#10 – Eat at a top Michelin star restaurant
I saved myself a treat for the last of my 40 before 40, and I was so excited to be spending the last day of my 30s dining in style. Given my love of food, enjoying my first three Michelin star experience was a perfect start to my birthday celebrations.
There are only 4 three star restaurants in the UK: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester in London, and The Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn at Bray in Berkshire. I selected the Waterside Inn, which describes itself as a ‘restaurant with rooms’, because I was attracted by its promise of a relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere. I wanted to enjoy great food and fantastic service without feeling uncomfortable or patronised.
The Waterside Inn was opened in 1972 by brothers Albert and Michel Roux. It gained its first Michelin star in 1974, added a second in 1977 and was finally awarded a coveted third star in 1985. It is the only restaurant in the UK to have held three stars for over 30 years. It is currently run by Michel’s son, Alain Roux, a pastry chef. Alain is only one of three UK based chefs to have been invited to become a Master Pâtissier in the International Association Relais Desserts, demonstrating how highly thought of he is in his field. This honour marks him as one of the world’s best Pâtissiers.
I decided to do this in style, so I booked us a room for the night along with dinner. On arrival, we checked in and I was delighted to find that our room had a four poster bed. I’ve never stayed in one before, so that was very special.
Once it was time for dinner, we were shown in to the dining room and given a table with views of the River Thames on three sides.
As you would expect, every detail was attended to. There was a little ‘footstool’ next to the table on which to place my handbag so that it wasn’t on the floor, every time a glass was emptied it was whisked away immediately and appropriate cutlery was delivered with each course and cleared once we’d finished eating.
To dine, we opted for the seven course ‘Menu Exceptionnel’:
Flaked Devon crab with ginger scented cucumber jelly and oscietra caviar
Pan-fried escalopes of foie gras Grenoble style with caramelized slices of orange
Fillet of turbot flavoured with marjoram and roasted in a nut-brown butter, root vegetables and morels, “vin jaune” sauce
A choice of:
Saddle of milk lamb stuffed with morels, served with baby vegetables and a minted hollandaise sauce
Grilled pigeon breasts and crispy leg served with sweet pepper piperade and a potato terrine, devil sauce
Chocolate cannelé with hazelnut praline and lime
Warm rhubarb soufflé enhanced with raspberries
Café et mignardises
I chose the lamb as my main course and David chose the pigeon so we were able to sample both dishes.
With this menu we enjoyed a flight of five paired wines; a white with the crab, a sweet botrytis with the foie gras, a champagne with the turbot, a red with the main course and a dessert wine.
The restaurant does not permit photography, so there are no pictures of the dishes. I’ll have to do my best to describe them for you.
The seven courses were not the whole story! We chose to have kir royale as an aperitif, before starting the evening with canapes, beautifully presented on a rectangular white dish with a carved beetroot rose. We had a cube of pulled pork terrine, a smoked salmon and cream cheese dome and an anchovy puff pastry twist. Small bread rolls were served to us from a bread basket made from actual plaited dough, followed by an amuse bouche of cauliflower soup with a king prawn, served in a miniature tureen.
The crab was served as a small compressed disc topped with the caviar and centred on the cucumber gel. I would not normally choose crab but it was beautifully subtle and the flavour of the cucumber gel was amazingly intense. It was served with a spiced tuile biscuit, which made an excellent platform for the crab.
The foie gras was my favourite course of the evening. It was served pan fried and was meltingly soft. Combined with the sweet citrus of the caramelised orange and a bitter orange sauce it was one of the best things I have ever eaten. The botrytis dessert wine with which it was paired was the perfect complement for the dish. Absolutely outstanding, and hugely memorable.
Had I been choosing from the a la carte menu, I would have been unlikely to choose the turbot, as I generally avoid fish when eating out, but it was a pleasant dish, especially paired with the blanc de blanc champagne. The amazing attention to detail continued here with a small stack of perfectly circular alternate discs of carrot and celeriac, with diced morels in the centre of the stack.
My lamb main course was also excellent. Lovely soft lamb served just pink with perfectly turned miniature vegetables arranged beautifully on the plate. The minted hollandaise which accompanied the dish was another favourite part of the evening. The flavours were excellent together. David enjoyed his pigeon dish, but as I suspected the ‘devil sauce’ was a touch too hot for me.
Before the desserts were served, we were given a palette cleanser of basil sorbet with passionfruit mousse. Once again the flavours were amazingly concentrated for such a tiny morsel, with the sweetness of the sorbet contrasting brilliantly with the sharpness of the passionfruit.
Then came the chocolate cannele. This was my second favourite dish of the evening. A thin chocolate shell, filled with a light hazelnut praline mousse served with just a few tiny caramelised hazelnuts to give a little crunch. It was absolutely delicious.
The meal finished with the soufflé which was, as you would expect, perfect. A lovely toasted pink, standing an inch or so proud of the dish, it sighed gently as the top was pierced for the sauce to be poured in. As we ate our desserts, a firework display started upstream so it was beautiful to watch the fireworks going off and the colours reflecting in the river.
Before coffee we were served a praline milk chocolate selected from a box of chocolates brought round to the table. It was literally a box made of chocolate, and looked like a treasure chest filled with dark, milk and white chocolates.
I was treated to a small slice of coffee flavoured opera cake, delivered with a candle and the words ‘Happy Birthday’ elegantly piped onto the plate. Everything was done with such precision and care.
We chose to accompany coffee with a glass of port, and finished the evening with the beautiful little petit fours served on a small tiered silver stand which included a palmier, an intense chocolate truffle, a miniature lemon madeleine, a tiny raspberry financier, a small traditional sponge cannele and a mint macaron.
We were thoroughly full by then and grateful that we had only to walk upstairs to get to bed. We found more chocolates awaiting us but I’ve had to bring those home as we couldn’t eat another thing!
As a restaurant with rooms, a continental breakfast is served to your room in the morning. I couldn’t think of a better way to start my 40th birthday than with breakfast in bed:
The croissants were gloriously buttery and the pastries included gently spiced ever so soft hot cross buns in honour of it being Good Friday. The pear and rhubarb compote was a welcome addition being sweet and soft and a lovely contrast to the excesses of the pastries.
I felt thoroughly welcomed, relaxed and indulged during my stay, and I’m pleased to have completed the final on of my 40 before 40 challenges in style. A great start my weekend of birthday celebrations.