Rosalind Sack enjoys a classic lunch with a twist of Heston at his Michelin-starred pub The Hinds Head in Bray, Berkshire.
The lovely 15th-century Hinds Head pub commands one of the most prominent positions in the foodie village of Bray and still retains the dark wood panelling, open fires and low beams that have certainly seen some sights over the years!
Originally thought to have been a royal hunting lodge, it was converted into a hostelry around 400 years ago and has seen celebrities and royals alike enjoy its hospitality through the decades. Now, one of three dining destinations owned by Heston Blumenthal in Bray – alongside its neighbours The Crown and the renowned The Fat Duck – the Michelin-starred pub attracts visitors from far and wide.
I visited for lunch and sat by the window next to the open fire after being greeted by a very cheery bar tender. Above the fire, gold letters spell out ‘Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there’. It was thought to have been written on the inn wall in 1940 for reasons unknown and it’s little surprise that storyteller Heston has chosen to make a feature of it.
No lunch here is complete without first diving into the devils on horseback and crisp but perfectly runny scotch egg; a rather gluttonous start, but one I didn’t regret as they were among the best I’ve ever eaten.
The Hind’s Head menu feature classics such as potted shrimp and oxtail and kidney pudding, yet is peppered with unusual and playful Heston-esque dishes, such as ‘crab soup and sandwich’ and ‘fish pie with sand and sea’, which keeps both the traditionalists and the more experimental eaters happy. The menu is also constantly evolving, so while the core dishes remain, others change with the seasons.
Feeling tinged with guilt after the waistline-busting snacks we’d already polished off, I chose tea-smoked salmon with sour cream butter on soda bread for starter. A classic start and a lovely one.
For main course I went for the fillet of plaice, which came with wilted chard, salmon roe and a punchy cider butter sauce with fennel, which was another glorious dish. By this point I had resigned myself to the gluttony, so I also tucked into a portion of Heston’s signature super crunchy triple-cooked chips. I also enjoyed side orders of spinach salad with ‘Lord of the Hundreds’ cheese and green beans with smoked almonds – both of which were lovely little dishes in their own right.
Head chef János Veres tells me that Heston likes every dish to ‘have a story’ and nowhere is that philosophy more apparent than in the Wassailing dessert. This is a beautifully light and succulent caramelised butter loaf with mead and a mini ‘apple’ which is delivered to the table with a note explaining the old British custom of wassailing and a short poem. This is one of several historic British dishes devised by Heston through his work with the Tudor kitchen at Hampton Court Palace.
Sadly I was driving, but I suggest taking a cab – or event book into one of their guest rooms – so you can enjoy the spoils of the extensive wine collection in the cellar or the fascinating range of whiskies and gins from the bar.
Relaxed, friendly and with thoughtful little touches that can’t fail to make you smile, I will definitely be back for dinner – the scotch egg alone is worth the trip!