Thursday, February 16, 2012

Waterside Inn Bray

Once upon a time two brothers Albert and Michel Roux, sons of a charcutier, moved to the UK to start their careers as chefs. They worked as chefs with several very rich, powerful and famous employers and earned a formidable reputation. Then, in 1967, they started their first restaurant Le Gavroche, which continues to thrive to this day. Albert and Michel Roux have been acknowledged as the godfathers of the British food industry. “They were the Beatles of gastronomy,” says Heston Blumenthal, one of many devotees, “they changed everything.” Virtually every top British chef has been thru their kitchens from Pierre Koffmann to Marco Pierre White to Gordon Ramsay to Marcus Waering.

In the mid 80s the two brothers amicably split their restaurant businesses. Albert Roux took over Le Gavroche and Michel Roux took over Waterside Inn at Bray a village outside London. Soon, Albert’s son Michel Roux Jr took over the kitchens at Le Gavroche and Michel Senior’s son, Alain Roux, took the reins of Waterside Inn. Le Gavroche has had two Michelin stars for several years. Waterside Inn has just celebrated 25 years of holding 3 Michelin stars. No restaurant outside France has held 3 stars for such a long time. To celebrate 25 years of 3 stars Waterside Inn invited every chef in the UK who holds a Michelin star (even if it's only, you know, just one) which meant 140 invitations to dinner. Amazingly, 116 chefs abandoned their kitchen responsibilities for a night at Bray. Such is their influence.

The jetty at Waterside Inn

Le Gavroche is my favourite restaurant in the whole world. It an absolute all rounder. Service, ambience food and overall experience make every visit here a pleasure. Waterside Inn, as the name suggests, is situated along the river. We have been here for lunch and were absolutely charmed. This is visit 2. The location is stunningly beautiful and during the summer it’s truly magical. To get there from Central London you get on a train for a 23 mile [37 km] or 40 minute journey. In Mumbai that would be about as long as a Churchgate-Andheri run on an Andheri slow!

The village of Bray where the Inn is located is in a very rich area of the UK. Less than 100 meters away from the Waterside Inn is the famous Fat Duck. A short distance away is Royal Oak a pub with a single star. The Waterside Inn and Fat Duck could not be more contrasting. Fat Duck is owned by a self taught first generation chef Heston Blumenthal whose food is modern molecular gastronomy, all foams, jellies, Nitrogen and modified textures. Waterside Inn is modernised classical French food by a 2nd generation chef.

The Fat Duck

When we arrived, we were escorted to our room. Admittedly we had booked a standard room and not one of the deluxe cottages, but, I must say that the room was relatively uninspiring. The Waterside Inn describes itself as a restaurant with rooms, thus it could be said that rooms are not its focus. To take full advantage of a great dinner; we had booked a room for the night. We had decided to leave the next day after breakfast. The Raymond Blanc Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons is similar, in as much as it has rooms and a very good restaurant. The difference being that the Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons is a hotel with a restaurant, so the rooms are far better, and far more expensive.

We had a 7.45 dinner reservation, so we went down to the lounge for a pre dinner drink. Our package included a ½ bottle of Moet Chandon Champagne which we happily drank. We got 3 canapés with our drink. A fabulous Beef Tartare garnished with a Quail Egg, Cheese Straws with Anchovy and a superb Lobster Salad. Unfortunately no photo. Soon we were escorted to the main dining room where we were to have the Menu Exceptionnel, a 6 course meal. We asked for a bottle of the delightful light red wine, Marsanny 2006, strongly recommended by the Sommelier and got ready to be charmed. The dining room itself was quite full and of course we were the only brown skins present. The tables were placed quite far apart, so that privacy is sort of maintained.

As soon as we were seated a small stool was brought so that HRH the Queen of Kutch could place her purse on it. The crockery was all custom designed Wedgewood, the cutlery was all Christofle silver and the glasses Riedel. Have a look at the salt cellar, probably Baccarat crystal with a mother of pearl spoon. The costs of all this coupled with the heavy table linen must be mind boggling. Inventory control a nightmare and pilfering, probably a regular occurrence.

The crystal salt cellar

Dining at such a restaurant means that food is served at all the guests on the table at the same time. All empty plates are picked up at the same time. All the plates are set down facing the same way. Of course, you must understand that all plates are plated in the kitchen in the same way. What this means is that if the plate has a logo, that logo will be at the top of the plate and the food plated accordingly. So when it’s served to you both plates will have a logo on the top and the food will look exactly the same. Think about the effort that goes into this sort of choreography.

Then started the food. First up was an amuse bouche of Pumpkin Soup with Duck Confit and Parsley Puree with, I think some Nigella Seeds [Kallonji]. It was hot, correctly seasoned and just the right consistency.

