When Heston blumenthal, Raymond Blanc, Angela Hartnett, and dozens of other top chefs come to dinner, what do you cook? How about the turbot in chicken crust with sage, or the scallops with peanut sauce – or the snail flan?
If you are celebrating running the most successful restaurant in British history and serving the country's best chefs, there is no need to choose. Last night, Michel and Alain Roux served 25 dishes – including the three above – along with some of the finest champagne and claret in the world at the most extraordinary culinary gathering witnessed in a British restaurant.
The occasion was the family's 25th successive annual award of three Michelin stars to the Waterside Inn, the £150-a-head restaurant in the Thames-side village of Bray in Berkshire, which has maintained the highest standard of traditional haute cuisine for decades.
Winning a Michelin star is an accolade for which many chefs sweat in vain; Britain has only four three-star establishments. So when the Rouxs, father and son, came to wonder how they would celebrate 25 years at the top, they hit upon a twist to the usual practice of inviting the owners of the world's other three-star Michelin restaurants to a banquet. Instead, they invited the 140 UK chefs in possession of a Michelin star.
"We invited them all," recalled Michel Roux, 69, whose son Alain runs the restaurant day-to-day. "We were surprised. I was expecting about 60 or 70 or 80 of them to say yes, because not everyone can take a day off from the kitchens, but we have 116 of them, which is a huge compliment."
He went on: "I wanted to share it with the one, two and three-star chefs from the UK and not the three-star club from all over the world. There will be a lot of people with one star who are 25 to 35 years old – and they are the future of the UK."
On the guest list were some of the best known faces in British cooking, among them six who have recently had their own TV series – Blumenthal, who runs the neighbouring Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, fellow Frenchman Blanc, Hartnett, Tom Aikens, Marcus Wareing and John Burton Race.
Gordon Ramsay, who recounted his early days under the strict regime run by Michel's brother Albert Roux in his autobiography, sent his head chef Clare Smyth in his place. Other Roux proteges, including Pierre Koffman and Andrew Fairlie, who went on to run their own multi-Michelin starred establishments, were only too pleased to accept. Jean-Luc Naret, head of the global Michelin organisation, Gary Rhodes and the wine writer Jancis Robinson were among other guests.
On the menu was "myriade de canapes", followed by 25 courses – one for each year of the brothers' gastronomic excellence. 1985 was represented by Flan d'escargots en habit vert (snail flan with a green sauce) and 1995 by Canard aux clous de girofle et au miel (duck with wild mushrooms and honey.) This year was Terrine de foie gras et pintadeau truffé (foie gras terrine and truffled guinea fowl).
The classic French influence, heavy on sauces and seafood, was unsurprising given the Roux's roots at Le Gavroche in London, the two-star place now run by Michel Roux Junior, the son of Michel's brother Albert.
Courtesy of the Waterside Inn's suppliers, the wine list started with vintage champagne and became progressively heavier with white burgundy, red burgundies, clarets and a sauterne dessert wine, a 1986 Château d'Yquem. Twenty-four chefs prepared the food in the kitchen, which was open to inspection by the guests.
When asked what changes he had witnessed in British dining over the past 25 years, Mr Roux said: "It's not a change – it's a revolution. The young British chefs love cooking now. Before they were looking at cooking as a job for people who were thick or stupid.
"But it takes two to tango: now the public likes great food too. The public has found out that British food is a great thing. All that has happened in the past 30 years. Forty years ago it was the dark ages. You would not have found a person talking about food."
"It's a way of life," he added, explaining how he had kept three stars for so long. "I like things to be done well, very well. I'm a great believer that it doesn't take much longer to do something well than poorly – and it gives much greater satisfaction."
Who's invited: Chefs on the Roux brothers' guest list
The Harwood Arms, Stephen Williams
The Walnut Tree Inn, Shaun Hill
Summer Isles, Chris Firth-Bernard
The Cliff House Hotel, Martijn Kajuiter
The Latymer (Penny Hill Park), Michael Wignall
Deanes, Michael Deane
Zafferano, Enzo Cassini (manager)
Nahm, Matthew Albert
The Pipe & Glass Inn, James Mackenzie
The West House, Graham Garrett
Fraiche, Marc Wilkinson
Simpsons, Andreas Antona
Turner's, Richard Turner
Burlington Restaurant (The Devonshire Arms, Bolton Abbey), Steve Smith
Lords of the Manor, Matt Wheedon
The Royal Oak, Dominic Chapman
Casamia Peter & Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias The Goose, Ryan Simpson
The Terrace (The Montagu Arms Hotel), Matt Tomkinson
Chapter One (Bromley), Andre McLeish
Tom Aikens, Tom Aikens
West Stoke House, Darren Brown
The Park (Lucknam), Hywel Jones
The Bybrook (The Manor House Hotel & Golf Club), Richard Davies
Rhodes Twenty Four, Adam Gray
Club Gascon, Pascal Aussignac
Tyddyn Llan, Bryan Webb
Apicus, Tim Johnson
Ockenden Manor, Stephen Crane
The New Angel, John Burton-Race
Sienna, Russell Brown
Thornton's, Kevin Thornton
Chapter One (Dublin), Ross Lewis
Martin Wishart, Martin Wishart
Plumed Horse, Tony Borthwick
36 on the Quay, Ramon Farthing
Reads, David Pitchford
L'Enclume, Simon Rogan
Harry's Place, Harry Hallam
The Yorke Arms, Frances Atkins (Owner)
Morston Hall, Galton Blackiston
The Neptune, Kevin Mangeolles
The Nut Tree, Michael North
The Kitchin, Tom Kitchin
Champany Inn, Clive Davidson (Owner)
Murano, Angela Hartnett
La Bécasse, Will Holland
Mr Underhill's at Dinham Weir, Chris Bradley
Ynyshir Hall, Shane Hughes
The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, Roger Jones
The Hand & Flowers, Beth Kerridge (owner)
Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, Hélène Darroze
Claridges, Thomas Kochs (MD)
Galvin at Windows Andre Garret, Chris Galvin
The Greenhouse, Antonin Bonnet
Maze, James Durrant
Kai, Alex Chow
Benares, Atul Kochhar
Tamarind, Alfred Prasad
Umu, Ichiro Kubota
Wild Honey & Arbutus, Anthony Demetre
Semplice, Marco Torri
Nobu Berkeley Street, Paul Murashe (GM)
Nobu, Stephan Guicheteau (GM)
The Crown at Whitebrook, James Sommerin
Boath House, Charles Lockley
The Peat Inn, Geoffry Smeddle
JSW, Jake Watkins
L'Ortolan, Alan Murchison
Rhodes W1, Paul Welburn
The Bingham, Shay Cooper
Drake's, Steve Drake
Mallory Court, Simon Haigh
The Old Vicarage, Tessa Bramley
Kinloch Lodge, Claire Tully
Ocean Restaurant at Atlantic, Mark Jordan
Bohemia, Shaun Rankin
Knockinaam Lodge, Tony Pierce
The Room in the Elephant, Simon Hulstone
The Hamborough, Robert Thompson
Roussillon, Alexis Gauthier
Quilon, Sriram V Aylur
Auberge du Lac, Phil Thompson
Sketch (The Lecture Room & Library), Jean-Denis Le Bras
The Sportsman, Stephen Harris
5 North Street, Marcus Ashenford
Holbeck Ghyll, David McLaughlin
The Star Inn, Andrew Pern
Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Andrew Fairlie
Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, Marcus Wareing
Midsummer House, Daniel Clifford
Pied à Terre, David Moore (Owner)
The Dining Room (Whatley Manor), Martin Burge
Le Gavroche, Silvano Giraldin
The Square, Philip Howard
The Ledbury, Brett Graham
Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Raymond Blanc
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Olivier Limousin
The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, Jocelyn Herland
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Clare Smyth