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Anchors away! Just a short paddle from London, Jonathan R Jones finds a delicious Sunday roast in an exclusive gated marina on the Thames.
The Berkshire village of Bray has established itself as something of a foodie Mecca: Heston’s Fat Duck and Hinds Head, and Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi’s Caldesi in Campagna all cluster around the centre of this pretty stockbroker-belt village. Whilst restaurateur Roger Payne’s Riverside Brasserie doesn’t attempt to scale these dizzy heights, it has a location which none of them can offer. The restaurant is right on the banks of the Thames but, unlike the Roux Brothers’ nearby Waterside Inn, its tucked away in the exclusive, private Bray Marina. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Michael Parkinson and other local celebs have made it a regular haunt since it re-opened under new management last year. Payne has lured chef Marek Gryz from his own South-African inspired restaurant Shaka Zulu in Camden to develop a menu for the Brasserie which is focussed on good-value contemporary British fare.
Food and drink
Kick off with a cocktail. All the classics are here so we start with a delicious Champagne Cocktail made the old-school way with Courvoisier brandy on a brown sugar cube and a splash of Cointreau, and a punchy horseradish-heavy Bloody Mary. They are complimented by a bread selection and some giant lemony olives. We start with a velvety Chicken Liver Parfait which could feed three, and a sweet tomato and basil soup which delivers strong roasted flavours.
On Sundays the restaurant is all about the roast. We decide to keep it classic and opt for beef and lamb (chicken and pork are also on the menu). Both are beautifully cooked and accompanied by carrot, parsnip and spiced red cabbage. The roast potatoes have perfectly crunchy skins and the welcome warmth of garlic. The Yorkshire puddings – which had sadly been lingering under the heat lamp a little too long – were delicious but hard and dry. Maybe it’s expecting too much to find Yorkshire in Berkshire? Another let down were the stone-cold plates – surely a simple thing to rectify but perhaps a challenge in the tiny kitchen.
There are more temperature issues with the cheese course which seems to have come straight from fridge to table. Only the delicious Roquefort can truly make its presence felt above the chill, and allows us an opportunity to polish off our not too shabby and rather reasonably priced bottle of 2014 The Accomplice Shiraz (£22.50).
We opt to share an apple and apricot crumble to finish. It’s almost forgotten and after chasing up arrives after our (deliciously strong) coffees, mouth-burningly hot (from the microwave?) but with a soggy uncooked topping. This was a real shame since it was otherwise perfectly executed with a lovely not-too-sweet tang. Had it gone in a hot oven when we ordered it, it would have developed a perfect spoon-crunching crust by the time it arrived at our table.
Look and vibe
The recently refurbished interior is quietly chic, with cream leather chairs, cherry veneer and smart red walls. Large plate-glass windows make the most of the location, whilst the coveted outdoor tables on an attractive covered deck have the best view of the river.
On a Sunday the crowd are quite dressy; think off-duty (Berkshire) Riviera chic. The location means it’s not the sort of place you’d stumble upon. So the diners are an ‘in the know’ clientele – presumably predominately boat owners and friends. Service is friendly and unrushed rather than stuffy, and helps to create a relaxed atmosphere.
Toilets are open to all and shared with the Marina Office which is housed in the same building. A shirtless beer-bellied bear is leaving as I enter – ahoy there sailor! Whilst the rough-and-ready clientele may well appeal to some Vada regulars, the rusty radiators and stained lino don’t have a place in a restaurant with the ambitions of this establishment.
Three courses, bread, olives and coffee, plus two cocktails and a bottle of wine: around £60 per person, excluding service. On Sundays there’s a set menu of two courses for £21.95 and three for £24.95.
The bottom line
It’s a huge leap forward from your average carvery (did someone say “Wetherspoons”?) but it needs some tweaks before it can live up to the ‘fine dining’ promise of its website. But decent, good value cooking such as this doesn’t come with much better a setting.
For more information, visit riversidebrasserie.com.