Roux at Skindles

Berkshire Life - - Front Page - WORDS: Jan Ray­croft PHO­TOS: Mau­reen McLean

A fab­u­lous new din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

Michel Roux Snr OBE is in an ir­re­press­ible mood with a teas­ing twin­kle in his eye as we dis­cuss the times when Skindles, be­side the Thames at Taplow, was a world renowned ho­tel with a racy edge. Princess Mar­garet was amongst the guests of what to­day would be a Celeb List of mu­sic and film stars, politi­cians and oth­ers who like to ‘live on the edge’.

Want more names? Bette Davis, Boris Karloff, the Marx Broth­ers, King Hus­sein of Jor­dan and, even the then US Vice Pres­i­dent, Richard Nixon. And al­though John Pro­fumo and his lover Chris­tine Keeler are most con­nected with nearby Clive­den, sup­pos­edly they too weren’t averse to nip­ping down to Skindles for a tryst.

But the rep­u­ta­tion of this des­ti­na­tion goes way back past

Not that in­fa­mous ho­tel and night­club, but a fab­u­lous new des­ti­na­tion over­seen by food and hos­pi­tal­ity ‘god­fa­thers’, the mar­vel­lous Michel and Alain Roux

the Swing­ing Six­ties. Even in Ed­war­dian times there was a mu­sic hall joke: ‘Are you mar­ried or do you live in Maiden­head?’ Yes, Skindles had al­ways been more than a lit­tle bit ‘naughty’.

In 1971 The Rolling Stones had a ‘leav­ing do’ there (guests in­cluded John Len­non and Eric Clap­ton) be­fore head­ing for over­seas tax ex­ile. To­wards the end of that decade im­pre­sario Louis Brown opened the now leg­endary night­club and disco, Stu­dio Val­bonne at Skindles. By this time TV stars could be found in the restau­rant, bars or on the dance floor. But the thing is, so could you. Just whizz down in, say, a Mini Cooper S in your spark­li­est glad rags, and spend a week’s wages on cock­tails.

And then there was the in­door swim­ming pool and what peo­ple might, or might not, have got up to in it be­yond the breast­stroke. “Of course…” winks Michel. He now glues us with an in­ter­rog­a­tive eye: “Ev­ery­one, yes ev­ery­one, we all re­mem­ber THAT swim­ming pool. But, strangely, I have yet to meet any of us who ac­tu­ally ad­mits to jump­ing into it. Per­haps…?”

No Michel, we were too busy in­vok­ing Satur­day Night Fever on the dance floor to en­gage in such shenani­gans. As for Michel, he will only ad­mit: “I, of course, have been just once for drinks, and thought I was go­ing to be kid­napped!”

But by the gloomy mid-80s Stu­dio Val­bonne had closed and the site put up for sale. Boarded up Skindles went through the 1990s and into this cen­tury, be­com­ing a rad­dled and in­creas­ingly shabby eyesore right by Maiden­head Bridge.

In all hon­esty we ‘shed tears’

‘I, of course, have been just once for drinks and thought I was go­ing to be kid­napped’

for that slow demise, and then one or two more mis­placed ones when Berke­ley Homes took on the site and be­gan to build a splen­did col­lec­tion of homes, from lux­ury vil­las be­side the river to stylish apart­ments. Poor old Skindles had to be put out of its mis­ery though, but what the prop­erty spe­cial­ists re­placed it with has pro­vided a new jewel in the crown at the en­trance to Maiden­head.

“We went into the site be­fore Skindles was knocked down, and it was ter­ri­ble, just ter­ri­ble,” re­veals Michel. “There was no hope for it.” These rem­i­nis­cences clearly bring back sad mem­o­ries for both fa­ther and son. Alain re­calls: “Trees were grow­ing in­side… they were burst­ing through what was left of the roof.”

But the sparkle is back be­cause Oc­to­ber will see the open­ing of Roux at Skindles, a brasserie on the very spot of its in­fa­mous pre­de­ces­sor, over three storeys with a din­ing space, ter­race, bar and even a lit­tle din­ing room on the top floor suit­able for 14 peo­ple to en­joy an in­ti­mate spot. It will be over­seen by Alain, along­side his role at The Wa­ter­side Inn in Bray, aided by his trea­sured ‘Num­ber Two’, chef Raj Hol­huss. Alain says: “Peo­ple will be able to drop in just for a drink or a bite as they choose. We will not be aim­ing for an­other Miche­lin star restau­rant but we want to fo­cus on qual­ity and value for money. It will be some­where peo­ple can come for a cof­fee or lunch and stay for 10 min­utes or two hours.”

But what lured the Rouxs to take on this project? It turns out there are two rea­sons.

Michel in­sists: “How could we not? To say to peo­ple, lo­cal peo­ple like us, ‘Look, Skindles is back!’ Dif­fer­ent, yes, but for the lo­cal com­mu­nity that Skindles some­how ex­ists is very im­por­tant. We know the Wa­ter­side is not some­where one eats ev­ery day, but Roux at Skindles can be, if you so wish.

“And it’s only 12 min­utes by boat, our elec­tric launch, from the Wa­ter­side, or eight to 15 min­utes by road, de­pend­ing on the traf­fic. You could go there, say ‘It’s me’ and have one dish and then per­haps come back here for dessert!”

Un­der­pin­ning all this ex­cite­ment is the sec­ond rea­son – in that a bistro-style restau­rant takes the Roux fam­ily back to their roots (Michel and his brother Al­bert co-founded the first ever brasserie in the UK, Brasserie Benoit in Lon­don) and al­lows them to serve ‘French in­flu­ence’ flavours in a re­laxed at­mos­phere along­side tastes which take their fancy from across the planet.

“So yes, there will be snails and frog legs on the menu, but also a proper English break­fast, shar­ing plat­ters with cheeses, ta­pas, but I wouldn’t call that bites,” says Alain. “You might just go for a cof­fee and crois­sant to sit by the river, pop in for drinks on your way to dine some­where else, or en­joy a leisurely Sun­day brunch or roast.”

As Alain re­turns to the Wa­ter­side kitchen (as­sorted lunch guests, from a cou­ple cel­e­brat­ing their wed­ding an­niver­sary to a mem­ber of the House of Lords and his party, are ar­riv­ing) he re­veals one se­cret: “We are work­ing on a Skindles Cheese­burger – it’s go­ing to be very spe­cial!”

Just like his fa­ther then, al­most danc­ing round the Wa­ter­side gar­den with a Skindles-style spring in his step as he greets those en­joy­ing an aper­i­tif out­doors on a sunny day be­fore en­ter­ing the beau­ti­ful din­ing room. And he’s still teas­ing… “Will it be me cook­ing for YOU to­day? Per­haps… we shall see!”

Look­ing down the Thames from the Wa­ter­side Inn: it’s a quick trip to Skindles by mo­tor launch for Michel and Alain Roux

An artist’s im­pres­sion of how the com­pleted Roux at Skindles will look fromMaiden­head Bridge

Ready for guests at Bray’s leg­endary Wa­ter­side Inn

ABOVE: The Wa­ter­sideInn, the only es­tab­lish­ment in the UK to have re­tained three cov­eted Miche­lin stars for over 30 years

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.