The Waterside Inn
Tel. 01628 620691
Food type: French
Food rating: 8/10
Nearest tube: –
Website: The Waterside Inn
Sometime during the Autumn this year, I made a trip down to Waterside Inn, which is conveniently half an hour’s drive from my house in the leafy village of Surrey. As many are aware, Waterside Inn is one of only three restaurants in this country to hold the top accolade of three Michelin stars. As a quick reminder, here is how Michelin themselves describe a restaurant worthy of ‘trois etoille’.
“Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey. One always eats here extremely well, sometimes superbly. Fine wines, faultless service, elegant surroundings. One will pay accordingly!”
After the success of Le Gavroche in 1971, the Roux brothers decided to expand their business to the quiet little village of Bray, Berkshire. That was 1972 and a joint venture between Albert and Michel. Of course many years down the line, they would part ways with Albert in charge of Le Gavroche (later handing over reigns to his son Michel Roux Jnr.) whilst Michel Roux would stay at the Waterside Inn to later relinquish it to his son, Alain Roux. Unlike his cousin, Alain Roux has pretty much shunned the publicity of appearing on television and instead concentrated on events in the kitchen. Then again, he does have a brand new kitchen to play with these days.
Within two years of its opening, the Waterside Inn garnered its first Michelin star and a second followed three years later. The trifecta was completed in 1985 and they have since held on to the highest accolade ever since. It is actually around this time (1984 to be precise) that Alain Roux started as an apprentice, working in the pastry industry. He trained for two years at Pâtisserie Millet in Paris before moving to various Relais & Chateaux restaurants in France. He then returned to the Waterside in to work under his father in 1992. It was not until a decade later that Alain Roux was given full reign of the restaurant as chef-patron, taking full control of the kitchen.
The menu here is, how should I put it – ‘fully priced and spicy’. Courses are individually priced with only the host receiving the menu with prices on them. Starters are between £33 and £56, Mains between £52 and £66, Cheese is £25 and Puddings £29 – £38. A tasting menu (menu exceptionnel) is priced at £109.50 inclusive of tea or coffee and petit fours and probably is a steal compared to the ALC menu. There is also a cheaper lunch menu priced at £54 (£68.50 on Sundays) for 3 courses, inclusive of a glass of wine. At least the beautiful view from the dining room of the River Thames help ease some of the financial pain.
Parmesan sable, Goat’s Cheese Mousse; Tuna Tartar ‘Ceviche’, Cucumber; Coronation Chicken, Papadom; Watermelon ‘Gazpacho’, Melon
Nibbles are brought to the table as we indulge in a glass of champagne and watch the ducks swim along the river. A parmesan sable with goat’s cheese mousse was delightful with the sable having a light, crisp, airy texture and the tang of the parmesan soothed by the creaminess of the goat’s cheese. Tuna tartar ‘ceviche’ served in a cucumber cup had good texture, with the fish chopped up to just the right size. The chef’s take on coronation chicken featured a cube of chicken breast bound with a little curried mayonnaise on top of a papadom square. This had to be my favourite nibble, since coronation chicken is a particular favourite of mine. Last but not least was a watermelon gazpacho served in a shot glass. Overall, the nibbles were of very high quality and impressive. (9/10)
Les Pain – White and Wholemeal
Bread is a simple choice of white and wholemeal rolls, made in house but served at room temperature with generous lashings of flour. These were highly impressive with both rolls have excellent texture and just the right amount of salt. (8/10)
Émietté de Tourteau aux Effluves de Melon, Amandes Fraîches et Crevette Rose Marine
A starter of flaked Cornish crab with melons of various colours, almonds and a grilled prawn had high quality ingredients. The prawn was well timed and the combination of crab and melon was pleasant enough. However, as pleasant as this dish was, for me lacking that extra oomph that would distinguish this as a true 3* dish. Don’t get me wrong – I always feel that a plate of food should be judged in the context of where it is served and I would have been perfectly happy to eat this in say a One star restaurant, but in a 3* setting, this was underwhelming. (7/10)
Terrine de Foie Gras et Ses Suprêmes de Pigeonneau Parfumés au Poivre Noir Sarawak, Cerises en Pickles
More interesting was a foie gras terrine pressed with supremes of pigeon spiked with Sarawak black pepper. The liver itself was smooth and intense flavour, whilst the pigeons were delightfully pink. The addition of the Sarawak pepper gave the terrine plenty of interest as it provided just the right amount of bite with some acidity coming from the pickled cherries. On the side, was naturally a slice of toasted brioche – light as air. (8/10)
Tronçonnette de Homard Poêlée Minute au Porto Blanc
The fish course was a pan-fried lobster tail and claw with a white port sauce and julienne of carrots and white radish flavoured with ginger. I have absolutely adored the Asian inspired flavours from the sweet, sticky port reduction in combination with the ginger. However, the cooking of the lobster was itself far from ideal – a far cry from the perfectly timed lobster I have sampled at Schloss Berg, or even the Greenhouse. Sadly, the lobster here managed to fall in to the most basic of traps – overcooking it such that it was tough and chewy. (6/10, but only just)
Sorbet aux Pétales de Roses
As a quick refresher before the main course, a little rose petal sorbet topped with a single crystallized rose petal. This does what it is intended to do – to refresh the palate, with just the gentlest of perfume from the flower.
