The Hind’s Head. Heston does homespun.
I was still on holiday, albeit not actually still abroad. There were cupboards to organise, so obviously my thoughts turned to food. And the sun was shining.
A country pub, I was thinking, by the river perhaps. And when I say pub I was thinking beer-serving establishment only in the loosest possible sense. A sort of Hand and Flowers-style pub perhaps. I never bother even trying to get in there anymore. It’s a bit talk to the Hand at the moment and I believe that they are taking bookings for October. I can’t wait that long.
Not a million miles away from The Hand and a few minutes away from The Fat Duck (no, I haven’t)the The Hinds Head is said to be owned by Heston himself. Having done a little digging around last year at Companies House for a piece on restaurant ownership, it seemed at the time that the “Heston” restaurants were owned by a company called SL6, which appeared to be owned by something known as the Lowenthal Corporation. Heston’s name doesn’t actually appear anywhere. Make of that what you will.
The Hinds Head, which, to the distress of a grammar pedant is sometimes spelt with an apostrophe, sometimes not, was awarded a Michelin star in 2012. That brings the Bray star-tally to seven, counting said Duck and Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn, round the corner. And no, I haven’t been there either, yet.
The main room is wood-panelled and clubby with an open fireplace. The drinks menu is beautifully designed and the gins are a particular speciality and they have 15 on the menu, “each served with expressive botanicals and a suitable tonic bringing out the aromas in both the gin and the tonic”. I am intrigued by the concept of an expressive botanical and wonder how I can get to try one.
As we perused the menu, crusty bread was delivered to the table, inhaled, whilst we decided, as ever, not to stick to the good value lunch menu (£21.50, three courses). C chose the tea-smoked salmon, with soured cream butter and soda breadwhich came piled up on a chunky piece of soda bread, topped with thin slices of cucumber and lamb’s lettuce, and pretty violet flowers scattered on top. I managed to sneak a forkful. Having done so, I immediately had food-choice regret. Had I been married to someone else, someone who shares, I might have suggested we go halves, or even swap,but I knew that it was pointless. Not only that, but I had ordered C’s least favourite fish so the possibility of C contemplating a sacrificial starter was indeed a non-starter.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked the soused Cornish mackerel, grapefruit, radish and spring leaves. A delicate, balanced dish and also carefully presented, I had been expecting a sort of pickled herring affair so I found my hand straying over to the lemon on C’s plate with more regularity than he might have wished. The mackerel was, I felt, somewhat better for the hint of lemon.
Following the mackerel and sticking to the Cornish theme, I ordered fillet of Cornish plaice, samphire, pickled cucumber and horseradish cream sauce. A beautifully cooked fillet, this sat on top of buttery samphire and a slightly strange floppy grilled pickled cucumber underneath. The horseradish sauce was subtle and creamy with just the right level of heat, so that it didn’t overpower the fish.Given the delicacy of plaice, this is not necessarily a simple thing to achieve.
I steered C towards the Peach Melba, having forsworn desserts for the time being, post the LasVegas carbicide. Peach Melba is a dish which was created at the end of the 19th century, by French chef Auguste Escoffier, at the Savoy, to honour Dame Nellie Melba, the Australian soprano, who was performing at Covent Garden at the time. Bringing it bang up to date, this was a unexpectedly complex assembly of white peaches, raspberries green tea meringue, flaked almonds and crystallised basil. Delicate and light, not over sweet, this was a great dessert. Not only that, but when I asked about what was in it, they gave me a pre-printed fact sheet with the history of the dessert. I love that.
According to Google Maps, it is a mere 28.7 miles from Marble Arch to Bray and for those of you who are London-based, whilst a trip to Bray is not necessarily achievable during your lunchtime, it is perfectly possible to consider an evening or weekend outing to the Berkshire riverside, where a warm welcome awaits. And unlike The Hand, you can actually get in.