Reviewed by the Wild Boar
When my parents came down, I was wondering where’s the best place to go to let them eat the best of British gastropub food – the first answer that sprung to mind was the Hinds Head.
Just a few doors down of the Fat Duck in sleepy Bray village, the Hinds Head is also owned by Heston Blumenthal, although he isn’t head chef there. I had driven all the way there before with some friends and was amazed by the food so I was quite eager to not only bring my parents there but also to do a review.
As an appetizer, we had some ‘Devils on horseback’ (prunes wrapped with mango chutney and bacon) and ‘Warwickshire wizzers’ (seemed like normal cocktail sausages to me).
We had sampled the ‘Pea and ham soup’ before so we recommended it to my dad. He agreed that it was very good and full of pea flavour along with very generous portions of ham inside.
The PigPig meanwhile opted for the ‘Duck and smoked guinea fowl terrine with spiced apples’. The terrine was very flavourful and was quite strong in its natural meaty flavours although I felt it was a tad oversalted.
A throwback to the past, the ‘Fresh crab and prawn cocktail’ was swimming in a pool of dressing. The seafood was fresh and naturally sweet but the sheer volume of dressing threw me off a little.
One of the specials was ‘Devilled whitebait’ – deep fried little fish in a light batter with cayenne pepper. I quite enjoyed the little devils and the home made tartar sauce was a treat.
Both the PigPig and my dad had ‘Oxtail and kidney pudding’ for their mains, partly because the waitress recommended it as it won some award for best oxtail/kidney pudding in the world. The meat filling inside was delicious, tender and full of meaty taste. Unfortunately, we found the sauce too salty, and I also thought the pudding pastry was too stodgy.
Another British standard, the ‘Pork sausages with mash and caramelised onion gravy’ from my brother was surprisingly good. The sausages itself were huge and pretty tasty on its own while the mash was very light and went down a treat. Although not as nice as Joel Robuchon’s mash, it is coming in close.
My mom opted for ‘Whole plaice, shrimps, capers and parsley’. The fish was cooked to just the right degree and the mix of shrimps, capers and parsley on top was enough seasoning for the dish. The fish itself was a bit on the small side though.
As usual, I ordered the ‘Aberdeen-shire beef with bone marrow sauce and triple cooked chips’. Unfortunately, rib-eye isn’t one of the cuts available on offer, so I settled for a rump. Ultimately however, the steak was cooked just how I like it, charred on the outside with juicy pink in the middle. The sauce too was amazingly full of flavour and the little gobs of bone marrow added to the allure of the steak.
The triple cooked chips were a famous side dish of Blumenthal’s – I had seen a television program where he explained how he made it (which I now forgot exactly how) and I overheard a table next to us also saying how they “have to try the famous chips!!”. At any rate, the chips were very crunchy but still slightly soft inside. Unfortunately the extra crunchiness made extra work for my jaw which soon tired from all the crunching.
One of two sides we added, the ‘Broccoli with anchovies and almonds’ was a bit so-so. The broccoli was a bit overcooked for me, and the anchovy water at the bottom made this very salty. On the other hand, the ‘Chantenay carrots’ were very sweet.
Finally, dessert time. We had the ‘Quaking pudding’ on our previous visit and was only too happy to order it again. Its name comes from the pudding being very wobbly (it was quite good fun shaking the dish it lies upon to make it dance) and is apparently a very old dessert that got lost in the pages of history. The first surprise is the temperature, as the pudding is served warm, and the mildly spiced aroma with nutmeg and cinnamon is quite unlike most other English desserts.
Another English staple, the ‘Banana Eton mess’ has a slight twist in the use of bananas rather than strawberries. Essentially a mix of bananas, meringue and cream.
I had read Catty’s review of her Fat Duck degustation experience and remembered she had a ‘Chocolate wine-slush with Millionaire shortbread’. Seeing it on the menu at Hinds Head, I just had to order it to see how it was like for myself (I didn’t have it when I had my degustation at Fat Duck). In short, it’s a blended mix of ice, red wine and chocolate which to me tasted like an ungodly abomination from the lower circles of Hell but the PigPig loved it and slurped it all down happily.
My dad had complained about the saltiness of his oxtail/kidney pudding earlier and the waitress felt so bad she insisted on providing us an extra treat in the ‘Treacle tart with milk ice cream’. I for one wasn’t complaining. Whilst not as good as the treacle tart from the Goods Shed, this one still was pretty decent although I find the tart base too crunchy for my liking. The milk ice cream makes a good foil to the sweetness of the treacle as well.
Throughout dinner, we had excellent service by the cheerful waitress from Hungary (apparently nice to visit but not nice to stay according to her) who was keen to provide suggestions. Altogether dinner including a bottle of wine and a filtered coffee came up to just under £40 per person.
I found the food better the first time I had eaten here, but this might be due to the choices of dishes the first time suiting my palate more. Still, the general quality of food here is very good, despite the chef’s attempt to increase our salt intake.
Would I eat here again? Hard to say, the quality of food is comparatively matched by Great Queen Street (based on my last visits anyway) which is far more accessible.
The Hinds Head
Telephone: +44 (0)1628 626151