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|Address:||Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AT|
|Tel:||01628 620 691|
|Price: £83.00||Wine: £30.00||Champagne: £65.00|
|Opening Hours:||Wed-Sat 12N-2pm 7-10pm Sun 12N-2.30pm|
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We are off to the Waterside Inn at Bray and thank God for satellite navigation systems. You punch in a postcode and hey presto, it guides you to your destination without any fuss or blazing rows over some inadequate map reading and it even bleeps a warning system if you come near one of those nasty speed cameras. However, following my experience in high end dining, I have an idea for satellite systems! They should also contain a new warning system, one that warns against pending enormous expense. Maybe instead of the voice announcing, "turn around where possible , it should say Bleep, Bleep “Unless you are travelling with your bank manager turn around bloody quick!”
Bray itself has been called a foodie heaven whereas others say this sleepy village has the ability to break any man or women financially in a matter of hours. Maybe the local Bray Village Council should erect a sign, which instead of suggesting you slow down and abide the 30mph speed limit, should state “Beware – Serious risk of poverty”.
We have been told the 3 star Waterside Inn now open for an impressive 40 years is expensive so our little piggy banks lay in pieces on the floor at home and we come with bulging wallets. The satnav leads us down a pretty lane with picture card cottages and at the end of the lane, we find a charming looking restaurant full of character and sitting right by the river. We are welcomed by the smart and friendly doorman and met with a smile from Maître Diego Masciaga whose genuine charm will warm any diner. He offers his hand to welcome us and we offer ours back, but still clinging with the other to our wallets like two school children gripping their mothers hands on the first day of school. We know we will have to surrender them up at some point, but for the moment we are still flush.
The weather is fine so we are led onto the terrace where we enjoy two glasses of very expensive Champagne before dinner and admire the passing boats with their well-heeled occupants who all seem to know the staff and wave and shout various greetings. We love this perfect setting which reminds us of a Miss Marple murder mystery film set and how very English it feels. Those in the know, organise a short trip along the river on the restaurant's own boat and enjoy their champagne chugging along the water. We are given our own tray of exquisite and very tasty hors d oeuvres and settle down to watch the smartly dressed diners as they arrive, many it seems are on first names terms with the staff and some looking like film stars themselves, but I am pleased there is no stuffiness here which is all too common in some fine dining restaurants. Again, credit to Diego as I fear without him, things could take a more serious note. In fact the whole process of arriving, taking pre dinner drinks on the terrace and siting for dinner is extremely well practiced and works like clockwork. Staff and there are many, are just a tiny bit too attentive and as there are so many, you struggle to get any relationship going with anyone in particular. We did feel our wine waiter was a nudge away from being too pushy with the 1000 odd wines this restaurant stocks and was intent on making sure we finished our bottle of Sancerre before our mains arrived, so he could then offer some suggestions on a red wine. If we come again, we would be ready to nudge him away and nip that in the bud immediately.
So after a scan of the delightful menu, we both opt for the tasting menu aptly named “Le menu exceptionnel”. Needless to say, the food is quiet exceptional and my hand picked Devon crab with a marinated prawn, melon and fresh almonds is a real stand out dish. Service was slightly rushed to begin with and a request to the waiter that we wanted to be given 15 minutes before our mains led to a raised eyebrow and “I will have to check with the chef” comment. We were given a 15 minute break, so thank you and I guess my slightly over duck was a consequence of this request. The food served here is very French and traditional in presentation, although I convinced that with Alain Roux's ability he could adopt more modern approach if he wished to. I personally now favour more lighter dishes then I did some years ago and many younger diners are finding their love of food from a city awash with establishments that serve food in tapas and sushi size portions. The foie gras with chicken breast was lovely, but uninspiring for me and just lacked something vibrant and with more texture than the crisp vegetable salad served with it. Again with my duck breast, I felt it just needed a lighter touch and fresher presentation. With the word French in mind, the dishes are what you expect and who am I to comment otherwise, but I would like to see some of these dishes given a modern touch. I am sure their loyal customers would be happy to give some feedback and this may help in the transition which is no doubt enviable at some stage.
We finish our coffees with treats back on the terrace and reflect on the evening. This is truly one of the best restaurants this Country has, not because of the great food, but the whole ambience and character of the place leaves you feeling very content. We look at each other and both say “We have reached our destination!”
We head outside clutching our wallets. They are now empty, limp, skinny affairs and I am hope the few coins remaining will be enough for the bus fare home, but for the moment, who cares!
Le restaurant exceptionnel!