It’s a standing joke among close friends and family that I’m prone to moving only within a certain central radius of comfort, whether in London or Bombay (the two great cities I’m proud to call home).
I’ll admit that it’s a valid observation to the most extent. There are the occasional exceptions though, proving time and again that this bon vivant #WillTravelForFood.
Case-in-point: my recent lunch at The Hind’s Head – a historic (15th century) restaurant by a chef who needs no introduction, Heston Blumenthal. Having recently dined at his two-Michelin starred Dinner (at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge), I needed little persuasion to hop on a train to Bray, Berkshire..
The charming village is in fact home to three of Heston’s celebrated restaurants, including the much sought-after Fat Duck, which has an associated laboratory channelling his inventive genius and manifesting in wonderfully-wacky new creations.
In comparison, the Hind’s Head pays a more traditional tribute to British cooking with its interiors reflecting the building’s storied history – centuries ago, it was a hunting lodge and coaching inn!
A recent rejuvenation has seen the addition of a lounging area upstairs.
This is where we cosily settled ourselves on arrival, relaxing against the inviting armchairs as we drank in both – the handsome details of our surrounds, and the artisanal cocktails inspired by the Vicar of Bray – a clergyman who famously managed to maintain his residence here by changing his religious stance to keep up with the changing political regime of his time!
Not unlike a private members retreat in its look and old-world feel, the room is a veritable treasure trove of stories too, with an abundance of eye-catching trophies and taxidermy, hunting paraphernalia and Afghan rugs…
Taking advantage of the bar snacks on offer, we started with a few nibbles from the bar menu. Heston’s famous triple-cooked-chips were a must (this being a Fry-day after all!), as was his exemplarily-runny scotch egg.
We lazily descended downstairs to the main dining area after – a large space richly furnished with heavy wood amidst open fireplaces and quirky antiquities. Even the leather-bound menus were of noteworthily-supple quality (so much so, that I looked up the suppliers after!).
As for the contents within, they presented us with a choice of three or four courses for lunch (with dinner spanning up to six courses). Having noticed locals occupying a large share of our surrounding tables, we were unsurprised to learn that the options are refreshed on a monthly basis!
Quite gratifyingly, vegetarians are taken rather seriously here too with a dedicated menu on request. Unblinkingly, I went in for the works… the four courses which followed were a reinforcing testament of the magic of Heston, championing classic British cooking centred on an intrinsic understanding (and delivery) of culinary comfort.
Take my first course for example. An earthily-hearty mushroom soup which was almost foamy in texture, arriving rather seductively with a soft mushroom brioche that proved impossible to resist (especially once I’d added on a pat of madeira chutney).
An artfully-plated pickled beetroot salad was next, to be followed by roast celeriac – an unlikely hero of the veggie world, it played well with the broad beans and pickled lemon completing the assembly, crowned by an intensely-rich truffle dressing.
… And just like that, it was time for dessert: a white peach and almond tart which was delightfully crusty around the edges, but had just the right touch of soft stickiness at the centre. A yogurt ice cream on the side was an offbeat but astute pairing, adding a tart perspective!
Of course, we found reason to linger after – over tea and chocolates – before finally pulling ourselves away in time to catch a train back to London ahead of the rush hour.
I know I definitely have reason to revisit the picturesque village soon though… actually two. Heston’s gastropub, The Crown at Bray, and his three-Michelin star Fat Duck, presenting a compelling call to #TravelAgainForFood!
The Hind’s Head, High St, Bray SL6 2AB, UK
I was a guest of the restaurant, but as always all opinions are mine and mine alone.