Review by Fiona Duncan, published 16th December 2007.
It was only when I met the estimable Michel Roux at an awards ceremony that I realised his famous restaurant, now presided over by his son, Alain, also offered 11 bedrooms - soon to be 13 - for sybaritic overnight stays or short breaks. It wasn't always the case: Roux has been quietly opening bedrooms, upstairs and in nearby cottages, for the last 15 of the 35 years that the Waterside Inn has been his Gallic kingdom. I decided to investigate.
Not one of my most arduous assignments. In the interests of research, I chose not to waste such a gastronomic treat on an educated palate, but to see what my penniless, whippet-thin, struggling artist of a son made of his first dose of really serious food - and whether, crucially, he would be as warmly welcomed as the rich and famous. He found a suit and we crawled down the motorway in the evening rush hour.
It's awfully close to the motorway (as is the equally gastronomic but more modish Fat Duck, round the corner). But it's also delightfully close to the Thames, with a lovely waterfront terrace and a motorboat at guests' disposal.
The sudden sight of the river, wide and placid, with the odd boat chugging or sculling by, instantly soothed us. As did the flurry of French-speaking chefs and waiters who were bustling about in preparation for the evening performance.
One feels an immediate sense of occasion here, and a strong sense of being, not beside the Thames, but in France, at one of those great family-run restaurants, from a bygone age, such as Pic or l'Auberge de L'll.
Which is just what the Waterside Inn is, and all the more enjoyable for it. As well as the wonderful haute cuisine - unashamed but delicate - the bedrooms and suites, individually designed by Michel Roux's wife, Robyn, are beautifully kitted out: not glitzy, but feminine and elegant, in the French manner. They are kept up to the mark by the Waterside's genius of a general manager, Diego Masciaga, with the same dedication and consistency ("I don't live here, but this is my home") as he has presided over the restaurant for the past 20 years, even finding the time to slice, with masterly skill, our shared Challendais duck at the table.
"Dedication and consistency," Michel Roux told me, "are the two qualities that make a great chef and a great restaurant." Would the Waterside be too snooty and starchy for Alexander? Arriving late for dinner, I found Diego, with a full restaurant to run, keeping him company at the bar so he didn't feel awkward. If this place is pure, old-fashioned theatre, the staff are consummate, warmly engaging actors. We both loved every second of our evening in a room that was full of animated celebration, with hardly a jaded fat cat in sight (they were probably all at the Fat Duck).
I couldn't think of a better place for a celebration. If a certain couple I know ever tie the knot, I'll give them the Waterside Inn gift voucher: Menu Exceptionnel for two, bed and continental breakfast (the sort that most ordinary breakfasts would like to be when they've grown up), plus Champagne and a raft of goodies - an absolute snip at £440, all in.
Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire (01628 620691; www.waterside-inn.co.uk). Doubles from £180 per night, including breakfast.