[Bray, Berkshire] Waterside Inn
Our previous time in Bray was to celebrate our last big occasion (my 60th birthday), when we had dinner at the Fat Duck. We promised ourselves a return to eat at the Waterside for the next big occasion. Incredible to think that 50% of the country's 38 restaurants are in this tiny village.
It was a rare lovely summer’s evening and we were invited to take our aperitifs on the terrace. The Waterside is appropriately named – literally one false step and you’d be in the Thames. By the time we had made our way through the restaurant to the terrace, we must have been greeted by a dozen members of staff wishing us “good evening” or “bon appétit”. Drinks came with some excellent canapés – cured fish with pea puree and tartare sauce; a disc of steak tartare on a game chip, topped with half a quail’s egg and a perfectly made mild goats cheese gougere.
Once at our table, excellent bread was offered and continued to be offered throughout the meal, until dessert. The amuse quickly followed - marinated salmon, rolled in what I think was finely chopped watercress and dill, a little horseradish cream, lightly dressed frisee and a tiny grissini. Classic flavours, really well done.
It’d taken us a while to decide what we wanted to eat – should it be the main carte or should be go with the six course set “menu exceptionnel”. It was almost a coin toss-up but we went with the menu in the end.
First up, flakes of white crab meat (hopefully they find a use for the brown meat), with tiny balls of melon. It doesn’t sound as though it should really work but it really did. What was obviously going to work was the scattering of almonds which provided some interesting crunch. And a marinated king prawn was a delight.
Neither of us are big fans of foie gras – the food ethics get in the way of enjoyment usually. But this was excellent – a slice of terrine in which chicken breast had been encased by the foie. Very clever and very delicious. Offsetting the richness of the terrine was a little salad of vegetables with a sharp dressing and a lovely brioche.
A single scallop came next. Cooked perfectly to the “almost dissolves in your mouth” stage. There was a little celery puree and a tamarind sauce, the latter just giving a hint of sharpness which contrasted with a foam that (on checking the menu) I see was described as a “coconut emulsion”. The intriguing bit here was the slices of grilled octopus – slightly “al dente” providing a good texture contrast.
At this point, there is choice between duck and lamb and we both opted for lamb. It’s a roasted loin, stuffed with aubergine and pine nuts. Needless to say, as this is a French restaurant, their concept of “rare” means “very rare”. Not impossibly so, and not raw, but you wouldn’t want it any rarer. It does mean that the fat is not so pleasant to eat but cut it away and you have a delicious piece of meat. Alongside, more aubergine in what the menu describes as a “gateau of moussaka”. Certainly the flavours were what you might expect.
Pre-dessert was a rose petal sorbet – light, a bit floral, a bit sweet, topped with a candied rose petal – it did everything you want a palate cleansing sorbet to do.
Dessert Number 1 was an apricot mousse topping a shortbread biscuit, alongside an apricot sorbet. And, I’m sure I tasted passion fruit in there as well. It was delicious. Second up, a raspberry soufflé was one the best desserts I can recall. Ever. Needless to say, this had risen perfectly, tasted perfect and had loads of raspberry puree inside. It is the one regret I had about not going for the main carte – you could see that those who had ordered from it got a bigger soufflé!.
Coffee came with a wonderful selection of petit fours – a real tribute to the craft skills of the pastry chef.
Almost needless to say, service from the almost exclusively French staff had been immaculate. They, like the folk in the kitchen, had not put a step wrong all evening. It’s very much a team effort and there must have been seven or eight different members of staff who attended our table during the evening. And, as such, it was good to see that service is included in the menu price – just as it would be in France – and not as an add-on charge. We were very pleased to give our thanks for the meal, direct to Alain Roux, when he toured the dining room towards the end of service. It really had been an excellent evening – and, yes, we count ourselves very fortunate to be able to afford experiences like this.
I may not have explained myself properly.
There was no service charge added, nor was there any expectation that there would be a tip. Service was entirely included in the menu price of the food as it would be in France and nothing further was expected. There was a similar very welcome situation at Le Manoir.
I understood what you meant, but it seems to me that, as in France, if there is no specific thing on the bill that says prix compris (whatever %), the service is really added on to the price of the food by the management. Most people I know still leave a small tip in France and they round up the price in the UK and do leave a small something.
Service included doesn't mean one has to leave nothing - it's an individual decision by the patron.
What do others do... I'd love to know.
It's a long time since I've seen "service included" like this in the UK - we used to have a place near us that declined tips. In France or the French speaking part of Belgium, where I might be paying in cash, I'd do the rounding up. Similarly, in Spain, I'd be leaving a few coins.
But, in the UK, there's an increasing number of places adding a service charge (seemingly 12.5% in the south east, 10% in the rest of the country, generally speaking). I much prefer that to traditional tipping (usually at 10% or less) - and I suspect serving staff do as well as traditional tipping is certainly in decline in the UK across a range of industries. Of course, that's not even getting into pub eating where, like the Waterside, you might not be expected to tip at all - depending on how much pub or restaurant it actually seems. Strikes me as funny that at opposite ends of the eating spectrum, tipping expectations are the same.
