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.


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).

One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
    Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

    Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

    A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn