On my way back from Paris, I had a quick overnight in Surrey to briefly visit a dear friend and her family. We had just enough time for a late dinner (thanks to yet another British Airways delay) and to celebrate her birthday with a special lunch the next day.
Dinner was at a local Indian restaurant – a welcome spicy change from the French food I’d been eating. The restaurant served wines by Soul Tree, which come from the Nasik Valley in India – touted as the “Napa Valley” of India. The Sauvignon Blanc I ordered worked well with the fiery lamb dish. Don’t be afraid to try some if you have the chance!
Lunch at Hinds Head Tavern was slightly more refined. It’s Heston Blumenthal’s casual dining establishment near The Fat Duck (sadly, we could not get a reservation there this time), and since my friend had bought me one of his cookbooks, this was a fitting place for us to dine.
The decor when you first enter is what you expect to find in a British country town- wood beamed low ceilings, dim lighting, if not for the sunny day, and charming sayings written above a fireplace.
While we waited to be sat (I really don’t know why we had to wait, since we had a reservation and it wasn’t full), I perused their Drinks Menu with craft cocktails, a stark contrast from anything I saw in Paris although not very different from what I find in NYC.
As we sat, we were brought bread with salted butter. After two weeks in Paris, I am now bread-obsessed and since they rarely provide butter there, I was taken aback. The bread was slightly warm, soft in the center and a crispy crust, but nowhere near as good as my favorite place in Paris (don’t worry, I will be posting about that next week).
The food menu offers a 2 or 3 course set price, which is quite reasonable, but we chose a la carte – especially since my friend is a vegetarian and that would not have worked on the set menu. They were very accommodating though, and offered to do the pea soup without ham. She opted instead for the beet and chevre salad – an excellent choice.
The dish was stunning visually and didn’t disappoint with the flavor. Other options were a hash of snails, a terrine, smoked salmon or mackerel — all of which I’d had plenty of in Paris. I, of course, chose the pea soup.
For our mains, my friend had the macaroni with mushrooms, which was served in a little crock. I tasted wine in the sauce that was rich yet seemed almost invisible. I had a bite, and would have wanted some cheese (but I always do). My friend, however, was pleased that it was not a traditional gratin.
I chose the plaice with grapes and sea beans- called samphire in the UK – which I did not know. The creamy sauce that accompanied it tasted mostly of butter (not that I’m complaining), but the fish was a little too cooked for me – although I still enjoyed it.
Overall, the food was very simple, yet elevated in the presentation. Portions were quite generous, and we were too full for dessert – none of which seemed particularly appealing. They did give us each a chocolate shell filled with some type of butter cream that was a perfect finish. (I’d also brought some macarons from Laduree so we weren’t deprived of sweets that day.)
For the price (77 pounds for two), it was definitely a wonderful meal. But do not eat there with the expectation that you’ll find the style of cooking that you would at The Fat Duck. Hopefully, I can get there on my next trip. It’s nice having friends who live nearby – always have a reason to visit.