Cliveden House,Taplow, Berkshire [email protected]

Waldo’s is named after the architect of the great fountain in Cliveden House’s driveway, Thomas Waldo Story. It’s not perhaps the best of names to have chosen – I keep thinking of Nando’s and is grandly located underneath the West wing, so no windows, which is a shame. Clearly though the distance from the main rooms to the kitchen is too great for the food to travel well and remain hot. And odd name or not, Waldo’s is a premier restaurant run by a premier chef and the food deserves nothing but the best presentation.

Chris Horridge, the Executive Chef, offers two types of tasting menu – With and Without. Without means that all dishes are sugar, dairy and gluten free, a challenge to any chef, whilst With means well, basically with anything chef wants. We had one of each menu and inevitably dish envy set in now and then – With wanting one of Without’s dishes and vice versa. This is all sounding rather like a chapter from Alice in Wonderland isn’t it?

The luxurious setting and the service is quite exemplary, the seven courses perfectly timed, which is vital. After all you don’t want to find yourself feeling a bit full and breathless just as another treat turns up, and the treats do keep relentlessly coming beginning with a pre dish of an electrically fired essence of tomato that fizzed like the tongue setting up the taste buds for what was to follow.

Those eating Without, raved over their Paillette of young vegetables, crisp seaweed, summer truffle, pollen and omega rich seeds. My Crayfish with veal sweetbreads and a crayfish butter sauce was definitely With and was excellently balanced, although undoubtedly rather rich. Overall, around three courses in, I rather wished I had gone Without; not that the With menu wasn’t very good indeed, but the Without offered more surprises, more challenges. For example I had Foie Gras pan fried and it was as lovely as usual, but the Samphire cured sea bass (the fish ‘cooked’ by lemon juice), asparagus, flowering cucumber and caviar on the Without menu was pushing the creative envelope harder and really showed Horridge’s skills.

Full marks for Red mullet, black olive oil and baby squid with a sea urchin sauce, the latter shamefully under used in the UK. I have seen French families swim out with teaspoons in their trunks to eat sea urchins fresh from the rocks, a free gourmet treat we waste over here. My ‘mosaique’ of lamb with spring onions, carrot and asparagus paints was too heavy for me. I suspected it would be, I am not a lamb lover but it was a part of the With menu so couldn’t be avoided. I certainly can’t complain about not liking something I wouldn’t have chosen though, and it was certainly a very stylish dish featuring many parts of the lamb assembled into the eponymous mosaique. Others loved it.

Oh but the cheeseboard was a delight. Groaning under the weight of an eclectic and traditional selection of hard, creamy, goaty, blue etc it took the poor old waiter ages to serve as he had to recite each cheese, around twenty five I estimated, to each diner. As I was around the last to be served on our table of eight I was almost faint with longing by the time he trundled up to me. Well worth the wait though, I wanted to ask the waiter to wheel the trolley over to my room so I could spend the night with it, making lewd suggestions and getting the sheets messy.

Finally a boiled egg for dessert. Not really of course but a concoction of ‘Lime burnt cream, without the cream?’ (sic) inside an egg shell, itself balanced on a sugar lattice nest. This was a brilliant piece of food theatre and exactly the sort of thing you go ‘fine dining’ for. The time spent in its creation must be enormous and justifies the price. Had it been all style and no substance it would have a let down, but the controlled sharpness of the lime was perfect after the cheese and the teeth aching sugar lattice was crisp and fun to eat

My reservations about the restaurant’s location apart, this is seriously fine dining impeccably done. You can of course eat at Waldo’s without staying the night, as we did, but that would be to miss out on a total experience that is quite unique.