The Hind’s Head
Bray, SL6 2AB
Tel. 01628 616151
Food type: British
Website: Hind’s Head
Earlier this year, the Hind’s Head closed for a complete refurbishment. The dining room has now been expanded across the whole of the ground floor with the upper floor now used for pre-dinner drinks. To be honest, it has taken me some time to return here since the makeover because of the decision to do away with the a la carte menu and now offer a tasting/ set menu only format. I often associate tasting menu only restaurants as a cynical way to cut cost and increase profits at the expense of the customers choice.
One of the criticisms in the past about this place was that the menus here were static, but for 1 or 2 seasonal variations. Sure some of the staples, like the ‘Hash of Snails’ and ‘Strawberry Tart’ rotate in and out depending on availability and seasonality, but for the most part the old a la carte menu featured a core of dishes which would never budge from the menu. A bit like Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental I suppose.
The idea of the tasting/ set menus is to allow the restaurant to continually change dishes on a monthly basis. It also allows the kitchen to produce slightly more elaborate dishes while keeping costs down and having good quality control. There are 3 menus on offer – the 3 course ‘Mary’ menu (£25) is essentially their set lunch menu while at dinner there is a 4 course ‘Aleyn’ menu (£48) and 6 course ‘Elizabeth’ menu (£58). Between these 3 menus there is a core repertoire of dishes that they can draw from to cater for various dietary requirements. As of August, the restaurant has also started to offer an a la carte option for lunch which brings into question how popular the whole set menu idea is. In fact when I visited, there were a couple of walk-in punters who decided against dining here because of the set menus.
The first course has been a signature/ staple on the menu since I can remember. Pea and ham soup may sound like simple pub fare but the version here has been given a few tweaks. The soup is a lot lighter with a cappuccino in texture thanks to the aeration. At the bottom of the froth hides a treasure trove of jewels. Fresh peas (double podded), ham cubes and jelly. The seasoning here is relatively light to account for the saltiness of the ham and allow the sweetness of the peas to shine through. While on the surface, it may seem that the restaurant is still serving the same dish over the years, much like the Fat Duck across the road, this dish has seen countless revisions. The Scotch egg is textbook with well seasoned sausage meat and a quail’s egg with a runny centre. The execution is perfect, the mustard mayonnaise for me is superfluous.
This was followed by scallops with a bacon veloute. The presentation here is outstanding – something that was made for Instagram. The scallops were nicely timed but the whole dish felt like it needed a bit more seasoning. All the flavours just felt rather muted and needed a bit more salt to bring out its flavours. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the menu, I wouldn’t have guessed that there was any bacon in the veloute. A missed opportunity.
As you probably know, I love a tomato salad. The dressing with basil oil and creamy ewes milk yoghurt was very sensible. The unannounced salty, slightly smoked anchovies was a nice surprise, giving a nice umami hit alongside the tomatoes. Ultimately, this is a dish about the quality of produce. Heston’s restaurants are not known for sourcing the best produce relying more on technique and processes to pad their often average produce. These (British) tomatoes unfortunately reflect our weather – rather lacklustre and something I would expect from my local Waitrose. To be frank, my secretary at work grows better tomatoes in her own garden.
The main course of iberico pork was essentially a take on grilled pork with a classic charcuterie sauce. You can see that the new set menu format has allowed dishes which are more elaborate. Alongside the chargrilled pork loin is a pork cracker, an element which has made its appearance from time to time at the Fat Duck. Although it may not look like much, this pork cracker requires a fair bit of effort to produce. The pork is probably cooked sous vide and then finished on the grill and has taken up a nice smoky flavour. Seasoning here is spot on as is the balance of acidity in the charcuterie sauce.
We followed with a raspberry cheesecake which was of course a deconstructed version. Crumbled biscuit base, cheesecake mousse with a hidden raspberry liquid centre. The star of the plate was the perfect rocher of biscuit ice cream. Lovely, silky mouthfeel with complex notes of cinnamon, ginger and tarragon. To be honest, I’d happily eat a bowl of the biscuit ice cream.
The final dessert, treacle tart ice cream was more of a palate cleanser to conclude the meal. Again texture of the ice cream was fantastic and it carried a lovely flavour of treacle tart. Not too sure why blowtorched raspberries feature on this dish, especially since the preceding dish was the raspberry cheesecake. I would have also hoped that with a set menu, there was no need for ingredient repetition between courses.
I enjoyed my meal at the Hind’s Head. I do think that the portion sizing with the set menus are on the small side. Or maybe it is the lack of carbs on the plate. While the cooking here is technically correct, it also feels very mechanical and rather soulless. Unlike at the Fat Duck or even Dinner, there is no table side theatre to distract you. As mentioned previously, the ingredients here are not of the highest quality but this is also reflected in their pricing which is pretty reasonable. I was hoping that with the refit and move to the set menu format would allow the restaurant to continue to push on and deliver food at a higher level. However, at the moment it seems like Heston is happy to keep it at status quo.