Vintage Chic at the Waterside Inn

The people of Bray are a bit smug.  And with good reason.  Their sleepy, traditional English village is home to both Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and the Roux’s Waterside Inn.  Not bad to have two of Britain’s most famous restaurants within spitting distance of your front door.  For us mere mortals who do not have their postcode privilege, Bray is a gastronomic idyll just forty minutes from London.

So on a beautifully sunny Sunday in January, I found myself in a taxi winding its way through the antiquated village and up to the gloriously understated front door of the Waterside Inn.  Upon arrival we were seated in the reception room and given Roux’s champagne and canapés.  Everything about the inn is rustic chic, if that’s a thing.  It has the charm of a countryside cottage combined with daringly modern decor.

After the tartare burgers, a seemingly risky choice for canapé and certainly a bold start to the meal, we chose the degustation menu and were seated in the restaurant at a table by the window.  The view is spectacular, particularly in the chilly winter sunshine. 

It seems there’s not much to say about the Roux’s cooking that hasn’t already been said.  Everything was perfect, with the seared foie gras trumping all. 

Going into the Waterside Inn is a bit like stepping out of reality and taking cover in a parallel universe that is at once set in the 1940s and in the royal suite of the refurbished Savoy.  Go, spend an entire day experiencing it, and then leave immediately removing all memory of that elusive luxury and, more importantly, of the price.  

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Speaking Easy…

I hate the expression shabby chic. I think people use it when actually what they mean is a little bit rubbish. But the Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Station is the epitome of shabby chic. Reminiscent of the prohibition era, the carpet and wall paper look like they haven’t been updated since about then. But somehow it’s all part of the charm.
Feeling like a flapper, I ordered the prohibition punch, illicit both in name and strength. The place is small and usually overcrowded with city types but buzzy and relaxed. They have a huge selection of cocktails, and of course the bar was featured in that illicit scene in the gossip girl pilot. Shabby, chic, irresistibly glamorous and the best place in New York for a post dinner cocktail.

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The Botanist

We’ve all walked past it in the pouring rain.  We’ve seen those poor, desperate people braving the elements as they cling fastidiously to their cocktails.  And we’ve all wondered what on earth it is about that place that makes just about everyone want to go there as soon as the weekend rears its shining head.  So, in true sheep fashion, I went to The Botanist.

Based in Sloane Square, spitting distance from the tube station, The Botanist has a location that most restaurateurs would die for.  Situated next door to Guy Pelly’s latest venture, Tonteria, although good luck getting in there since they won’t take bookings, The Botanist has the rich and famous as its continuous passing trade.  And, more importantly, it would take the average person about a week or so to read the cocktail list.

Forcing my way passed the intently focussed cocktail drinkers, I made it to the restaurant.  A haven of peace compared with the mania of the bar.  On the waiter’s recommendation we ordered whitebait for starters.  There was no way I was not going to take this recommendation.  The waiter not only had the sparkliest eyes I’d ever seen, he was also the friendliest waiter in the whole entire world.  Clearly loving every minute of his job, he found nothing too much trouble.  The service is one of the highlights of this beautiful restaurant.   We then ordered steak and fishcakes.  Nothing hugely exciting but then this is one of the charms about this surprisingly unpretentious place.  I also had no idea just how good béarnaise sauce could be until this one.

The pudding menu is sadly underwhelming and the bill the opposite.  Unsurprising given the location, and it’s certainly worth it,…but still a bit of a shock.

If you’re in the mood for wrestling through the crowds, then The Botanist bar is definitely for you.  Having tried a huge number of cocktails off their extensive list, I’m yet to be disappointed.  The food is classic and wholesome.  If that’s what you’re after, you could do a lot worse.

Waking up in Vegas…

I have seen ‘The Hangover’.  I have seen ‘Oceans 11’.  I have many a friend who dared the stag weekend or, worse, the marriage in Vegas.  So touching down on Nevadan soil for the first time I was very much under the impression that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

But I was wrong.

Nothing happens in Vegas.

Perhaps this was my fault.  Perhaps I should have been prepared with Vegas style date rape drugs and more money than I will ever earn in a lifetime.  But unfortunately, I was naive.  I, a Londoner born and breed, did not assume that finding clubs, bars, and even anything to do at all without the aid of narcotics would be a problem.  Again, wrong.

In the pursuit of a Vegas style weekend of the sort portrayed by Hollywood, I found myself outside XS nightclub in the Wynn hotel where I was staying.  It was closed.  Undeterred, I powered on to the next club and the next…they too were closed.  Now I should introduce a caveat at this point.  While I was searching for a ‘Vegas-style-weekend’, I had arrived in Vegas on a Monday and was staying until Wednesday.  Most of the night clubs are closed on a Monday and Tuesday and most of the shows are performed Wednesday through Saturday so I was at a disadvantage before I had even begun.  However, like New York, I assumed that Vegas wouldn’t need sleep.  In a casino-fuelled town in which clocks and windows allowing the presence of natural light are considered superfluous, why would anyone need to sleep?  Why would anyone even remember to sleep?  But apparently, even without the reminder of, you know, the dark, people remember to go to bed and furthermore they remember to close down their clubs, restaurants and bars before they go to sleep.  Entirely unprepared for these somniac tendencies, I turned up at restaurants at 10:00 to find them no longer serving.  So here I was in the gambling centre of the world with nowhere to eat, nowhere to go out and really nothing to do except continue putting my miserly dollar bills into the repetitive whir of the slot machine.  I did not leave Vegas in credit…I believe that’s sort of the point.

