We visit Heston Blumenthal's pretty Tudor pub.
Twenty years ago, you couldn’t eat properly outside London – in fact you probably couldn’t eat properly inside London very often either – but the shires as a whole were guaranteed to be uniformally mediocre. Then Heston came to Bray, and suddenly everyone was rocketing out along the M3 to sample the delights of the molecular gastronomy on offer at The Fat Duck.
Tables were (and still are) difficult to get. Mr Blumenthal’s obsession with experimentation swept us along in its wake and The Fat Duck has retained its legendary status as his empire expanded, not least to the consistently brilliant Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in the capital. A revival of the Great British Pub has seen serious chefs adopting some lovely country pubs. As a result those who don’t have £450 to spend on lunch, per head, at the Fat Duck may well be pleased to trot down the road to the Hinds Head where Mr Blumenthal is cooking some beautiful British food.
A pretty Tudor pub with low-beamed ceilings and as assortment of historical brick-a-brack collected with no apparent rhyme or reason, The Hinds Head is a handsome building of the sort that a winter’s traveller would be ecstatic to arrive at: it will be at its best when the fires are crackling and the chill wind outside howls. As it was we arrived on a chilly, wet summer afternoon and sprinted quickly inside to escape the squalls.
The menu is inviting – it tends more towards Mr Blumenthal’s interests in historic British dishes than the hocus pocus we are used to along the road – and traditionalists are catered for, although vegetarians rather less so.
The pre starter bites are difficult to turn down. It’s a commonly recognised fact that scotch eggs are everywhere. You can’t walk into a pub today without having a scotch egg, or – heavens above! – a black pudding scotch egg put in front of you at some point. But these are exemplary scotch eggs, soft boiled quail’s eggs twice-coated in panko breadcrumbs, and served warm with runny middles and a little kick of cayenne. A pile of these little beauties alone would have made us very happy.
Pea and ham soup was a generous portion with a surfeit of chunky meat, while a beetroot and goats cheese salad was extremely well balanced. A whole plaice made for a lovely summer main dish – satisfying with a silky butter sauce, girolles, salty shrimps and lemon sorrel. A veal chop was generous to say the least, cooked beautifully and presented with flair. We didn’t have to order the triple-cooked chips, but of course we were enormously glad that we had – a portion between two was quickly polished off.
We eschewed the Quaking pudding – an 18th century delicacy revived – and were more than pleased with our puddings: strawberry tart was a perfectly formed thing with crispy pastry and juicy fruit and a zingy elderflower sorbet. The treacle tart ice cream with lemon and yoghurt was a tangy, sweet confection with all the best bits of a treacle tart and none of the cloying sweetness. It was our dish of the day.
Service was impeccable, and ran like clockwork. Our lunchtime visit was the ideal antidote to a dreary summer day – but go for supper in winter when the fires are roaring and I’d imagine it would be even more magical.
The Hinds Head, High Street, Bray, SL6 2AB (01628 626 151; www.hindsheadbray.com)