Room at He­ston’s inn for a de­mand­ing diner

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - MICHELLE ROWE

MY best mate Lozza is as picky as all get out when it comes to food. Her list of culi­nary dis­likes — mush­rooms, lamb, shell­fish, any­thing with an odd tex­ture, the en­tire world of of­fal, stuff with fancy schmancy over­tones — is seem­ingly end­less. So I can hardly be­lieve it when I find my­self sit­ting next to her in He­ston Blu­men­thal’s din­ing room in Bray, in the English coun­try­side.

Not that He­ston Blu­men­thal din­ing room, mind. The Fat Duck, with all its jig­gery pok­ery and molec­u­lar wiz­ardry, not to men­tion tex­tures previously un­heard of by mankind, would sim­ply have been a bridge too far for a woman of such a del­i­cate con­sti­tu­tion.

In­stead, by way of a nice, happy medium, we are en­sconced in Blu­men­thal’s lesser-known eatery, The Hinds Head pub, a few doors down from his Miche­lin­starred Berk­shire restau­rant that’s re­peat­edly been voted among the best in the world.

And in a happy col­li­sion of the sub­lime and the ridicu­lous, the menu has some­thing for ev­ery­one. Snacks in­clud­ing scotch eggs get a hearty thumbs up from Lozza and the rest of our party of four, so we or­der a round (to help wash down the beers we’ve just bought at the bar).

Starters run the gamut from ham hock and foie gras ter­rine with pic­calilli to tea-smoked sal­mon with soda bread, and lemon salad with goat curd, cider poached pear and hazel­nuts. Not your av­er­age pub menu, and cheers to that.

For mains, I can’t go past the ox­tail and kid­ney pud­ding, one of sev­eral Tu­dor recipes on the menu cre­ated by Blu­men­thal with the help of food his­to­ri­ans from Lon­don’s Hamp­ton Court Palace ( there’s also an in­trigu­ing­sound­ing quak­ing pud­ding from the same era). Lozza opts for a suit­ably un­scary bub­ble and squeak cake with poached egg and mus­tard sauce for her main course, while our re­spec­tive part­ners tuck into a chicken, ham and leek pie and a sec­ond ox­tail pud.

The Tu­dor theme of some of the menu items is in keep­ing with our lo­ca­tion. The ori­gins of the 15th-cen­tury build­ing in which we sit — all tim­ber in­te­ri­ors and cosy nooks and cran­nies — are sketchy; it’s ru­moured to have been ei­ther an old hunt­ing lodge or a guest­house for an ab­bot, chang­ing hands over the years and op­er­at­ing as an inn un­til 1928, when it was bought by Lon­don night­club owner Kitty Henry, who was look­ing for a restau­rant to run.

Henry knocked the tiny pub to­gether with the cot­tage next door to cre­ate her de­sired eatery, ex­pand­ing fur­ther over time to meet de­mand.

Word got out about this gourmet wa­ter­ing hole less than an hour from Lon­don and a high­fa­lutin crowd came call­ing; in 1963 a party of 51 guests, in­clud­ing the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and King Olaf of Norway, popped by for a lunch of Scot­tish lob­ster cut­lets, sad­dle of lamb with red­cur­rant jelly, new pota­toes, French beans and broc­coli, fol­lowed by trea­cle tart with ice cream. (The Duke of Ed­in­burgh was no stranger at the inn; he is said to have held his stag party here in 1947.)

The Hinds Head was later taken over by a brewery, which even­tu­ally sold it to Blu­men­thal in 2004, and he is now re­spon­si­ble for de­sign­ing the menus that are brought to life by the pub’s ta­lented head chef Kevin Love.

We hap­pen by on a week­day with no reser­va­tions, hop­ing (though not en­tirely hope­ful) for a quick bite to eat. The place is as full as a knee-high Tu­dor boot, so we or­der drinks at the bar and put our name on a wait­ing list. Within 15 min­utes we’re ush­ered through to a large ta­ble on a raised plat­form to the rear of the room; the per­fect, pri­vate perch.

Lunch turns into a lazy, drawnout af­fair. My ox­tail and kid­ney pud­ding is fabulous; it’s a rich, suety pas­try packed full of beau­ti­fully ren­dered meat, per­fectly com­ple­mented by side dishes of but­tered cab­bage, smoked ba­con and onion, and some wa­ter­cress with chard, pick­led shal­lots and wal­nuts.

Lozza is wolf­ing down her bub­ble and squeak be­side me, so it’s safe to as­sume all is well there; and our chaps are sim­i­larly oc­cu­pied.

At the end of the meal, our bill comes to a most un-Blu­men­thal­like £155 ($242) for four, in­clud­ing drinks and ser­vice, which is an ex­cel­lent re­sult all round, par­tic­u­larly given The Hinds Head is also an award-win­ner ( it was voted Miche­lin’s Bri­tish pub of the year for 2011).

Best of all, though, Lozza can say that she’s eaten at the ta­ble of He­ston Blu­men­thal and loved ev­ery minute of it. And those aren’t words you hear ev­ery day.

He­ston Blu­men­thal’s The Hinds Head is lo­cated in a 15th-cen­tury build­ing in Berk­shire

Quak­ing pud­ding

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