The Waterside Inn, Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire

When The Waterside Inn this year celebrated keeping three Michelin stars for 25 years, they threw a party. They invited every chef in the UK who holds a Michelin star (even if it's only, you know, just one). That meant 140 invitations to dinner. Amazingly, 116 chefs abandoned their kitchen responsibilities for a night on the tiles at Bray.

Michel Roux has that effect on people. He is the emperor of modern French cuisine and his influence has spread, through his acolytes, from Ascot to Sydney. But after all the shouting and celebration, what's his restaurant really like?

I'd be lying if I said that my main sensory experience on arrival was the friendly welcome in the lobby, the air of opulence radiated by the famous maître d', Diego Masciaga, or my first sighting of the dining room, with its banquette region opening onto the picture window over the river. My main sensory experience was blind panic at the prices.

I knew it was expensive. Everybody knows that. But a cold hand clutches your heart as you turn the pages of the menu, noting the chilled avocado soup with sea trout tartare (£33.50) and the foie gras terrine with pickled cherries (£51.50). These are the starters. You hardly dare look at the main courses. When you reach them, you're relieved to find a poached wild salmon fillet is "only" £51. How reasonable, you think. It beats me how they make a profit in this place...

Susie and I settled for the Menu Exceptionnel. It's less outrageous than the à la carte (by which I mean it costs – stand by, cardiac arrest – £112.50 per person), and you experience a crazy desire to eat everything on it, in a foolish attempt at getting your money's worth.

The room is wonderfully light, but not stylish. There's a suburban feel about the picture window, and the general air is of a middle-class wedding reception in a glamorous conservatory. A lot of foreign visitors are in tonight: a table of 10 Chinese toasting some breakthrough in population control; a septet of Americans high-fiving a computer-game deal, four Swiss-Germans doing a lot of forced laughing.

Amuse-bouches were lovely: a tiny steak tartare with a sliver of soft-boiled quail egg on a McCoy's-style crisp; some yummy anchovy and parmesan pastry; a tiny masterpiece of prawn with onion and pomegranate seeds exploding in your mouth. Susie and I divvied up the four starters. Her flaked Devon crab with melon balls and a salty mango jus was surmounted by a single prawn, lightly curried. It was pretty ("traffic-light colours," said Susie) and tasted terrific, but wouldn't stop traffic in Torquay. My foie gras terrine was a tranche of slimy goose liver given welcome friction by peppered pigeon breast and delicious pickled cherries – fine, but, like the single slice of brioche, not enough.

A single, pan-fried scallop was seared to perfection and served with slices of summer truffle (distinct from winter truffles by tasting of nothing much) plus a green Chinese leaf containing a sorrel risotto. It wasn't a happy union. They had little to say to each other. Susie's lobster medallion in a port sauce was "delicious and well-cooked, despite being too brashly sauced". Perhaps our niggles were something to do with cash. You know? The feeling that a £50 dish should be more than tasty, it should be Homeric, miraculous, achieving a transcendent flavour that's quite new...

We shared the main course: a whole Challandais duck with a lemon and thyme jus, potato and garlic mousseline. A trolley was rolled before us and, with lots of flailing, up'n'under knife-work and rolling wrist action, Diego the Magnificent sliced the thinnest slivers of duck imaginable, and served them with lemon cooked in duck stock and thyme. It was tender to an unearthly degree, ambrosial, and it came with a pathetic duck-shaped pastry, full of creamed butternut squash. A few minutes later, the legs arrived – they'd been cooked in oil elsewhere while the duck roasted. They were fabulous too – this duck had been the Cyd Charisse of ducks – and reeked with flavour.

Susie praised the groaning cheese-board and my platter of three desserts featured a stunning pistachio crème brûlée with the lightest cream in existence. Washed down with the cheapest Châteauneuf-du-Pape (£85), this was a banquet at which expectations couldn't help but be disappointed by the hype and the pricing. The duck was the best duck dish I've ever eaten, but the cooking wasn't transformational. The raw shellfish was nicely arrayed, the cooked crab was accurately cooked, but they didn't have you turning somersaults of ecstacy. And frankly, a melon ball is a melon ball. Michel Roux is the grand old man of French cuisine and deserves every award he gets. But while it's a lovely, friendly restaurant, with super-attentive waiters and confident flavours, The Waterside right now seems surprisingly low on ambition.

The Waterside InnFerry Road, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AT (01628 620691)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 5 stars

Four-course tasting menu, £112.50 a head before wine

Tipping policy: "No service charge; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: River views

Cherwell Boathouse

Bardwell Road, Oxford (01865 552 746)

This punters' favourite has become an Oxford institution: a top-notch family-run business with an emphasis on locally-sourced grub.

Skylon

Belvedere Rd, London SE1 (020-7654 7800)

Enjoy a view of the South Bank from the grill and bar or dining room. Dishes include foie gras risotto – look out for lunchtime deals.

River Station

The Grove, Bristol (0117 914 4434)

This modern eatery gets the thumbs-up from the AA and Good Food guides. Try the organic salmon with elder- flower sauce (£16.50).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee