08:00AM, Thursday 19 January 2017
On the cold morning when our snapper Ian and I pull up to The Waterside Inn we are greeted with beaming smiles outside the building, which sits on the bank of the Thames.
We are here because 2017 is a special year for the three-Michelin starred restaurant, as it celebrates its 45th anniversary.
After a cappuccino, we are joined by restaurant manager Diego Masciaga, who has dedicated his life to the restaurant, and Alain Roux, who took over from his father Michel Roux OBE in 2002.
A regular day at the restaurant begins with guests checking out in the morning. The Waterside Inn has 11 bedrooms for guests to stay overnight.
It was founded by brothers Michel and Albert Roux in 1972, and just two years later it received its first Michelin star, followed by a second in 1977 and a third in 1985.
It remains the only restaurant in the UK to have kept the three stars for more than 30 years, but chef patron Alain (below) says it would be nowhere without its regular customers.
He said: “Most of our customers are local, some will come for special occasions, some will come because they love the time they have here.
“We might be more expensive, especially if the dish has certain ingredients but people realise our value.
“If it’s value for money, people don’t mind spending a bit more. A lot of our customers know we’re a bit more expensive than other restaurants but they see it as worthwhile.”
We get taken on a tour around the kitchen, where the chefs are busy prepping for lunch.
There are 27 of them, including six pastry chefs.
As we walk though, meat is being prepped, vegetables chopped, fish filleted, sauces stirred and pastries baked.
Head chef Fabrice Uhryn (below) demonstrates his culinary skills, though I try not to get too close to the knife. He first joined the Waterside Inn in 2001.
Alain tells me the menu changes with each season.
You can tell the chefs work hard and take huge pride in their work.
“We make sure they learn and they can do it with confidence,” says Alain. “Everything is made from scratch, even the staff meals.
“You learn by knowledge but for perfection you need to practice a lot, work on your speed.
“People rely on each other, if someone is off sick or away for a family reason, you can feel it.”
After leaving the kitchen we enter the main dining room which overlooks the river and in the summer the windows are all open, so it feels like you are eating right on the Thames.
I’m told that lunch and dinner are both equally popular, being fully booked and covering 70 guests each (that’s 140 a day), five days a week.
Diego, who has spent 30 years working with the Roux family, says the trick is making sure every single guest is treated like royalty.
“We don’t re-lay tables, because if guests have travelled 10-30 miles to come here, I cannot dictate when they have to leave,” he said.
“If a restaurant is two thirds empty at 2pm for lunch there is something wrong.
“Some guests have been coming here every week for 30 years.
“The reason why we’ve been so successful is because of our locals.
“They come in November when the weather is horrible, from February to June.
“We always make sure our locals have a table.”
As we leave the restaurant, I ask Alain about the future and the challenges that lie ahead.
He said: “The challenge for me will be the same as it has been for the last 45 years – keeping the standard and the quality.
“There’s always space for change and improvement but when something is good, why change it?”
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