We didn’t have a bad meal here. As you can see, the food was all beautifully presented and if we’d been in any other gastro-pub, we’d have been more than content
I imagine lots of people who visit The Hinds Head do so after sizing up The Waterside Inn and The Fat Duck and baulking at their prices and lack of availability. Still, a Michelin starred gastro-pub owned by Heston Blumenthal can’t be bad. Can it?
After a short taxi ride from Maidenhead station, we were transported into the green, picture perfect English village of Bray. But let’s be honest, it’s no ordinary village. In fact, half of the UK’s four three-Michelin starred restaurants are to be found here (the aforementioned Fat Duck and Waterside Inn).
The Hinds Head is still billed very much as a pub. Downstairs it’s maintained a cosy, traditional country pub feel and it’s not inconceivable that some of Bray’s millionaires could pop-in for an impromptu pint once in a while. Upstairs there’s a more formal dining area, sparsely furnished with exposed beams and all. Perhaps somewhere in the back of my mind I was expecting to walk into a place made out of pork pies or gingerbread but that’s not what the Hinds Head is about.
They have a special cocktail menu, yet our waitress seemed flummoxed when asked for a dry gin Martini with a twist. She returned saying they didn’t have the ingredients to make it (gin, dry vermouth, lemon rind) but in the end a martini of sorts arrived. I fared even worse with my ‘White fizz’. It turned up in a tiny bottle with a straw and an oatcake covered in popping candy on the side. This presentation would probably be very appealing to children but I can’t imagine many grown-ups being overly enamoured. I don’t know if you remember the 90s alcopop Hooch but the fizz really took me back to it (and that’s not a good thing). The whole cocktail themed menu felt forced and didn’t sit well in the traditional pub setting. I wish I’d just had a pint of bitter.
Things took a turn for the better once our pre-starters arrived. The Scotch (quail) egg was served hot with a beautifully runny yolk and mustard mayo. Devils on horseback ticked a lot of boxes too. The prunes were soft and plump and went perfectly with the crispy bacon.
Starters were less enjoyable. Both the potted shrimp and the raw Highland venison were nondescript. The venison in particular was a dish that flattered to deceive. The meat was in short supply and was so thinly sliced that it seemed rather bland. It lacked any gaminess and could easily have been beef. Luckily this was soon forgotten when the mains came.
Veal sirloin was served pink and the sauce ‘reform’ had great depth of flavour with a lovely, almost sticky quality to it. It was a good sized piece of meat too. Triple cooked chips were off the menu (sad face) but French fries were available and did the job. Hereford prime rib-eye was also fairly sizeable without being a gut buster. It was cooked a perfect medium rare and the yellow fat had just started to melt into the meat.
Unfortunately desserts were poor. My cherry bakewell was very slightly over-baked and the frangipane filling lacked the rich almond flavour that should have come through. I’d eaten a better one at Pret a Manger the previous week – now that says a lot. Peach Melba was a case of style over substance. As good as it looked I had to wonder why the peach was in such short supply. The soft marshmallow-like meringue verged on being too sweet and the crystalised basil added little to it. I’m sure Escoffier would not have been amused.
Contrary to how this review reads, we didn’t have a bad meal here. As you can see, the food was all beautifully presented and if we’d been in any other gastro-pub, we’d have been more than content. We just expected more, well, gastronomy here because of the Heston connection, the fact that they have a star and that we spent a hefty £170 on lunch.
Were it not for its location and the identity of its owner I doubt that The Hinds Head would ever have appeared on Michelin’s radar. If you fancy a day out in the countryside, there are better (not to mention better value) gastro-pubs out there. And if you really want to find out what Bray has to offer, perhaps it is worth saving up and booking ahead at one of the other establishments.
Take note, the taxi back was £2 extra, as you obviously have to pay the local cab firm some kind of rich man’s ‘I’ve just lunched at the Hinds Head’ tax.
Meal for two, food and service: £124.60
Total bill inc drinks: £171.45
Address: High St, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AB
Tel: 01628 626151