BRAY, ENGLAND - I have decided that I like excellence—it really suits me! Excellence is perfection without being pleased with itself. It is both lovely when it is happening and enduringly pleasurable as a memory, so it is truly life enhancing. However, describing excellence is more complicated, how it works, how it is achieved and whether it the same thing for everybody. The latter is unlikely, but some recent wine and food experiences must come pretty close to satisfying the most fastidious.

The Waterside Inn at Bray, view from the river.
Courtesy of the Waterside Inn.

Any summons to The Waterside Inn, the great 3-star Michelin restaurant in Bray, is very welcome, but when it is linked to the 60th anniversary of the Classified Growths of the Graves region of Bordeaux, the reply is by return. The châteaux owners descended en masse and we were treated to a complete tasting of the 2010 white wines and the 2009 reds, a particularly felicitous blend of the best. What struck many of us was the consistency of excellence throughout the whole range of wines—everyone seems to be at the top of their game. Of course, we expect the illustrious leaders, Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion, to be sensational, and they were, but then both the red and white wines of, for example, Château Bouscaut, were immensely seductive and at a very reasonable price level. The same goes for Couhins, Couhins Lurton and Carbonnieux. Fieuzal, Malartic Lagravière and Smith Haut Lafitte are all performing really well, while Haut Bailly (red only) is a super wine and Domaine de Chevalier, in both colours, is a wow.

Alain Roux with Diego Masciaga in the kitchen at the Waterside Inn. Courtesy of the Waterside Inn.

We carried on purring over exquisite sole and Saint Jacques and a brilliant ‘duo’ of partridge and venison, with an array of vintages ably handled by a sommelier to each table – not a luxury one meets every day. I was lucky enough to alight upon Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2005 and the red 2000, but then I was sitting next to the owner, Olivier Bernard. Finally we lapped up Haut Brion 1998, a wine that I have adored all its life. Alain Roux is delivering excellence ‘en cuisine’ and Diego Masciaga and his team have that dream combination of friendliness and professionalism. At The Waterside, you also have swans gliding by on the Thames, which is an extra ‘plus’.
Two other centres of gastronomic excellence that have also impressed these last weeks are Le Gavroche in London, where Michel Roux (yes, they are cousins) and his entourage make marvellous quality of food and service appear seamless, as well as Troisgros in Roanne where Michel Troisgros upholds the same family traditions and maintains the same superb level of perfection. I had not been back there for some time, Roanne not being in my immediate neighbourhood (but a relatively short hop down from Burgundy); however, when talking to MT in his stainless steel kitchen, chatting away about eels, which we both love, time seemed irrelevant. That is probably what we mean about ‘excellence’.

Below the slideshow, watch an interview with Alain Roux about recieving his Michelin Stars.