Review: The Hind’s Head at Bray
"What else but fillet of beef to truly mark an occasion? This handsome cut is Cornish, cooked to deep red perfection, and melts in the mouth like a chocolate truffle."
The Hind’s Head at Bray faces some stiff competition. As Heston Blumenthal’s third venture amongst the mock Tudor buildings and eye-watering house prices of Bray, this outwardly unassuming restaurant holds one of seven Michelin stars in a 400ft radius – you can see The Fat Duck from the dining room windows, and Alain Roux’s Waterside Inn is just round the corner.
Situated in the middle of – in both geography and level of ambition – The Fat Duck and Blumenthal’s traditional pub The Crown, the Hind’s Head is steeped in heritage, myth and tradition, with the interior nodding to the history of the building and the wider village, with references to the infamous Vicar of Bray, shooting lodges and ‘Emily’, the ghost that supposedly haunts the Hind’s Head when the plates have been cleared and the digestifs finished.
Now, away from the supernatural and towards the gastronomical. Set menu offerings rule the roost here: for dinner, choose between a four-course and a six-course menu. There’s also a two- or three-course option for weekday lunch, if you’re the sort of person that has two hours to enjoy a Michelin-starred lunch on a Tuesday, but thinks an entrée course is a little excessive, somehow. But before all that, get yourself a scotch egg. The modern ‘gourmet’, runny scotch egg was popularised by Blumenthal, and at the Hind’s Head it’s a quail’s egg, wrapped in Ibérico pork and crisped up with a vinegar-laced crumb, adding a sharp lift to cut through all the fat. You could quite happily just sit in the upstairs bar with a drink and get through a dozen of these, but perhaps that would be missing the point a little.
If you do manage to take a seat in the dining room and start the menu in earnest, there are some real treats to be had. The menu changes every five weeks, under guidance of head chef Janos Veres – more than twice the usual seasonal menu variation – so there’s good reason to come back more than once. The food itself is as witty and balanced as you’d expect from a Blumenthal place – at the time of my visit, the four-course menu opened with a coarse and punchy brandade, intensified with thickly flavoursome smoked cod roe, and finished with spiky pickled lemon and borage. Here there is a deft ability to present dishes which challenge visually but still deliver on taste.
Onto the second course, and the presentation is toned down a little. Seared scallops act as the centrepiece – fat, juicy ones that taste fresh enough to hop off the plate at any moment. Crushed hazelnuts give a textural contrast, and mineral bite comes from smooth, glossy artichokes. This inspired dish is finished off with smoked bacon velouté, every bit as rich and moreish as it sounds.
Meat is next, and what else but fillet of beef to truly mark an occasion? This handsome cut is Cornish, cooked to deep red perfection, and melts in the mouth like a chocolate truffle. The beef needs little embellishment – just a small helping of jersey royals and the rich, indulgent punch of Sauce Colbert rounds off an excellent main course. A peach melba falls slightly short of the level set by the preceding dishes – whilst perfectly serviceable and adorned with moreish burnt marshmallow, it’s a little heavy and one-dimensional than might be expected at such a sophisticated and considered venue.
Still, it seems churlish to criticise when the place is so full of aspiration and wonder at every turn. After dinner, grab a cocktail and head upstairs – in perhaps the most whimsical and eccentric part of the experience, you can sit amongst taxidermy and strange historical trinkets whilst the waiting staff bring you your drink. Or, in one case, be told, “Your drink is coming; perhaps you’d like to read a book?”, to then find a hip flask of the rum and Jules Clairon-laced ‘Great Expectations’ cocktail, hidden in the complete works of Dickens. It’s these idiosyncratic but considered touches that bring The Hind’s Head into an echelon above and away from the stuffier of its ‘fine dining’ competition. And, at just £25 for the three course option, noticeably less expensive.
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