So while my Vegas nights left something to be desired, my Vegas days left much more.  Not much of a gambler, I decided the most cultural pursuit in this toy town would be a visit to the hotels.  I would not have considered it any sort of a challenge to walk the length of the strip and believed, naive again, it would be a pleasant way to spend one morning.  I had reasoned this without taking into account the 49 degrees heat…seriously, 49 degrees.  The few days I had chosen to spend in Nevada turned out to be the hottest Vegas had ever seen.  It was impossible, especially for someone as fair, pale and unaccustomed to the sun as me, to be outside for any more than about four minutes.  Persevering with minute-interval pauses in air conditioned shops, I made it as far as the Bellagio to watch the fountain show.  This, I have to admit, is entirely worth a visit, not only because the fountain show is spectacular but because from a glass fronted cafe that overlooks the fountains, you can also see a majority of the other hotels which saves you the desert-style trek to their front doors and a risk of dehydration, heat stroke and certainly an awful lot of sweat.

In Vegas’ defence, I must mention that a trip to the Grand Canyon (and, well, a trip out of Vegas) is well worth doing.  Don’t take the bus option.  This takes 14 hours and in 49 degrees heat this would almost certainly just kill you.  They run an expensive but worth every penny helicopter trip to the canyon where they present you with ‘Champagne’ and a picnic inside the canyon.  This natural wonder of the world is the definition of breathtaking and arriving in the stylish helicopter, hopefully with a devishly attractive pilot, is the only way to do it.  But as far as Vegas is concerned, you can shop, gamble and eat.  But you can shop at Harvey Nichols, you can gamble in Monte Carlo and you can eat, well I won’t patronise you with suggestions.  Vegas has nothing that you cannot find cheaper, easier, and certainly cooler elsewhere.  Save your money and limit the time spent in an aeroplane getting to this soulless no-man’s land.  Let whatever it is that happens in Vegas happen in Vegas but if you’re looking for a ‘Hangover-style’ holiday, I think illegal narcotics are the only option. Image

All Aboard!

Venice is sinking.  With only a few years left before it becomes a modern age Atlantis, board the Orient Express and go see it.  However, if punctuality is not your thing, or indeed culture, Italy, and Harry’s Belinis, then apparently nowadays you can ride the Orient Express for a day, just back and forth a few times without really stopping anywhere.  But if that seems to you as pointless as it does to me then I recommend to you Bob Bob Ricard.  Totally unassuming from the Soho, monochrome exterior, inside the restaurant is designed exactly like a booth on the Orient Express.

However, this is where the concept gets confused.  Designed like the Orient Express, it serves Russian fusion food.  No, I didn’t know it was a thing either.  Nonetheless, the atmosphere is electric.  The lights are dimmed and the service is impeccable, right up to the buttons at either end of every table labelled ‘press for champagne’.  O, go on then.

If you’re feeling a tad on the Bill Gates side of things, then by all means order the only Beluga caviar in London.  I’m sure it’s delightful.  If not, then the sturgeon served for both my palette and my salary.  We ventured over to Russia in our starters ordering Vareniki and Pelmeni.  I shan’t pretend to suddenly be aware of what these delicacies are.  They seemed like a pretentious, condom-shaped ravioli but pleasant and perfectly portioned.  For main, I ordered lobster burger which, although sounds like a horrendous clash of decadence and vulgarity, was quirky, beautifully presented, and flavoursome.

It was pudding that stood out however.  Feeling that I had had enough eccentricity, and, well, enough Russia, I ordered Eton mess.  How wrong can you go?  I was unprepared for the beautiful, glittery pink meringue ball which surrounded the cream, strawberries, and marshmallows (marshmallows?!).  Presentation was flawless, though I was disappointed when another entirely different pudding of chocolate fondante also arrived encased in a glittery ball.  One trick pony much?

The food is tasty and remarkable but it is overpriced.  Reviews, comments from staff, and indeed even the menu incessantly compare Bob Bob Ricard to Petrus.  But this is incongruous.  Though well worth a visit, it doesn’t meet the Michelin star calibre to which it so aspires.  Fun from a quirky night out but expect it to hit your wallet hard…even without the Beluga.

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Kiss of Death

No matter how many interpretations of his life I watch at the theatre and on screen, I am yet to see Oscar Wild played badly.  Perhaps this is my good fortune.  Perhaps this is because he is such a sought after part that only the best actors get the privilege.  The one that of course sticks in my mind is Stephen Fry in the flawless film ‘Wilde’, but then again I, as I’m sure many are, am convinced that Stephen Fry is actually Wilde incarnate so it’s not really laudable that his presentation should be so, well, fabulous.

This time it was Rupert Everett who stooped to pick up that most contested of gauntlets in David Hare’s surprisingly mainstream ‘The Judas Kiss’.  Superlatively tall, Everett was fleshed out in an awkward looking fat suit to give him the imposing presence of the genius.  Though his head balanced precariously on the suit, giving him a slight comic-book-giant impression, the effect did not deter in the slightest for what was a superb performance.

‘The Judas Kiss’ tells the story of Wilde in the few hours before he is sent to prison and the few years after his release.  The writing is tender and subtle and was brought alive by a highly talented cast.  While Everett was compelling as Wilde, praise must also go to Freddie Fox who, nudity included, portrayed Bosie with such arrogance yet somehow evoked pathos in the audience.

The final scenes were some of the best theatre I have seen.  The tension between Bosie and Wilde was so tangible and so tragic that one quite forgets all the celebrity and notoriety surrounding their relationship and sees the emotional vulnerability of a couple torn apart by society.

It’s not often one can say this about a production but ‘The Judas Kiss’ is flawless.  It is perfectly cast, and the setting is beautiful, but at no point intrudes on the subtly of the performances and the vitality of the script.  Hare’s play deals with one of the most infamous figures in British history yet does not delve into cliché or sterility.  ‘The Judas Kiss’ is completing a regional tour before transferring to the West End.Image