Bray first attracted attention when the Roux brothers Michel and Albert opened The Waterside Inn in the village in 1972, and have held a three star Michelin rating for the past 25 years. Chef Heston, whose father grew up in South Africa, was attracted to the village too, buying the 16th century-built The Hinds Head inn in 2004, letting two rooms at the inn, and making The Hinds Head a showcase of the Best of British cuisine. His The Fat Duck is the best known of his three restaurants, which has made the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, at number one and two positions in the past, but no longer is on the top 50 list. The twenty year old restaurant is moving house, having been directly opposite The Hinds Head, but now moving diagonally across to a more understated building, currently without any branding (photograph of the new building on the right). While the venue change is taking place, The Fat Duck is operating as a pop-up in Melbourne, returning to open in its new home in September. A waitress told us that Chef Heston is flitting between Melbourne and Bray, regularly visiting his experimental kitchen in Bray. Entry level restaurant is The Crown. In London Chef Heston owns Dinner with Heston, seventh on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, as well as The Perfectionists’ Café.
The Hinds Head shows its five hundred year history, and feels barely untouched in its design and furnishing. I was offered a sheet about the history of The Hinds Head, which they refer to as a pub, winning a Michelin one star rating in 2013. Queen Elizabeth II hosted a lunch with 51 guests at the pub in 1963. The sheet shares: ‘We continue to pay homage to The Hinds Head’s history by offering a combination of traditional seasonal cuisine and historic British dishes, all designed by our owner, chef Heston Blumenthal’. The sheet concludes that a menu of ‘British favorites in harmony with the building’s Tudor origins’ has been created.
The rustic Tudor interior design has wooden tables and chairs, purple walls, and framed photographs of historic events at the Hinds Head. Tall patrons have to duck their head at the low doorways. The table has an ordinary wooden salt and pepper grinder, a tankard with fresh flowers, and a little card advertising two of Chef Heston’s books (one of which I paged through at Katie’s house before we drove to the restaurant, with a comprehensive collection of cooking basics as well as some special dishes, all beautifully photographed).
While waiting for our order to be taken, I paged through the wine-list, a simple four page document printed on white paper. I looked only for South African wines: Buitenverwachting Blanc de Noir 2013 is served in a 250ml quantity and by the bottle (£8.50/£24). Listed in the White Wines section are Neil Joubert Chenin Blanc 2014 (£22,95) and Meerlust Chardonnay 2012 (£49); on the Red Wine list are Meerlust Merlot 2010 (£47), Buitenverwachting Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2012 (£26), and Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection Pinotage 2012 (£53).
The menu is understated, an A4 white sheet with the day’s date. Each dish is marked if it contains nuts, if it is vegetarian, and if it may have limited availability. Patrons are asked to identify their allergies on the menu, and by the waitress at the table as well. Slices of wheat and rye sourdough bread were brought to the table in a linen bag, accompanied by Cornish butter on a slate plate.
As a ‘snack and starters’ one can order Scotch Egg (£3,75). Six options each per course are listed. Katie ordered venison carpaccio with horseradish, turnip, shallot, and caper dressing (£10,50), while I ordered a smoked chicken liver parfait topped with Cumberland jelly, in turn topped with miniature onion rings, chicken skin, and geranium leaves, accompanied by brioche (£9,95). The sweetness of the jelly was well paired with the parfait, soft and smooth. Other starters are pea and ham soup; roast scallops with black pudding and curried cauliflower; tea-smoked salmon with sour cream butter and soda bread; and beetroot and goat curd with cider poached pear and pumpkin seeds.
For her main course Katie ordered crab and cod lasagne which came with a crispy leaf salad, anchovies, and lemon (£22,50), while I ordered roast loin of Jimmy Butler free range pork, bacon and sage stuffing, apple sauce, roast potatoes, and the most crispy and crunchy crackling, served with a bowl of mixed vegetables, including carrots, delicious cabbage, and green beans (£23,50). Other main course options are oxtail and kidney pudding; fillet of lemon sole, samphire, pickled dulse, brown shrimp, and dill; chicken, ham, and leek pie with whole grain mustard cream; goat cheese Royale with butternut, baby onions, and pumpkin velouté; and roast sirloin dry aged Aberdeen Angus, Yorkshire pudding, and horseradish cream.
The Dessert menu included some unknown dishes, and the waitress brought explanatory sheets to the table. All desserts cost £7,95. Katie ordered a strawberry trifle, while I ordered a Quaking pudding, served warm, and with marinated apple slices. The recipe dates back to the 17th century, and does shake and quake! It is a rich steamed custard pudding which tasted like Birchers Muesli to me. Further dessert options are treacle tart with milk ice cream; lemon curd with lemon shortbread; and chocolate wine slush with millionare shortbread. Chocolate wine goes back to the 1660s, and was a blend of port or claret and chocolate, regarded as an aphrodisiac in its day. Three cheeses cost £9,50 and five cost £13,95, all being British cheeses, including Innes Brick, Wigmore, Baron Bigod, Stichelton, and Isle of Mull cheddar. A plate of orange and caraway seed chocolate slices accompanied the bill.
The Hinds Head is a Gastropub at a sophisticated level. Its interior design, or lack of, is deceiving, and in stark contrast to the dishes coming to the table. Plating is understated, and functional. VAT of 20% is included, as is a service charge of 12,5%. Service is outstanding, regular checking to see if patrons are happy, and require more beverages. Explanations of the dishes are printed, and once explained verbally, they are followed up with a printed description. I asked about the history of the building, and received a sheet for that. I asked the name and surname of the chef, and the waitress could not remember the Hungarian chef’s surname. A colleague had overheard this, and came to the table with his business card immediately, detailing Chef Janos Veres’ name.
I had heard so much of Bray, and it was a highlight of my trip to be able to visit and to eat at a Heston Blumenthal restaurant! The Fat Duck will be on my agenda on a next visit.
The Hinds Head, High Street, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AB, United Kingdom. Tel +44 01628626151. www.hindsheadbray.com. Twitter: @HindsHeadBray Monday – Saturday Lunch and Dinner, Sunday Lunch.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio. Cell 0825511323. www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage