I admit it: I checked at least ten times. I picked up the phone and examined the coordinates. I listened to the language of people talking in the streets. I reread the business card I grabbed at the entrance. I resumed in my hands the hotel reservation sheet and the plane check-in sheet.
There are no doubts. But not even the smallest one.
I’m in England. In Bray. And the river that flows in front of me is the Thames.
So, for what bloody a reason do I think I’m in Paris on the banks of the Seine?
The reason is soon explained: the Waterside Inn, the place I’m about to visit, is a French restaurant. Despite being in the perfidious Albion: a stone’s throw from London and Heatrow airport. This is because it was opened by two French chefs: Michel and Alain Roux, who in 1972 took over what was a simple disco pub to turn it into a starred restaurant. More than forty years later the Waterside Inn is still in the hands of the Roux family, to be precise among those of Alain, son of Michel, who carries on the culinary philosophy of his predecessors, keeping in the menu dishes for almost half a century age. To help him (and maybe even something more) an Italian excellence: Diego Masciaga, the restaurant manager and the general manager of the 5-star hotel. Wonderful structure, of ten suites, which supports the restaurant business. Masciaga has worked at the Waterside Inn for so many years to fully identify it. He dances among the tables, treating each diner with the same care and the same affability. The style he uses in the services has even inspired a book: “The Diego Masciaga Way: Lessons from the Master of Customer Service”. The essay, signed by Chris Parker, explains Masciaga’s philosophy and his very pragmatic approach to customer loyalty, highlighting the nature and value of the service and also proposing examples and exercises for the development of a personal style and the construction of a team to reach a level of professionalism above average.
And Masciaga is the one who welcomes me to the table. He finds me very nervous: they kept me in the hall for more than half an hour, asking me at regular intervals in the name of who I had made the reservation. Diego‘s efficiency and sympathy, however, rebalance my mood, giving me the opportunity to approach lunch with the right state of mind.
The presence of the Thames makes everything very suggestive and romantic. The restaurant also boasts a beautiful terrace overlooking the river. A boat floats on it, very similar to a gondola, with which customers, if they desire to, can reach the restaurant. It’s cold in Bray, although it’s late summer, and so the windows remain closed but the few rays of sunlight filtering through the windows allow me to admire the deli platter, in all its beauty. It is essential but refined. The tablecloths are white and the dishes have soft colours. Talking to Diego, I find out that among the waiters, sommelier and brigade, at the Waterside Inn there are about twenty-seven employees, among whom eight are Italians: really a good publicity for our country.
If the place, as it is in Bray, has a more than French style, the menu is not far behind. I choose the “exceptionnel” menu, to which the sommelier (whose two “helpers” are both Italian) suggests me to combine five different types of wines. A Mas de Daumas Gassac of 2015: a white with a golden and bright yellow color. From the very mineral texture, with marvellous fruity notes of white pulp that also shows a beautiful bouquet of flowers and citrus fruit on the nose; then a Domaine Loew Auxerrois ‘Botrytis’ Barrique of 2015: another white with a very fruity taste that is too sweet; a 2006 Jannison & Fils champagne: made with Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes, it has a full and intense taste, with a fresh and lively aroma; a 2009 Château Olivier: a ruby red colour, very full-bodied, which besides an aftertaste of tobacco, presents all the flavours of red fruits, from currants to cherries, with even a hint of spicy note; and finally a 2014 Château de Ricaud: another red with a good structure with hints of raspberry and blackberry.
Let’s start with the amuse-bouche, made of three different canapes: I really like potato and basil chips with salmon, homemade mayonnaise and a salmon egg to decorate. As well as I find interesting the bread chips with cherries and cucumber ice cream.
The first course, however, includes a salad of crab, with peas, reductions of peas and mushrooms and a prawn. Although the combination crab-prawn left me a bit perplexed, I have to say that the course has pleasantly surprised me.
Very interesting also the foie-gras: a tile accompanied by a jelly of cherries (slightly syruped) and a pistachio grain.
The scallop served with coconut milk mousse and a tamarind juice is excellent. This is one of the dishes that have been “on the menu” for forty years: a dish invented by Michel Roux and re-proposed by his son. Followed by a salmon with leeks, rice, vegetables and garlic. A classic of French cuisine: good but nothing special.
Another historical dish, instead, has the lobster as its main character: it is brought to the table with a carapace and an open claw. It also presents a reduction of lobster juice, so congealed that forms a jelly.
We close with the rabbit: accompanied by a bunny made of bread, onions, mushrooms and ravioli stuffed with entrails. The rabbit is cut very finely and served with chestnuts, chestnut juice and white beetroot. Really worth a try.
As in any respectable French restaurant, the moment of the cheese cart arrives: I taste six different types, between soft and aged, to be tasted with a mustard of peppers and figs. Not bad: maybe just a bit too strong for my taste.
The dessert, finally, includes an ice cream with roses, a canape with aloe, then a blueberry ice cream with zabaglione cream and the centrepiece of the house: a vanilla soufflé accompanied once again by blueberries, that unfailing touch of acid.
After visiting the toilets (clean and essential) and the kitchens (large but not too much), in conclusion I can say that the Waterside Inn relies a lot on the skills of Diego Masciaga. His friendliness and his sympathy give the restaurant that extra gear: without this, it would be a bit dull and anonymous.
The final mark is: four beards. I could not give less than this. For the quality of the cuisine but also because the restaurant, for lunch as well, boasts the beauty of 88 guests to be served, as a three-starred restaurant befits. This particular shall not be underestimated.