good today, and they were handled the scallop incident well.
The prices seem to me simply too high for the level of cooking here, which with the odd exception hovers between 17/20 and 18/20 level. Salads cost over £30, starters mostly around £50. Our bill came to £215 a head with a pretty modest dip into the wine list. Of course there is the pretty setting, but it seems to me that the premium for this is excessive.
Below are notes from a meal in April 2007.
This is a lovely setting for lunch on a summer’s day, overlooking the river in the pretty village of Bray. Sadly a pretty weeping willow that used to be outside the dining room has had to be cut down, but the river view is still extremely pretty. There is even a boat that you can hire for half an hour if you want to have your aperitif or coffee on the water itself. In good weather you can have drinks on the terrace and watch the ducks go by, or nestle in the summer house. The dining room is cleverly set out, tables arranged in a crescent shape facing the river, with wood-panelled mirrors making the best of the light in the low-ceilinged room. Banquette seating and classic chairs are comfortable. The setting and the luxurious ingredients do not come cheap, and with a modest wine it is easy to spend over £150 a head here. One starter was £42, while a beef main course was £52, for example. The menu is unashamedly classical in style, with little attempt to bring in any of the wilder elements of unusual flavours that afflicts a lot of dining rooms today. The wine list was all French, extensive as well as expensive e.g. house wine was £37.
At these prices you expect perfection, and my most recent meal here showed something less than this. Desserts are the greatest strength in Roux Brothers tradition, and head chef Russell Holborn has worked long enough with the Roux family to keep up the standards of technique in this department. For example a tiramisu had stunning depth of flavour, the coffee ice cream having silky texture and bringing out the coffee flavour remarkably well.
The best elements of the meal were very fine indeed, with for example superb nibbles of wild salmon, foie gras mousse with a little rhubarb for acidity, a ball of fried crab with superb red pepper sauce (20/20 nibbles). My starter of langoustine souffle showed excellent technique, and the langoustines themselves were of high quality (18/20). Sadly a medley of vegetables including a courgette flower with wild mushrooms was left for too long before serving, and was past its best. Even when made fresh the vegetables were not sufficiently perfect to really shine e.g. peas were a little hard, and spinach leaves somewhat over-cooked, though carrots and beans were very good. However this was really only 16/20.
Better was a fine fillet of Scotch beef with assorted diced vegetables and a red wine sauce made from the cooking juices. I would have preferred the sauce to have been reduced more, but this simple dish was certainly very enjoyable (18/20). It had the edge over a sole with broad bean mousse and a pleasant but unexciting sorrel and champagne sauce (17/20).
Cheeses were extremely good, a rarity in the UK, and are kept in excellent condition. So many restaurants keep cheeses past their best rather than ruthlessly throw out any on cost grounds, but here the cheeses were in uniformly fine fettle e.g. a fine Cheddar and a very enjoyable local blue cheese as well as the usual French classics.
Though desserts, nibbles and cheese were all top drawer, I found the starters and main courses today to be below 3 star standard, and in the case of the vegetables they served a dish that the kitchen should have picked up on and sent back to be remade; I don't expect to have to send back a dish at this level of restaurant. Service was excellent and the setting is beautiful, but it seems to me as if the cooking is merely coasting along like the ducks on the river.
What follows are notes from a rather better meal in 2001.
Amuse-bouche such as a tender piece of raw salmon on a little pastry base, a tapenade and a quail’s egg also on a pastry base were of the highest standard. I began with a fine tart of crab with langoustines, both of which were very delicate, served cold with just a herb emulsion for garnish (19/20). My wife had some summer roasted vegetables, which were lovely but not to the standard that one gets in a top restaurant in France (18/20).
My main course beef was extremely good, with an excellent vegetable galette featuring several baby vegetables e.g. carrot, broad beans, asparagus and a fine red wine reduction of the cooking juices (19/20). My wife lobster was of the non-chewy variety, with a port and ginger sauce (18/20). The cheese was of an unusually high standard for the UK, and the cheese waiter knew both these cheeses and plenty about cheese in general. Reblochon was in fine condition, a Bresse Bleu was good, Munster was fine, and goats cheeses are excellent. The brown bread served with it had been cut into almost absurdly thin slices, and was none the better for it.
Desserts are the high point at the Waterside, and they did not disappoint tonight. Roasted wild cherries were served with a Kirsch sorbet on a biscuit tuile, and were superb (20/20). The only problem is the price (of course female diners aren’t allowed to see prices, and I must admit I came over all faint, so maybe this archaic practice has some logic). With a half bottle of white and a half bottle of red, one £20 and one £25, and a half bottle of Novembre dessert wine for £40, plus an orange juice and a glass of champagne (£14 together) just note the price. The drinks were £99 in all, not counting water, but the bill still came to £365 for two. Cheese alone was £15.50 each. Service was a little slipshod at times by these elevated standards e.g. we asked for some sparkling mineral water from the sommelier but he forgot, and we had to ask for the bill three times. Perhaps they were having trouble fitting it on to one sheet of paper.