Friday, 12 August 2011

Lunch at The Waterside Inn

Once a year Liz and I treat ourselves to a very high quality (i.e. Michelin-starred) lunch out. Usually this is just after my birthday and my part is funded by the cheque my dad always gives me. But of course my dad passed away earlier this year and so I have been squirreling money away for this very special treat since then.

The Waterside Inn in Bray is very posh indeed. It is in a posh village (also home to Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck), it is in a posh part of the country (just to the west of Windsor) and it sits on a posh part of the River Thames. Last year the restaurant celebrated 25 years of holding 3 Michelin stars. Previously Liz and I had only eaten at a 2 star establishment, Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, so we were expecting great things. And by and large we got them.

You drive down a narrow village lane and The Waterside Inn is at the end (as is a slipway leading into the river). You are waylaid by the restaurant's valet who parks your car for you. This is a first for me and certainly for my beaten-up old Honda. A friend had reminded me that he would need tipping on car collection but as he had only in fact reversed it into a space 5 metres away I felt that was a bit OTT. I was left wondering if he thought I might have gone down the slipway . . .

On entering the building I was greeted by a fairly frosty French receptionist who informed me that they would not be open for 4 minutes and would I like to wait over there (pointing at a couple of generously sized sofas). Liz was making her own way so this was fine by me. At that moment Alain Roux the head chef (and son of the great Michel) walked through in his chef's whites so I knew we were in good hands.

Liz arrived and we were ushered through the restaurant and out of the large glass doors onto the riverside terrace for our aperitifs. As it was such a lovely day we really reaped the benefit of the splendid views.

If you are feeling very flush you can book their boat (for £65 per half hour!) and take your drinks and canapés off for a little river trip. Sadly another party beat us to it. maybe next time (when I've won the lottery)!

Ah yes. The canapés. Absolutely gorgeous. I particularly enjoyed the carrot, ginger and vodka shot, and the little round one which was foie gras with something. You will have to forgive the fact that I had nothing to write on and forgot to get a copy of the menu on my way out so details of some of what we ate are a bit sketchy!

The restaurant itself is a bit tardis like, much larger inside than it looks. The clever use of mirrored panels all around the room also means you get to see everything that is going on, great for nosey people like me! We chose the 3 course Menu Gastronomique (basically the set lunch) at £68 for three courses. The other diners all appeared to be doing the same but this was hardly a surprise. We also noticed that all customers were drinking wine by the glass. Having seen the prices on the Wine List this was no surprise either. We both chose the smoked eel/celeriac/crispy egg as a starter. It was a very good combination indeed although the egg was a bit bland. Liz doesn't do eggs but I didn't feel inclined to help her out. The alternative was a creamy corn and prawn soup. The lady on the next table had that. It was decorated with popcorn. I am underwhelmed by great restaurants serving popcorn! Le Manoir used it last time I dined there.

It is now that I should mention the absolutely fantastic service. There were so many waiters running around that they reminded me of the penguins in Mary Poppins. But the service was faultless, friendly and they were all very French. They were charming to talk to as well. It was a bit like being pampered by a lot of lovely young men. Really top drawer. (And the waitresses were very sweet too).

I cannot remember all of the ingredients in our mains. Suffice to say that Liz had Red mullet and squid on a kind of potato wafer and I had roast rump of beef on spinach in a really rich jus serve with timbales of pearl barley which tasted nicer than they sound. It was topped with a lovely splodge of bone marrow, one of my very favourite things. Both mains were exemplary.

By now we were filling very replete but truly the best was yet to come. I think my dessert was probably the best dessert I have ever tasted anywhere. It's right up there certainly.

So we have a pistachio mousse with strawberries served on shortbread, strawberry sorbet and the best pannacotta ever which was enriched by having a trifley bottom. Just looking at the photo again makes me drool. Liz went for a passion fruit/mango sorbet/chocolate dessert concoction and pronounced it very rich but delicious.

 We were then escorted back outside to the river by yet another gorgeous boy where we enjoyed coffee (decaff of course) and wonderful little sweet treats. We must have sat there watching the world go by for a good hour. Really lovely.

 It was, as they say, A Grand Day Out. VAT and Service are all included and the bill, which boasted a large G&T and 2 glasses of wine, was £149. For a special occasion I don't think it can be beaten. Except by Le Manoir maybe.

We think next year's outing will be to Le Gavroche, if we can get a table.

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