Hinds Head, Bray

We just returned from a great weekend in Oxfordshire, driving past a never ending montage of rolling hills, old stone churches, large manor houses and fields of sheep. When we booked this trip, Julie had the idea of doing a pub lunch somewhere nice between Oxfordshire and London on our drive home. After some quick research, we settled on The Hinds Head, located in the small village of Bray, outside of Windsor.

The Hinds Head was taken over by Heston Blumenthal and has received one Michelin star each year since 2011, not an easy feat for what is still essentially a pub. Heston is a bit of a celebrity chef here in the UK, with a handful of cooking shows in addition to his Michelin three star restaurant, Fat Duck, situated about a hundred feet from the Hinds Head. He is known for taking classic dishes and flavour combinations and updating them using modernist cuisine techniques. How he would construct a menu of traditional pub food intrigued me.We arrived for our noon reservation and enjoyed a pint at the bar before moving to the dining room. The interior was classic pub, with low ceilings, dark wood, good English beers on cask, and no music (strange quirk with pubs). We were greeted quickly and received the menus.

As you can see, the menu offerings were pretty standard, from Shepard’s pie to the classic Sunday roast. We decided on the ham and pea soup and the “hash of snails” to begin. Both starters were excellent. The ham and pea soup was slightly frothy and airy, not heavy cream based as I expected. It tasted like pure pea essence with cubes of tasty ham. Definitely on par with my moms split pea soup (mom, please make that for me when you visit in April). The snail hash was served over a slice of toasted country bread, topped with olives, mushrooms and a shaved fennel salad. Great acidity from the olives, earthiness from the mushrooms and snails, a nice light crunchy fennel salad. Great textures and flavours. And yes, I think snails are tasty. You should too.

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For mains, we went classic, with Julie ordering the bubble and squeak and me going with the roast pork collar. Bubble and squeak is essentially a casserole with potatoes and vegetables, usually left over roast veggies from Sunday lunch, mixed together and baked. The dish arrived in a small cast iron casserole pot, topped with a poached hens egg. Slightly fancy plating and construction, but essentially a straight forward dish. Very tasty.

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I went with one of the Sunday roast options, getting the roast pork collar with stuffing, gravy, roasted potatoes, pork crackling and of course a side of roasted root vegetables. The pork collar was delicious, with a good marbling of fat throughout. The gravy was spot on and the potatoes like the crunchiest giant french fry you have ever had. The side of vegetables, in this case cabbage, parsnip and rutabaga, were fantastic as well, as are most things that are cooked in the amount of butter these vegetables were. Again, straightforward pub cooking. No gimmicks or tricks. Just well executed dishes.

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We passed on pudding, as we had taken in our daily allotment of calories from this one meal. They did provide a little chocolate bite with the check, which was a nice touch and provided us with a small sugar fix without inducing a full on food coma. The bill came to about £75, so not a cheap lunch by any means. That does include service, tax, two beers and a glass of wine though. For a Michelin started establishment, that is a solid deal. Most one stars would be over £100 for a similar meal. And we certainly did not leave hungry. My only concern is that it is still pub food, so while executed at a high level, it was not a revelation by any means. The extra cost did probably provide the increase in service standards over most pubs, which is not something to overlook. Would I travel out if my way for another meal? Probably not considering the number of high quality of pubs in London. If you are visiting the Cotswolds though, it is worth it to take a slight detour and enjoy some great pub food in Bray.

The Hinds Head: recommended.

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