Aiguillettes de Caneton Challandais Rôti au Parfum de Citron et de Thyme
And then there was the main course. A roast Challans duck, carved very thinly at the tableside, pink and rare with sides of a duckling shaped puff pastry, filled with pureed carrots, mange tout, confit lemon, pommes mousseline flavoured with garlic and finished with a lemon and thyme jus. Now, duck is one of my favourites and I have had spectacular duck dishes, most notably the irresistible Canard a la presse at (the now closed) Ambassade de L’ile. Whilst I could not find fault with the dish, I could neither find anything memorable about it either. Yes the duck was cooked exactly the way I wanted it to be. The potato and garlic mousseline (that’s potato and garlic mash to commoners like you and me) was smooth and creamy. The jus was nicely balanced. But did this scream ‘best duck dish I have eaten?’ No. Not even close. (7/10)
At £25 a pop for a plate of cheese, the cheese trolley has to be one of the most expensive in England, even more expensive than the one at Sketch. The almost all French cheese board here was thankfully in stunning condition with every single cheese we tried near perfect. (9/10) You get a choice of either bread or some biscuits and I would whole heartedly suggest going for bread as the biscuits are clearly straight out of a packet!
L’Assiette des Trois Desserts
To finish, we had the chef’s selection of desserts. Described as a trio of desserts on the menu, they definitely did surprise us with an extra one on the plate. Of the lot, the best was a perfect pistachio crème brulee – unctuous, wobbly, almost runny and slipped down the palate with ease. This was easily the best crème brulee I have eaten, bar none. (10/10) Others were less interesting or should even dare say, successful with a lychee parfait with raspberry and raspberry coulis for example less than perfect (sorry for the pun). (8/10 overall)
Cafe et Petit Fours
Filled and to the brim, we retreated to the river bank to enjoy some coffee and nibble on our petit fours – a wide variety of tarts, chocolates, canellas and the usual suspects of French treats. (8/10)
Service was excellent although not perfectly polished. For example, despite not being able to finish our bottle of wine, we were asked multiple times (by different waiters) whether we would like any wine to accompany our cheese or desserts. Nevertheless, it is hard to fault anything else, with things running smoothly and with pin point precision.
So it really comes down to the food. If you were to go by the criteria Michelin has used to define a 3* restaurant, then the Waterside Inn is a deserved recipient. However if I were to judge it on a dish by dish basis, then this falls a fair way short of what I expect from a 3* restaurant. If you have managed to stay awake and read this review in its entirety, you don’t need me to repeat my sentiments about the cooking – good, pleasant but never eye-popping. What baffles me is not that the Waterside Inn has 3*’s (if the cooking here is the standard that Michelin has deemed worthy of its highest accolade) but that other restaurants in London such as the Square and particularly Le Gavroche are ‘only’ stuck at 2. Did I enjoy my visit here? All I can say is – Thank God the view here is beautiful.
Pros: Beautiful view. Magnificent wine list. Polished service. Excellent Desserts
Cons: Good, if forgettable savouries. The price, especially the ALC menu.