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.