Pumpkin Soup

Next up was the first starter, Smooth Parmesan Cream with Truffle and Pink Fir Apple Potato, served with an Almond Pastry Straw. Work of art, to say the least. This was a cold dish. The Parmesan Cream was so flavourful and the Truffles that you see paired so beautifully, that I was almost reduced to tears. A heavenly dish. Do have a look at the work and skill in making the Almond Pastry Straw, the placing of the Almond flakes and even cutting.

Smooth Parmesan Cream with Truffle and Pink Fir Apple Potato, served with an Almond Pastry Straw 

Following the cold starter was a hot one. One of my favourite luxury ingredients - Foie Gras. This was warm escalopes of Foie Gras with Cardamom, glazed root vegetables, Verjuice and Sultanas Sauce. Brilliant! I could not taste the Cardamom powder but all in all a great dish. The cylinder of beetroot that you see in the centre was itself so delicious that I could have eaten a plateful of just that. At this point the waiter asked how I liked the dish, to which my reply was, the empty plate should be your answer.

Foie Gras with Cardamom, glazed root vegetables, Verjuice and Sultanas Sauce 

Now it was time for the fish course. It was to be Pan-fried Lobster Medallions with a White Port Sauce and Ginger flavoured vegetable julienne. Very attractive dish. This dish is very highly rated by other food bloggers, however, I confess that it suffered from two faults. One was that the Lobster was a tad overcooked so had become rubbery. The second was that the Ginger gave the dish spice, which I am sure was supplemented by some additional spice, so for me the dish tasted like an Indian mild masala Lobster. Neither HRH the Queen of Kutch nor I liked this too much.  

Pan-fried Lobster Medallions with a White Port Sauce and Ginger flavoured vegetable julienne 

Now we had the meat course. The duo of seasonal game [which was Rabbit and Venison] with a Pumpkin Subric, parcel of Wild Mushrooms and Spinach, Poivrade Sauce was a combination of contrasts. With the Rabbit it seemed that forcemeat had been prepared to surround a loin so you had contrasting mouth feel. The Pumpkin Subric was delicious. I have tried to look up what the word Subric means, but not much light on this. It seems its Béchamel based vegetable which is then cooked in a mould. The other dish on offer for the meat course was Roasted Challandais duck, served with stuffed Cabbage leaves and a lightly spiced Damson Jus. We decided to have both so we could taste the two dishes. The Duck was rather good and the stuffed Cabbage was delicious. Both good dishes. As the dishes were being cleared away, the waiter, different from the one who I spoke to earlier, said, that the empty plates show how much you liked the food. I was stunned, why did he say this? Obviously, the waiters had great communication.

Duo of seasonal game with a Pumpkin Subric, parcel of Wild Mushrooms and Spinach, Poivrade Sauce

Roasted Challandais duck, served with stuffed Cabbage leaves and a lightly spiced Damson Jus 

After the meat course, we had a small break. We were offered a Lime and Vodka Sorbet which was good. Then Chef Alain Roux came across to meet us. What a nice man. He happily posed for photographs and readily autographed HRH the Queen of Kutch’s menu.

Lime and Vodka Sorbet 

Now onto our deserts. First up was Teardrop of Milk Chocolate Mousse flavoured with Caramel, Mango and Passion fruit filling, Mango sorbet. A work of great skill. The chocolate was wafer thin and moulded with great precision. The Mango was really good, almost as good as our Alphonso, and the Chocolate mousse had a section of caramel inside, which you can see in the photo of the half eaten teardrop. A great desert.

Teardrop of Milk Chocolate Mousse flavoured with Caramel, Mango and Passion fruit filling, Mango sorbet 

Last up was a warm Orange Soufflé with Cranberry. A well made soufflé. Evenly risen, evenly coloured and cooked thru. A display of good cooking skills. Not a terribly complicated desert but well done.

Orange Soufflé with Cranberry

Just in case we were still not full, they brought us a tray of Petit Fours. The skill and dedication of the Pastry Chef was evident. But we could not possibly eat all this. After a Brandy and Calvados we waddled upstairs to sleep.

The next morning we were served breakfast in our room. A continental breakfast with a fabulous vennoiserie selection including flaky Pain a Chocolats, an even more flaky and buttery Croissant and a luscious Brioche. This was washed down with Coffee and Grapefruit juice. A breakfast of champions if you ask me.

The breakfast tray

The delicious breads

Napkin folding champion

That brought to an end a wonderful experience. How would this compare with our stay at Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons? The food and service here was better, much better. After all its a restaurant with rooms. Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons is a hotel with a restaurant.     

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