It’s a bit hard as a food blogger not to go celebrity chef chasing in London, and de jour, Heston Blumenthal is the grandaddy. But, because we booked this trip fairly much as we walked to the airport, we couldn’t get a table at Dinner. The Fat Duck is just outside of London, but we would have needed to know we were coming to London on this day, way back in about 1984 to get a table there. But, the canny beings we are, we sniffed out Blumenthal’s finger in the pie at the Hinds Head at Bray, close enough even for the fattest of ducks to waddle down the street from his flagship. It’s pulled one of those shiny Michelin stars out of the sky, and pinned it to ye olde tudar door, just to bring people like me in for a little sticky beak. So this morning required a train trip.
Unfortunately we were more than a little dusty after the magnanimous portions of Loupiac at Tartufo the previous evening, and so getting to Bray was a tad more difficult than it should have been. Firstly, we needed pork and black asprin, but considering we were still jetlagged and accidentally got out of bed at 7 rather than 10, the only place open on the strip was Pret. I suppose it’s a London institution, this French-named pretend-healthy gourmet version of McDonalds, so we indulged. A bacon and egg baguette (surprisingly good, but with hangovers like ours, we might have enjoyed the cardboard wrapper) and a Coke in hand, we stumbled through the tube gates like Patsy and Edwina on New Years’ Day.
We had to stop about 47 times between Holborn and Waterloo and look at the map.
At Waterloo, I battled the automatic ticket machine and, although I cursed with far greater alacrity, in the end I came off second best, and with 2 return tickets going to completely the wrong place.
We finally arrived at Bray, via a short trip to Windsor for a snap and a pap (Queenie was not in), and plonked ourselves at the Hinds Head bar just in time for some aperitifs. Monkey 47 had Lulu hooked, and she dove into a G&T while I threw back a Bray Julep (very pretty thing with Zubrowka, Lillet and chamomile) faster than they took to make it. While we were slurping another barman was making little parma ham rolls stuffed with sliced gherkins and more. We found out that all went into the Bloody Mary, and so we had to have one. It’s just been awarded 4th best Bloody Mary in the country (Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town won, but I’ve no idea how they beat this…), so in the sake of research, we couldn’t refuse.
Before we could offend too many of the cashmere clad locals (the area is decidedly chi-chi), we were whisked up to the dining room, and proceeded to stuff our gobs with some of the very best pub food I do believe either of us have ever come across. It all started with the devils on horseback. Cheeky little prunes, soaked in Armagnac, injected with mango puree and wrapped in wafer-thin crispy bacon. They would come back to haunt us, but more on that later.
Following was my terrine, a georgeous pink-striped brick of lardy goodness, Lulu’s beetroot and goats cheese a complete upheaval of this traditional combination. Mains were my plaice (my favourite fish in the world) with the omnipresent samphire (I mean, what kind of restaurant are you, if you don’t serve fish with samphire at this time of year?) but Lulu got the magnificent lard-ridden dish this time, an oxtail and kidney suet pudding, browned and glistening with gelatinous gravy like a pair of well-oiled dimpled thighs on a Dubai beach in May. Ludicrously good stuff.
Our paunches conquered all – belts, and tables even, and we pushed our chairs back and demanded digestifs. Seems it’s not really a thing in the charming UK countryside, and although they have about 152 whiskeys and 75 gins behind the bar, there was not an Amaro for love or money. Never fear, our trusty barman whipped up a couple of specials, some neuclear-orange Aperol based tipples which were promptly accompanied by a smoking gun of liquid nitrogen, orange bitters and absinthe. We’ve called it the Hinds Head fall-out. It had the superb ability to both cleanse our oesophagi and make us feel a little sober, allowing us to progress to dessert. A chocolate wine slush was hard to go past, particularly as it was sidled up to a wafer of salted caramel and chocolate.
With the promise of more smoke and mirrors, we went down to the bar for more sustenance. We think we may have had another drink downstairs, and even paid the bill, but all we can really remember is sitting with a pewter stein of fragrant smoking something or other under our noses, the warning not to breathe too deeply as it may endanger our respiratory system, and Lulu breaking wind just loud enough for the barman to hear it, but quiet enough for him to ignore it gracefully. It might have been let go with some dignity if Lulu and I hadn’t fallen into that pit of soundless laughter, that moment of perpetual hysterical scream, where the world stops because you just can’t get the sound out. I think it was pretty obvious that it HAD actually happened at that point, and so our wonderful barmen lost the last millimetres of respect they may have had for us. However we may have just made friends for life. But not with devils on horseback.
We decided fresh air was in order.
Monkey Island was just around the bend, and considering we’d drunk a pint of Monkey 47 gin, and we were both hooting like baboons at this point, that was the perfect destination. We walked 10 metres and realised we were decidedly parched when saw all these happy people drinking by the water on a riverside terrace, with perfect white swans in audience. We asked if we could come in for a drink, but it turns out that the three Michelin starred Waterside restaurant can’t serve alcohol without food and don’t do thrice-cooked chips with a glass of Champers at 4pm. Lulu, for the life of her, is not sure how they managed to get those stars, and is considering the Maidenhead Travelodge as a better option.
All worked out well, as drunken staggers usually do, until fifteen minutes later and busting for the loo, we arrived at Monkeys to a sign of grave concern. Private Function. Island Closed.
We went in.
There really was nothing for it, we needed a toilet after our arduous trek, and a taxi back to Bray and onto Maidenhead station. I sent Lulu ahead with her rictus grin and subservient manner, and she was nattering like an old friend with the manager before I got halfway up the garden path. I got my ablutions, and the bar manager would whizz us back to where we needed to go.
So, we didn’t get our tea and scones by the country bends of the Thames, but in the end we got exactly what we needed. A yellow suzuki Ibiza tearing through the country lanes, our lives beholden to a generous stranger. We dropped into the Hinds Head to pick up our bags on the way to the station.
“That doesn’t look like a taxi” the manager said.
“No, it’s not…. We made friends!”
————-(All photos are from our instagram feed, hashtgged at #sassyandluluhitlondon – they are taken with an iphone 5, and largely unedited. More photos, hopefully of better quality, along with non-daily writing, will be added in posts upon our return home
Summary of activities:
Hinds Head at Bray – Superb gastropub, an easy day-trip from London. 9/10
Monkey Island – an easy walk up the lane from the centre of Bray, and apparently a great place for scones. Pretty gardens.
Also in Bray: The Fat Duck, The Crown at Bray (both Blumenthals), The Waterside (three Michelin stars), The Royal Oak (one star) and Caldesi in Campagna (well known and respected Italian with cooking classes) – not a bad selection, and more basic local pubs too!