Muddy eats: Heston Blumenthal’s The Hinds Head, Bray
Have you ever been to Bray? Just over the border into Berkshire – literally a stone’s throw from the Oxfordshire border – lies the most perfect triumvirate of restaurants in a pretty village waterside setting. The Alain-Roux owned The Waterside Inn with three Michelin stars); The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal’s flagship, with a matching three Michelin stars; and The Hinds Head, also Heston-owned, with one Michelin star. (Heston also owns The Crown pub in the village but that’s a story for another day).
I’ve never eaten at The Waterside Inn or The Fat Duck – it takes mighty deep pockets, and for me, quite a taxi fare, to enjoy the feast. But with The Hinds Head, ostensibly a pub but really a fine restaurant in its own right, you can get a taste of Heston Blumenthal’s world without choking on the bill.
This white-washed 15th century building, sitting in front of the medieval village church, offers what it calls ‘traditional British cuisine’ – Heston and head chef Janos Veres have apparently been working closely with the Tudor kitchen at Hampton Court Palace to reintroduce historic British dishes like Hash of Snails and Oxtail and Kidney Pudding (yum, I think…) to its cosy, wood-panelled rooms. In January this year, The Hinds Head was announced as Winner of the Open Table Diner’s Choice Award 2016, so clearly the pub, which opened under the Blumenthal umbrella in 2004, continues to do something very right.
I ate in the more ‘restauranty’ area, through the entrance and bar, to the left. Aesthetically I prefer the pubby bit (above), all wooden paneling, leather chairs, settels, fireplaces and parquet flooring and a more relaxed vibe. The ‘restauranty’ side is markedly less stylish with its old-fashioned carpet and chunky wooden chairs, but the day I visited there were so many customers that it had its own charm and buzz, and by the time the menus came I had bedded into my table by the window very nicely.
One thing to tell you from the off here is that the service is incredibly friendly and efficient. Everyone smiles, moves aside to let you pass, welcomes you as you come through the door, clears your table quickly, refills glasses. And the service is backed up by the food, that walks the line between pub classics with restaurant twists.
The Devil’s on Horseback and Scotch Egg have long been The Hind’s Head hors d’oeuvres calling cards (and at £2.75 and £3.95 the most cost-effective things on the menu).
The potted shrimp (£7.95) was a delight. And My smoked pollock, cured salmon and prawns fish pie with ‘sand and sea’ (unsure of what that meant but I enjoyed the artistic intent, £19.95) was surprisingly delicate and didn’t overpower in the way rich sauces often can with a fish pie.
Dessert, given I ate here just before Christmas, was an incredibly rich, indulgent and frankly piggy chocolate roll. But don’t fear for my straining belly, dear reader. This is what elasticated trousers were invented for.
After the meal I took a little stroll (or was that a roll?) around the village. It won’t take you long – about 50 metres before you make it to Story on the high street, a tiny boutique that must do the most incredible trade with all the passing foodies. Fair play though, because it’s a little haven of great taste, with lovely jewellery (some of which I bought), fashion and homewares. I slipped down to the river’s edge, but if you want to walk further along you reach Bray lock and can do some lovely looping walks around Bray, Maidenhead and Windsor.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Foodies who want to experience a Heston establishment but don’t want to fork out £250 a head at The Fat Duck. High quality lunchers (think good friend catch-ups or relaxed work lunches). Also good for special occasion get togethers. Just ask Prince Philip – he held his stag party in 1947 before he became hitched to Elizabeth. Kids are surprisingly well catered for – high chairs, colouring pencils, and a kids menu of fish fingers, shepherd’s pie or tomato and bacon pasta at around the £6.25 – 7.50 mark)
Not for: those who want a more formal white table cloth style approach to Michelin dining. Interiors nuts might not appreciate the pedestrian look of the restaurant.
£££: As befits a Michelin restaurant, you can add a couple of quid onto each course. So entrees start from £7.95 – £10.95, mains start at £17.95 (and don’t forget to add your sides of fries and veggies to that price), hoiking it into the £20+ bracket. Desserts start at £7.95. There are set lunches Mon-Fri for £47.50 a head for four courses. So I’d say it’s expensive for a ‘normal’ restaurant, but a fair price for the quality of the food.