The Waterside Inn

The Waterside Inn, Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire

On the banks of the River Thames, in sleepy Berkshire, you’ll find the home of culinary perfection.

Raymond Blanc likes to tell a story about how his daughter once fell off the little jetty at the front of The Waterside Inn and, before anyone else had time to react, Diego Masciaga was in the water returning the French chef’s offspring to safety. All in a day’s work for the gregarious Italian, the restaurant’s general manager, and just another example of a place that goes the extra mile, or 10, for its customers. Masciaga’s mastery of the front of house is the stuff of legend and given his time in Bray (27 years), he has a story or two to tell. Forty years and three Michelin stars since Michel and Albert Roux opened their countryside sister to Le Gavroche, The Waterside Inn continues to be the benchmark for British dining. After opening in 1972, it gained its first star in 1974, the second in 1977 and third in 1985 which, incredibly, it has never lost.

Then there’s the Roux legacy that goes with it, first it was Michel and Albert, then it became just Michel in 1986 when the brothers split their empire. In 2002, after 10 years of working in his father’s kitchen, Alain was handed the reigns. Roux Snr still keeps a check on things – he is still the owner after all – and his mark is still on the menu with his famed love of sweet, rich sauces gracing some of the more classic dishes, evidence of his humble beginnings as a pastry chef. To leave even a trace of the sweet white port sauce served with lobster medallions and ginger vegetable julienne would be criminal.

Likewise, the Armagnac sauce that accompanies rabbit fillets, celeriac fondant and glazed chestnuts. Alain’s lighter touch balances out the menu. Every dish brings together just the right amount of flavours; it’s both an art and a science. Halibut poached in seawater (and then steamed, to keep it incredibly delicate), coated with oscietra (caviar) and sea urchin sauce, simply melts in your mouth. The parmesan cream with truffle and pink fir apple potato, served with an almond pastry straw, is another wonderful flavour-balancing act.

Without wanting to list every dish, rest assured, I doubt anything that comes from Roux’s kitchen, serviced by 26 staff, could disappoint. While the front-of-house team is far from small, you only notice them when you drag your eyes from your plate, which is a rarity. And then we have Masciaga: his effortless charm with clientele has to be worth a star or two.

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