I'm not entirely sure service is the issue here. Whether you add 12-15% on, even if it's done automatically, what people seem to forget, or get blinkered about is these UK restaurants source the same ingredients as their peers in France, yet charge 50-75% of the price.
The Waterside and Fat Duck, whatever you think of their styles of food, also have some of the highest levels of staffing in the UK, equivalent to that of their over-the-channel peers. We actually should be thankful that all our UK 3-stars haven't yet caught up with their European cousins. Consequently, I think the service is actually relatively trivial in context.
And here's another, almost all 3 stars in France charge you for one bottle of water and gratis the rest. No so here. If you're a table of 4 you can therefore drink you're difference in service charge.
The bottom line is just pay close attention to all the possibilities, but ultimately thank your stars about the kinder UK price points.
Since the Waterside Inn was mentioned on another recent post I thought I would share my experiences from a visit there a couple of weeks ago.
Extended review with photos available at:
Unlike the Fat Duck, five minutes’ walk down the road, The Waterside Inn is on the banks of the Thames (hence the name) and has very pleasant surroundings. There is plenty of room to sit on tables outside the front of the restaurant, next to the river and on a summer’s evening this is a fantastic place to be. There is also a bar and plenty of other seating inside if the weather is not so good. The main dining room has large windows overlooking the terrace and river and the tables are reasonably well-spaced apart.
Several canapés were served with drinks before the meal; these were an olive twist, scallop tarter on lettuce leaves and cheese rice balls with paté. An amuse bouche of mousse with red currant jelly with a pancetta wrapped breadstick was also served at the table after we had ordered. All of these were very good if not particularly noteworthy.
The tasting menu is perhaps like many restaurants with similar prestige the best value here, at £152 (although coffee is included!) is far from cheap (see my rant on prices here) but taking three choices from the a la carte is not far from this and at least with the tasting menu you get seven courses. On this occasion we were not up for the tasting menu so opted to go a la carte, the problem this creates is that you actually have to choose your food, and with that menu this proved difficult! There ended up being some tactical ordering between partners so we could all try multiple things we fancied.
The food here could be described for the most part as classic French cooking, sometimes with a modern twist. A starter of flaked Devon crab with sweet piquillo peppers and spicy guacamole, puff pastry tomato bread was superb. It was a really nice dish to eat on a summer’s evening, the crab was excellent quality and the pepper and guacamole complemented it with fresh flavours but in no way overwhelmed it. The puff pastry tomato bread wasn’t really needed but was nice on its own anyway. Lobster salad with citrus jelly and raspberry vinaigrette was very nice, containing a lot of very large chunks of lobster and the slightly sharp but fruity dressing worked, perhaps surprisingly, well with it. Pan fried scallops and octopus slices with coriander, served on a bed of celery puree, coconut emulsion and tamarind sauce was again excellent, this contained some of the biggest scallops I have had in the UK for a while.
Pan fried fillet of halibut and langoustine tails, agnolotti filled with minted peas, grapefruit juice emulsion was very good. The fish was perfectly cooked and the langoustine tails were superb; however, I found the accompanying sauce to be a little rich although to be fair this was cut slightly by the grapefruit flavours. Again pan fried red mullet served on a medley of vegetables and green pawpaw, tomato fondue with seafood and anchoyade sauce with a great fish dish. The red mullet was perfect and the overall plate of food came together very well. Roasted loin of venison in a pastry crust with wild mushrooms, garnished with florets of broccoli, Hermitage wine sauce with blackcurrant vinegar contained perfectly cooked medium-rare version in crisp pastry. This was basically an exquisite venison wellington, all the layers were perfect and the dish came together nicely, the sour fruit sauce helping balance some of the richness.
One slightly disappointing point was that there was no pre-dessert, although this was not actually expected it is pretty common at similar restaurants. The actual desserts were very good quality, a raspberry soufflé was perfectly made and a well-balanced raspberry sauce was poured into it. A selection of six desserts contained two mini versions of two of the desserts on the menu plus an ice cream, crème brulee, jelly and mousse. All of these were great and the selection was a good way to taste a variety of these creations. Petit fours were also very tasty, a selection of at least 8 to10 were brought to the table including madeleines, macarons, chocolate truffles and jellies.
The wine list here is exclusively French and a lot of the bottles are quite expensive- there is little below the £70 level, we had a very good white burgundy and left bank red, these were expensive but the mark-up was probably just towards the top of the normal London range. The service throughout was excellent, very professional but while remaining very friendly and welcoming.
Overall I have to say that I think the food here is not quite at the three Michelin star level, this was definitely not up to several meals in France this year and was surpassed IMO by at least one meal at a two star place in the UK. However, this is not the whole story with the Waterside Inn. Although usually in my reviews I am primarily concerned about the food in this case the overall package of location, atmosphere, service and food made for a terrific visit. I would say that this restaurant is well worth the, very expensive, bill and well worth another visit.