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).

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower