The Hinds Head, Bray – a Michelin-starred pub
When a pub has a Michelin star, there’s an expectation you’re in for a treat. Happily, at the Hinds Head in Bray – another part of the Heston Blumenthal empire in this lovely village unsullied by the constant hum of planes soaring overhead – that was exactly what Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband found.
A slightly bigger brother to the Crown, just down the road, the Hinds Head was built in the 15th century. There is dining and the bar downstairs and large dining areas upstairs. Be warned – the doorways are very low and, again, there are lots of heavy beams ready to deliver instant headaches.
Greedy Girl usually prefers to find her headaches at the bottom of wine glasses but even she (admittedly in her wedge shoes) had only about two inches’ clearance for the ceiling beams. She immediately took note of the sign over most doors which advised ‘caution, duck or grouse’ – a nice little word game for a most gentrified part of the English countryside, not too far away (by car) from Windsor Castle.
There’s plenty of history on offer here. Heston Blumenthal is well known for his love of British heritage as evidenced by his menu at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and his TV show, Heston’s Feasts. This menu, delivered by chef Kevin Love, features classic British fare alongside some more inventive dishes.
Like the Crown, the service here is flawless. Clearly the staff are well-trained but also have a passion for hospitality and, most importantly, the food. Any questions are answered easily by our delightful waitress who recommends a ‘Mediterranean gin and tonic’ to start (served in a special glass with a sprig of rosemary and slice of orange) and can describe all aspects of the dishes we’re interested in, rather than needing to refer back to the kitchen.
And so to the food. Gluttonous husband spied a ham hock and foie gras terrine, served with piccalilli (pictured at the top of this post). What a combination! The ham hock was bursting with flavour and worked brilliantly alongside the soft foie gras. It spread softly on to a buttery piece of brioche and the vinegary delights of the pickled vegetables (piccalilli) added another note. Yum.
Greedy Girl went for the wild mushroom tartlet. This was one of the dishes where Greedy Girl seriously rethinks her standard practice of eating half and then passing the plate over to gluttonous husband. It was just that good. Again, the mushrooms just burst with flavour, sandwiched between sheets of the lightest, crunchiest pastry. There were a few tiny pickled onions lurking underneath and as they popped in the mouth they gave a wonderful counterpoint. Absolutely delicious.
On to the mains. We both chose highly traditional dishes. Greedy Girl, who loves gluttonous husband’s shepherd’s pie wanted to taste what a Michelin-starred version would be like. Served at the table in its cast iron cooking pan, it had almost a manicured look, so perfectly was it formed. Dipping a spoon underneath the potato crust revealed a layer of lamb, oozy with a beautiful sauce.
The dish was accented by crispy breadcrumbs on top of the potato, peas and finely chopped mint. Greedy Girl is of the belief that mint should be found only in toothpaste, chewing gum or a chocolate dessert and always passes on the mint sauce when it’s offered with a lamb roast. This, however, was exceptionally good. Greedy Girl’s only issue was that, by the end of the dish, the mint had become too dominant. Notwithstanding, she took a piece of crusty bread to mop out any skerrick left in the pan.
Gluttonous husband had oxtail and kidney pudding. This was a glorious sight. Encased in suet pastry, sitting in a pool of red wine jus, gluttonous husband broke open the dome to reveal soft, braised oxtail and firm kidneys. The suet made the dish rich to the power of 10. Gluttonous husband was in heaven.
Needing something to cut through the richness, our waitress recommended a green. She was so right. We took the ‘Bobby Beans’ with picked shallots. For the uninitiated, these are slightly fatter green beans. They were served with the most luscious butter and picked shallots – both of which were also so good, they merited being mopped up by bread.
And so to dessert. Both bursting at the seams, we opted to share another ‘signature dish’ – a banana and custard ‘quaking’ pudding. This is essentially a baked vanilla custard, served warm, with a side of bruleed bananas topped with some shards of dried banana – tasting not unlike the banana lollies favoured by kids (and Greedy Girl when gluttonous husband is not looking).
This came with its own leaflet, describing how the pudding came by its name. Apparently pudding refers to food contained in an animal gut to cook – like a sausage (or gluttonous husband’s oxtail and kidneys). Then, in the 17th century cooks discovered they could use a cloth bag or bowl instead, paving the way for a sweet take on the pudding.
The quaking pudding was invented around that time and describes as such because it wobbles like a jelly when it’s served. Apparently it was a staple of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries but fell from favour – until revived now. It was enjoyable but a bit too ‘eggy’ for Greedy Girl’s tastes. She would have been more happy with half the amount of pudding and twice the amount of banana. Gluttonous husband happily hoovered up the rest.
There are several very good reasons Bray should be on the itinerary of any self-respecting foodie. The quality and inventiveness of the food, the historical surrounds and the excellence of the wait staff. Greedy Girl can only hope on her next trip to Bray she can score a table at Fat Duck to complete her Heston Blumenthal experience. Unlike her experience of some other celebrity chefs, she is definitely hungry for more.
The Hinds Head Bray
High St, Bray