When Heston bought the last remaining traditional pub in Bray in 2010, locals complained that the small village was being turned into “Hestonworld”. This self-taught British chef now has three establishments in Bray, The Fat Duck, Hind’s Head and The Crown, alongside his more metropolitan eatery in London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Dinner. Despite the odd grumble no one can deny that Heston Blumenthal has single-handedly revolutionised the UK restaurant scene and transformed our perceptions of cooking and eating.
Unable to afford the time and money needed to secure a table at The Fat Duck, I travelled to Bray for a weekend in December to enjoy a breath of fresh air and some Heston food at the Hind’s Head instead. It is a 15th century pub in the heart of the picturesque village of Bray, conveniently located just five minutes from Maidenhead in Berkshire. Here Heston combines his unique approach to cooking and seasonal produce with good old English culinary traditions offering historic dishes with a twist of innovation and creativity. Head Chef Kevin Love creates lovely looking plates of wholesome and delicious food in a menu that focuses on British favourites. Locally sourced ales and sublime cocktails provide an impressive drinks menu.
Locals love to meet here, whilst visitors travel far to experience Heston’s food without the fuss and mortgage sized bill. When I visited this homely pub, I couldn’t help wondering about Heston’s acquisition of the property, why a quaint little pub in Bray? The world-renowned chef explains that this pub has always been special to him… it was where he enjoyed a much-needed pint after a stressful service on Sundays in the Fat Duck. When the opportunity arose in 2004 to take it over he jumped at the chance eager to pay homage to the pub’s 500 year history with recipes inspired by Britain’s rich culinary heritage. Initially sceptical, I was amazed by the Hind’s Head… a venue which manages to sustain all the atmosphere and history whilst showcasing Heston’s faultless food.
Homemade crusty brown bread with crushed sea salt butter was in danger of filling us up all too soon. We abstained from a second piece, the main courses deserved our full appetite. Roast meals are nearly always a disappointment when you eat them anywhere but home… aside from when Heston is cooking of course. Roast Turkey with chestnut and prune stuffing, roast potatoes and green beans, cabbage and curried parsnips was the perfect plate, each component cooked and seasoned beautifully. I was particularly amazed by the vegetables which were coated in a subtle creamy sauce, and the roast potatoes which were so crispy-edged they tasted as if they had been triple cooked like chips. Free Range Pork Collar with Butternut Squash Puree and Spinach was equally divine. The lean cut of pork was full of flavour, and the sauce (it tasted like a red wine reduction) was sweet and smooth and so tasty I considered licking my plate clean. My only quibble? The plates could have been a little hotter, as the food turned cold too quickly… and believe me I could not have eaten any faster!
For dessert we took a gamble and tried the highly recommended Treacle Sponge with Lemon Sauce and Cream and Whipped Chocolate with Hazelnut Ice-cream and Orange. Both had a Christmas theme, but I found the citrusy flavours a bit contradictory and preferred the sponge without the lemon sauce. Whipped chocolate is for cocoa lovers, a dense mousse decorated with satisfyingly crunchy nuts. The sponge was wonderfully light and airy and the sweetness was nicely cut by the cool cream.
For the ultimate, unrivalled pub lunch there is nowhere better than the Hind’s Head. Get yourself to Bray pronto.
More information and book here: www.hindsheadbray.com