The Waterside Inn, located along the Thames in the village of Bray, began 40 years ago by the Roux brothers who bought a pub and transformed it into the culinary landmark it is today. Bearing three Michelin stars and now under the leadership of Alain Roux, the restaurant is visited by Matthew Fort during its anniversary celebrations, who shares with us the experience
The sun winked on the placid waters of the Thames. Boats of various sizes and distinction ploughed doggedly up and down stream. Ducks potted in the margins, while a great crested grebe popped up and down like a weirdly shaped buoy. And the grounds of the Waterside Inn were crowded with folk, 300 or so, all come to celebrate the 40th birthday of one of the country’s most celebrated watering holes.
Michel Roux Snr patrolled the premises dispensing smiling charm with an energy and grace of a man half his years. His son, Alain, masterminded the flow of goodies from the kitchen, while that maître d’ of maître d’s and for many people the spirit of the Waterside Inn, Diego Masciaga, masterminded the flow of those goodies to the celebrants.
Sir Michael Parkinson was there with Lady Parkinson, and Sir Clive Woodward, Bob Willis and Nancy dell’Olio. Not together, you understand. Rick Stein, who should be knighted, dropped in for a swift one on his way to Australia. He chatted to Tom Kerridge and Andrew Fairlie. Brian Turner waved at Gary Rhodes who waved back. Michel Roux Jnr represented the other branch of the Roux dynasty. There may well have been plenty of other glamorati and gastro-ati, but I was too busy nosing among the Jeroboams of Chablis Premier Cru Montmain 2008 (Drouhin), magnums of Rieslng ‘R’ 2007 from Leon Beyer, magnums of Ch Giscours, 2000, Ch. Rouget 2008 and so on and so forth, to take much note of anyone else. It was hot and it was a constant matter of rehydration.
And eating, naturally – terrine de foie gras au blanc de volaille, flan d’escargots on the menu forty years ago, tronconet d’homard, fondant de pigeon et de caille, creme brûlée aux pistaches, oh yes, and another of those, please - a constant round of tasty nibbles straight from the kitchen more used to serving 80 or so covers at a carefully regulated pace than 300 customers wanting the eat at more or less the same time. Luckily there was also a buffet with smiling and unfailingly cheerful staff.
If this all sounds a bit goody-two-shoes, well, it was. I know that opinions are divided of the Waterside Inn, but the fact is, it is unique among British restaurants. It is a suave and sophisticated reminder of just how much we still owe French gastronomy when it is practiced at the highest level with apparently effortless skill, that shows eating out isn’t simply a matter of food or service or position or even company, but a combination of all four. Oh, and the weather helps, too.
And so lunch gave way to afternoon, and afternoon to evening. The crowd thinned little by little. A golden timelessness settled on the place. Forty years. Just think of it. Forty years ago it was a different world. Edward Heath was Prime Minister. Spurs beat Wolves in the first UEFA Cup Final. Britain formerly joined the EEC. Delia Smith appeared on our screens for the first time. ‘Knights in White Satin’ by the Moody Blues was a chart sensation. And our own dear Queen celebrated her first 25 years on the throne.
She’s still with us, and so is the Waterside Inn. Long may they.