Its picture-book riverbank location may look and feel as English as The Wind in the Willows, but everything else at The Waterside Inn – the UK’s longest-serving Michelin three star – speaks of top-end French gastronomy with a real sense of occasion. It is the culinary equivalent of haute couture, a restaurant that “sets the standard by which all are measured”.
It’s all about silky sophistication and Gallic polish here, from the sumptuous furnishings (comfortable rather than fashionable) and punctilious professionalism of the “relaxed yet sophisticated” staff to the intricacies of the “exquisite” cooking.
Founded by brothers Albert and Michel Roux in 1972, Michel handed the kitchen over to his son Alain in 2002. Expect a cavalcade of culinary masterstrokes with that unmistakable Roux thumbprint: teasing amuse-bouches such as venison tartare on potato and whipped goats’ cheese; flaked Devon crab with ginger-scented cucumber jelly and oscietra caviar; fillet of turbot roasted in nut-brown butter with root vegetables, morels and vin jaune sauce; grilled pigeon breasts and crispy leg served with sweet pepper pipérade, potato terrine and ‘devil sauce’.
First-timers, meanwhile, should order the signature dish of spit-roasted Challandais duck for two to share, the thin slices of spiced and honeyed meat falling on to the plate like the autumn leaves that make this such a spectacular venue in autumn.
After that, a cleansing granita sets things up for some truly astonishing showpiece desserts – perhaps chocolate cannelé with hazelnut praline and lime, or a Roux speciality soufflé. “Everything par excellence”, drools an admirer.
The wine list delves deep into the archives of French oenology and prices are scary, but “spend without regret,” advise fans – the sheer joy of dining at this serene stronghold of subtly reinvented haute cuisine is unsurpassed (how many out-of-London restaurants play to full houses every lunchtime?).
“It’s hard to find a poor place to eat in Bray, but every visit feels incredibly special”, quips one admirer – not least if you come in summer and you’re lucky enough to get an outside table right by the river. All in all, The Waterside Inn is “superb in every respect”.