He might be most famous for using liquid nitrogen and weird flavour pairings at the Fat Duck, but Heston Blumenthal has put an equal amount of research and creativity into classic English dishes at his Bray pub, The Hinds Head
Have you ever looked at the gallery page of the Hind’s Head website? English Heritage food-porn at its finest
I properly buggered up the ordering on our visit to the Hind’s Head. But there’s mitigating circumstances. Let me explain:
Our trip to the Heston’s pub the Hind’s Head was part of a two-day Heston-themed birthday tour, that also took in his revamped Little Chef in Popham and a second trip to the Fat Duck (I hadn’t stopped going on about Heston’s mothership restaurant place since our first visit the year before).
I’d said many times before we went that only an absolute simpleton would go to a Heston restaurant and order a steak. Why would you choose such a basic thing when there’s a vast array of complex, historical and intricate dishes on the menu.
But, being obsessed with trying out the Triple Cooked Chips, I decided a steak would be the perfect thing to go with them. Except Triple Cooked Chips were “out of season” for our August visit, so you could only get standard fries. But by this time my brain was locked on the idea of steak.
So, instead of lovingly created dishes perfected though painstaking research and experimentation, I Just ordered a dull lump of red meat.
This was made no better by my choice of starter: more slices of red meat. And compounded by still having a belly-full of Braised Ox Cheeks (a traffic jam meant we’d only finished our meal at Popham 4 hours earlier).
I can’t pretend being stuffed from our Popham feast and picking a couple of severely mundane dishes didn’t put a slight downer on the experience, but that’s entirely my fault. We still got to enjoy some marvellous food, as you can see…
“Duck. Or grouse” is the golf-theme-birthday-card-grade joke emblazoned above the doorframe as you go in.
The inside is split into two: A tiny slate-floored bar room with a few tables for diners (the last of the actual pub drinkers cluster round the bar). Then a doorway to a more formal dining space where the real business takes place.
A mixture of old timbers and whitewashed walls, its pure English history. I kept expecting to see a vicar and Miss Marple sitting at the next table.
Nowadays the menu offers stuff that’s borderline with what you’d find at the Mandarin Oriental.
However, our visit took place in 2009 before Heston took over The Crown, so selection was from a lot of Crown-style dishes – Bangers & Mash, Chicken & Ham Pie, etc.
Scotch Egg, Devils on Horseback, Warwickshire Wizzers
We ordered the full range of the bar snacks while we read through the menu.
The Scotch Egg is utterly sublime. The runny yolk centre is magnificent (this being the creation of Laurence Tottingham who is now one of the head chefs at Manchester’s Aumbry restaurant). A typically wonderful Heston take on trashy yet iconic food.
Devils on Horseback we have no memory of.
Warwickshire Wizzers were unbelievably succulent. The very essence of a banger. Maybe they share something in common with the Perfection Bangers & Mash recipe?
Pea & Ham Hock Soup
Made with ham stock, and contains whole, just-warm peas for little bursts of flavour, this dish absolutely maxes out the flavours of pea and ham.
This was our first encounter with a bubbly, aerated soup – a technique used frequently by Heston to create a lighter mouthfeel.
Raw Beef Salad
And so the beef onslaught begins.
Tender, perfectly seasoned beef for the first few mouthfuls. Then it just became a chore.
Blade of Beef with Parsley Porridge
As flavoursome as it is tender. The thick, rich slick of sauce was incredible. Parsley Porridge (seen here without snails) was a strange, and very buttery, accompaniment.
Ok, this was an excellent piece of meat, and perfectly cooked.
But what a dull thing to go for. Especially as we had to make do with some fairly pedestrian fries in place of the fabled Triple Cooked Chips (we eventually got to try those at Dinner, where I scoffed 3 portions in revenge for this disappointment).
Bone marrow sauce is a terrific, unctuous accompaniment, but since I’m never really a fan of sauces on steak (good steak is its own sauce) it was just used to dip the lacklustre fries in.
Things picked up considerably once we started on dessert.
Sides: Broccoli & Fries
Broccoli was served with anchovies and almonds and was perfectly lovely. Limp, flaccid fries were a bitter disappointment when we couldn’t get triple cooked chips. They weren’t awful, but we’ve had much better elsewhere.
This may or may-not be the Perfection version of Heston’s trifle recipe. It’s certainly better than the one we made last Christmas.
The essential Hind’s Head dessert dish, though it’s now on the menu at Dinner. This is a great example of Heston’s fascination with the historical origins of British dishes.
Essentially a brûlée-less crème brûlée, flavoured with nutmeg and cinnamon and then turned out of it’s dish. Smooth, creamy with a warm flavour from the spices. The crisp slices of apple add a welcome freshness, though we’d have liked a biscuit or something on the side to add a bit of crunch.
Instead you get a historical fact sheet, printed on ye olde worlde parchment, telling you the story and origins of the dish. Expect a more detailed version when Historic Heston gets published in October 2013.
Treacle Tart & Milk Ice Cream
Gorgeous. Delicious, syrupy filling with a buttery, shattering crisp pastry. The milk ice cream is the perfect smooth foil to calm down the sugary hit. Our favourite.
When Heston first took over the Hinds Head the gastropub craze wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now.
Reading other blogs and reports from over the years it’s clear it was a great place to observe first-hand Heston’s love of classic British pub grub fused with his fascination with the Hampton Court-school of historical cooking. Plus, you could try out some of the Perfection dishes (they used to do the Fish Pie and Bangers & Mash, as well as that Treacle Tart).
Nowadays Dinner holds the limelight for the historical cooking craze, and classic British pub grub (Bagna Cauda, Big Apple Chilli Dog etc ) can be found over at The Crown.
Since our visit they’ve changed head chefs and revamped the menu quite heavily. Think of it now as “Dinner-lite”, with dishes costing between £2 and £5 less than inner-London. Parking is cheaper too.
Of course there are now amazing gastropubs all over Britain. So, unless it’s vital that you eat at a place with Heston’s name above the door, there’s no real reason to go out of your way to eat at the Hind’s Head.
I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to eat here, and our meal, baring my ordering mistakes, was exceptional. We’d happily visit the Hinds Head again, but –unlike the Fat Duck or Dinner- I doubt we’d make the 7-hour round trip just to go there.
Have you eaten at the Hinds Head, and if so what did you think of the food there? Do you think it;s worth the journey to Bray just to try Heston’s gastropub food? Tell us what you think in the comments section.