On a chilly day, is there anything better than a proper English pub with a roaring log fire? Well, yes, actually, there’s The Hinds Head, Bray. Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to the tiny village of Bray, about 5 mins from Maidenhead, to try out Heston’s glorious ‘gastropub’ (I always think that’s such a weird term – let’s just call it a pub please?). The beautiful 15th Century building is the most welcoming, cosy pub and restaurant with leather chairs, dark wood panelling and low ‘duck or grouse’ beams: just Heston enough to have a Michelin star, but pub enough that the clientele is a mix of excited visitors (me) and the locals just popping in for a pint and a chat.
My journey didn’t start well. I borrowed Sam’s little Renault Clio and only just got onto the M25 when I realised he’d literally left me on vapour. What followed was a buttock-clenching 30 minute drive in which I desperately prayed to the gods of petrol to please get me there without conking out. Driving whilst trying to calculate how many gallons are left in the tank after the petrol light comes on is not relaxing. Still, I made it, and pulled the battered little car up outside the Hinds Head, next to a massive, glossy Aston Martin.
With my dining companion, Lucy, already waiting for me, we started with a delicious drink. The cocktail list looks amazing and I was a bit devastated that I was driving (there’s one called More Tea Vicar that tantalisingly lists its ingredients as ‘Burleigh’s Gin, fresh pressed grapefruit, bergamot sweet tea and rich tea biscuit’), but luckily there’s a section especially for designated drivers, and my Strawberry Flip, with almondy orgeat, strawberry, lime and pineapple was utterly gorgeous:
We headed to our table, right next to the roaring fire (the best seat in the house?) and decided straight away to start with The Hinds Head’s famous devils on horseback which were sweet/salty perfection, and the Scotch egg with perfectly oozy yolks.
My crab ‘soup and sandwich’ starter (£12.50): a toasted open crab sandwich, comes with a tiny espresso cup of crab bisque, topped with a sprinkling of coffee (sounds yucky but tastes incredible), and for my main course, I chose the smoked pollock, cured salmon and prawn fish pie with ‘sand and sea’ (£19.95). The rich, creamy pie, bursting with perfectly cooked chunks of fish and huge prawns, is topped with a sandy, breadcrumby topping and a savoury ‘sea’ foam.
In keeping with the history of the building, Heston has worked his magic in producing some classic Tudor-inspired dishes. Our dessert, entitled ‘Wassailing’, was accompanied by a card describing the history of the dish, and the pretty plate, described as ‘caramelised butter loaf with apple and mead’ was a total surprise. I was expecting the loaf to be soft and buttery, but it was crisp, with a sweet, toffeeish crust and a French toast-like centre, and the little apple was actually created out of soft, velvety, slightly alcoholic apple mousse. SO amazing. I could have licked the plate but I’m far too polite.
Bray boasts three Heston establishments: The Fat Duck (now open again after a temporary relocation to Australia), the Hind’s Head and a welcoming, family pub called The Crown. This is my first experience and I’m determined to go back and try the other two. I’d definitely recommend The Hinds Head: it’s pub food with a dash of Heston’s whimsical magic – it doesn’t matter whether you drive a wheezing Clio or an Aston Martin either.