Hinds Head High Street, Bray, Berkshire, tel: 01628 626 151

Heston's Hinds Head is a gorgeous pub – just make sure you don't go quietly if you're called to the upper level

They didn't tell me when I rang up to book that I could choose between economy and business- class dining. Naturally, if they had, I would have opted for the latter, but when, seconds after boarding the good flight Hinds Head, we were whisked to the upper level, it felt like a free upgrade.

The trouble is, Heston Blumenthal's enterprise, 27 metres (as I walked them) from The Fat Duck, doesn't profit from this two-tier system. Downstairs is a glorious English pub; upstairs, the restaurant feels like a reunion for the East Devon Conservative Association. It's impossible to eat here without being acutely sensitive to a kind of classist stratification; but even if you can overcome a sense of guilt at being separated from the proles down below, the stilted atmosphere up here in the restaurant will soon make you wish you were among them.

Low roof beams are fine, but the floor plan is such that on a less than fully booked weekend afternoon, everyone can hear what everyone else is saying. This is Bray, I know, but the effect of such a mis-arrangement is that everyone whispers, which is worse than disconcerting. It's scary, forbidding. It feels like we're in a viper's cesspit and – worse – everyone is conspiring against us. That's what this is – a conspiracy!

Every approaching waiter seems suddenly to come from beyond enemy lines; each bit of food a missive from a terrifying insurgent. Here comes the duck and smoked guinea fowl terrine with spiced apples, delicious at £9.50 with perfect, earthenware-deserving hotness on the fruit. The meat is dazzlingly smooth and strong on the top of the mouth, and evidently laced with rock salt, which, come to think of it, looks like polonium-210.

The main courses offer a suspicious sop to pescatarians with cod that is "line-caught" – but the rascal still died, of course, and that doesn't forgive the appalling absence of a veggie option. Oxtail and kidney pudding (£16.95) looks least likely of the few remainders to land me in radiation therapy, and chomping into its ribbons of juicy flesh, and perfect little sub-globules of ravishable kidney, this might be the best such pudding this side of Vladivostok.

My companion has a pea and ham soup that tastes of pea and ham, the Ronseal approach to starter school. Then a venison cheeseburger, beautifully cooked, but idiotically served on a tiny wooden board. The thing about plates is that they're useful for putting things on. This titchy piece of oak might be aesthetically pleasing and part of the master plan, but it's a bugger to eat off.

Now she has sherry-poached peaches with vanilla ice cream and raspberries: the Ronseal approach to dessert. It tastes of sherry, peaches, vanilla, and raspberries, but not powerfully of any. Her three courses are unexceptional at £27.50.

The whispers won't relent. I guess that if they wanted to do for me, I'm probably dying already, so I go for the chocolate wine "slush" with millionaire shortbread at £7.95. I made this dish myself when I was 12, calculating that two nice things added together make a double-nice thing, but of course they don't, they really don't, not even if served with a flamboyant, chilled Dime bar. The "slush" is a tangy purple foam, whose flavour evolves from cocoa to bad claret with each mouthful. It's forced rather than forceful.

We head away from this pseudo-Soviet enterprise (a disgraceful way to treat a chef as good as Clive Dixon, by the way), and back into the gorgeous pub beneath, with its pungent ales and an outstanding Dindarello dessert wine for £6.95. Suddenly, it's a blissful afternoon, and if you're not one of the 8,460 or so who live in Bray, do take a walk to the river after. You'll note that all the cars have alloy wheels and the cricket club is probably the oldest anywhere.

The only nuisance is when a band of merry numpties, fully attired in their Pimm's O'Clock uniforms, come in and demand a garden. The bar staff straight-facedly say that there's a pub 20 minutes down the road. By now, we're in on the conspiracy ourselves, which I wouldn't have predicted when I first heard those whispers.

6/10

Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets

Hinds Head High Street, Bray, Berkshire, tel: 01628 626 151 Lunch and dinner daily. About £140 for lunch for two, including drinks

Pubs with panache

Eagle at Barrow

Clitheroe Road, Barrow, Lancashire, tel: 01254 825 285

Butcher-turned-chef Kevin Berkins serves meat dishes of exceptional quality at this grandly subdued gastropub; this is a most impressive destination

The Victoria

10 West Temple, London SW14, tel: 020 8876 4238

Revived by new owners (including chef Paul Merrett), this East Sheen gastropub serves up simple food at reasonable prices; it has a nice conservatory too

The Star Inn

Main Street, Harome, near Helmsley, N Yorks, tel: 01439 770 397

Andrew and Jacquie Pern's relaxed and generous gastropub legend has been much improved by a recent extension, and the food is often impossible to fault

Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2010.' www.hardens.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there