The village of Bray is the smallest place in Britain with the most millionaires – 160 of its 4,600 residents have assets of more than £10 million. A cluster of seven Michelin stars will do that to place. But you don’t need to be ordering a super yacht to visit (phew).
Nestled on the banks of the Thames, it’s picture postcard pretty, just 30 minutes from London and boasts two of the UK’s three-star Michelin restaurants – Alain-Roux’s The Waterside Inn and Heston Blumenthal’s flagship culinary curiosity shop The Fat Duck, PLUS his Muddy Award-winning, one Michelin star gastropub The Hind’s Head.
Nothing stuffy, but lots of luxury. Like dining with in your besties country house (if they happen to be one of Bray’s super-rich).
A 15th century inn, The Hind’s Head offers what it calls ‘traditional British cuisine’ with a menu that reintroduces some historic dishes with a hit of Heston theatre. But to be honest, the ‘pub’ is more like a batty uncle’s country house, serving exceptional cocktails every bit as surprising as the food. The Tudor building (famously owned by the unprincipled Vicar of Bray) was given a spectacular makeover a a few years ago and Head Chef Pete Grey (a Heston veteran having worked here for more than seven years), has made the kitchen is own. So expect Heston’s DNA, but credit must be given to this talented chef who has retained the Michelin star year after year and consistently delivers superb cookery on behalf of the big man.
The look now reflects its hunting lodge and coaching inn past, with a vibe that is elegantly eccentric with a nod to the many royal connections. Upstairs is now The Royal Lounge (venue for Prince Philip’s stag do)– is a cocktail bar, with tweed and velvet furnishings, taxidermy and dim lighting. Think cool gentlemen’s club without the overflowing testosterone.
A right royal knees up is demanded in The Vicar’s Room – private dining with added drama.
The restaurant occupies the whole of the ground floor, a rich mix of wooden paneling, leather chairs, settels, fireplaces and parquet flooring. It’s relaxed, buzzy and the service is attentive, as you would expect from a starred gaff, but the surroundings are informal yet luxurious. For private parties you should book the dramatic Vicar’s Room (there’s no room charge), where you can dine surrounded by Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
Do not miss the opportunity to sink a cocktail in The Royal Lounge – it’s theatrical and very cool. Aesthetically it is right up my street – shotgun chandeliers, Heston and his team immortalised in curtain fabric and cool artwork. The drinks menu is vast, craft beers, artisan gins (good to see Muddy fave Berkshire Botanical on the bar shelf) and spirits, cocktails and mocktails that taste as good as the ones with booze.
In the restaurant we sat next to enormous fireplace on the ground floor. Snacks are available either in the Royal Lounge with drinks or at your table, with a la carte, vegan and vegetarian menu to tickle your tastebuds. To kick off our dinner on a busy Friday night service, I couldn’t resist sharing a signature Scotch Egg and a portion of Quavers – shards of Prawn Cracker-esque puffed crunchiness flavoured with beetroot, mushroom and spiced cauliflower. Lush. The Scotch Egg is always a joy to eat. Served in a silver egg cup and mustard mayo. How The Hind’s Head produce perfectly cooked eggs every single time is a mystery to me. It is nothing short of a culinary miracle.
Enough foodie flirting, let’s get down to business. Let the games begin. First up the gastropub’s signature pea and ham soup. It’s light, smooth with with chunks of ham hock delivering a salty, meaty flavour punch. It’s a good start, but the mushroom parfait with puffed rice (always reminds me of something of I’m A Celebrity…), pickled mushroom and grilled Campaillou is even better. A Vegan dish chosen by my carnivorous husband, the smoked mousse of pickled wild mushrooms and popped rice is a stunner, especially when spread on the comforting fresh bread.
Next up, roast cod on a bed of kale surrounded by cider butter sauce. It’s indulgent, perfectly balanced and the fish flake with nothing more than a flirty wink. In the wrong hands the sauce could’ve been a greasy mess or two acidic, but this was glossy and flavoursome to accompany a beautiful piece of cod.
To counterbalance the meat-free start to his meal, the OH went for the 28-day aged Hereford ribeye steak served with Heston’s famous triple cooked chips and bone marrow sauce. It’s a steak lovers night of passion. I thought Mr M was giving me all the heart eyes across the table. Apparently it was for the bone marrow sauce. *Eye roll*.
For dessert, I would have chosen the epic Cherry Bakewell tart and yoghurt ice cream, but instead, we headed up into the Royal Lounge for a cheeky post-dinner bevvie. Cocktails for pud is my new favourite thing and Gold Rush didn’t disappoint. Served in a coupe, this is a refreshing, blinged out mix of elderflower, gin, vermouth, grapefruit bitters, Champagne and gold leaf. The other half had the Treason IPA from local Windsor and Eton Brewery. No need to put on airs and graces here. It’s the right side of special without feeling like you don’t belong.
The wine list is also a fox delight. There are loads to choose from by the glass and many surprise, including Gewurztraminer, recommended by restaurant manager Ellen. It was all aromatics, smooth and a wine I would definitely keep an eye for when I’m cruising along the boozy supermarket aisles.
OUT AND ABOUT:
Take a stroll (or a roll?) around the village. It won’t take you long – about 50 metres before you make it to Story on the high street, a tiny boutique that must do the most incredible trade with all the passing foodies. Fair play though, because it’s a little haven of great taste, with lovely jewellery, fashion and homewares. It’s a short walk to the river’s edge, but if you want to push up your daily step count, head down to Bray Lock and can do some lovely looping walks around Bray, Maidenhead and Windsor. For the more adventurous, there’s paddle boarding, windsurfing or kayaking on Bray Lake.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Foodies who want to experience a Heston Blumenthal’s world without choking on the bill. High quality lunchers (think good friend catch-ups or relaxed work lunches). Grab the girls for cocktails, date night with the other half or special occasion family get togethers. Kids are surprisingly well catered for.
Not for: Those who want a more formal white table cloth style approach to Michelin dining.
£££: As befits a Michelin restaurant, you can add a couple of quid onto each course. So starters are priced from £12.50, mains £28.50-£58 (and don’t forget to add your sides of fries and veggies to that price). Desserts are £15. So I’d say it’s expensive for a ‘normal’ restaurant, but a fair price for the quality of the food.
The Hind’s Head, High St, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AB. Tel: 01628 626151.
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