Our guide to British pubs. This week: The Hinds Head, Bray, Berkshire
In 1947, the Hinds Head played host to Prince Philip’s stag party, before his marriage to the Queen. If the thought of the Duke of Edinburgh swilling pints with abandon is too difficult to imagine, there’s plenty to catch the eye in the religious thread that runs through the dark wooden veins of this 15th-century pub. A panel commemorates the Vicar of Bray, the eponymous protagonist of the old English ballad, who thrice changed faith in Tudor times. And above the fireplace an inscription reads: “Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there.”
Never mind Fear; if Hunger or Thirst knock at your door, you’ve come to the right place. Owned by Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck fame, the Hinds Head is a village pub with a difference. Rather than ruddyfaced farmers in muddy boots, the locals are a well-heeled lot. Aston Martins and Porsches grace the car park like a Surrey showroom. Resident beers on tap include IPA Greene King and Abbot Ale, with “guests” that include a local Marlow beer — this week it’s Roasted Nuts — or Tanner’s Cornish ale.
But it’s on the food front that the pub really excels. While the Fat Duck and Waterside Inn make Bray a truly culinary town, the Hinds Head at least has no bacon-and-eggice-cream nonsense. Instead it provides a gastronomic banquet of traditional British food that’s unapologetically full-fat. Starters such as an exquisitely light and frothy pea and ham soup (£5.50) or mutton ham “cooked in hay” with quince jelly (£7) are followed by Lancashire hotpot (£15.50) or oxtail and kidney pudding (£14). Eton mess (£5.95) is a favourite dessert and another is quaking pudding, a baked custard that quivers like jelly.
Lighter fare includes a smoked salmon with a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich (£5.50), or you can mop up your Roasted Nuts with Scotch quail’s eggs (£1.50 each) and Welsh rarebit (£3).
But as I relax by a crackling fireplace in a comfortable armchair, it’s hard not to feel like a Tudor monarch and want to feast accordingly. Fortunately Henry VIII never had his stag night (or six) here, else it might not still be standing. Kate Robinson
The Hinds Head Hotel, Bray, Berkshire (01628 626151; www.hindsheadhotel.co.uk)