Teamwork, consistency and Scotch eggs: The Hind’s Head

Teamwork, consistency and Scotch eggs: The Hinds Head

by Tom Shingler 17 February 2017

Two doors down from The Fat Duck sits The Hinds Head, Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin-starred fine dining pub. Tom Shingler talks to head chef János Veres to find out how much work goes into making the menu.

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Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

The Scotch eggs at The Hinds Head are legendary. The size and shape of an actual hen’s egg with a soft yolk, seasoned sausagemeat and a crisp finish, the restaurant sells hundreds of them every week. They’ve become a bit of a signature for the fine dining pub, bought by Heston Blumenthal in 2004 so he could serve British cuisine alongside the more experimental dishes at The Fat Duck; both restaurants are on the same street in the village of Bray and in 2013 The Hinds Head earned a Michelin star.

Today, head chef János Veres ensures that Michelin star is retained through lots of hard work. As part of The Fat Duck Group, he works with some of the best chefs in the UK – including Heston’s right-hand man, Ashley Palmer-Watts – and has access to the coveted database of all the group’s recipes and research. While the menu at The Fat Duck has gone through entire evolutions over the past few years, The Hinds Head is a little more stable, with iconic dishes such as the Scotch egg and Heston’s famous triple-cooked chips on offer year-round.

‘We would upset a lot of people if we took certain things off the menu,’ says János. ‘At one point we thought we’d stop selling our pea and ham soup as it didn’t seem very seasonal, but diners were coming in specifically for a bowl of it with a Scotch egg on the side. Now it never comes off. When Heston bought The Hinds Head he wanted certain things to always be on the menu like the Scotch egg, our oxtail and kidney pudding and the tea-smoked salmon, so now we have a core menu made up of those signature dishes and change others as much as the season allows.’

Scotch egg
For a bar snack that costs less than £4, an incredible amount of time and effort goes into making every Scotch egg
Oxtail and kidney pudding
The oxtail and kidney pudding is one of The Hinds Head's signature dishes

It may technically still be a pub but, much like Tom Kerridge’s The Hand and Flowers or the handful of other Michelin-starred inns in the UK, almost everyone goes to The Hinds Head for the food. It’s a deceptively big building – János says it sees 900 covers most weeks – with two floors (including a very grand private dining room), plenty of original features (the carvings on the wooden panels are 400 years old) and the odd little Heston twist (his coat of arms hangs proudly upstairs). The food is unashamedly British with an historical twang that keeps things interesting, but while Dinner (Heston’s two-starred London restaurant) might be an edible museum of the UK’s culinary history, The Hinds Head isn’t as bound by what was cooked in the past.

‘We work around historical themes but that doesn’t always dictate the nature of our food,’ says János. ‘I’m free to add to the traditional or classic dishes with more modern techniques. For example, our chicken liver parfait is made with smoked water, which you don’t really see anywhere else. Dinner is a completely different setup so it’s hard to compare it to The Hinds Head, and while we might have simpler dishes on the menu they’re still cooked using the same methods and processes that you’d find in any of Heston’s restaurants. People come here for the earthy, hearty dishes that make British cuisine so good – our oxtail and kidney pudding and fish pie are immensely popular year-round, and if you went anywhere else in the country you wouldn’t find those two classics cooked in the same way as we cook them here.’

Dishes such as the fish pie are now on their fifth or sixth iteration – while diners might not notice little tweaks and amendments to the recipe, for János and his team there is always something that can be improved. One major change that customers will certainly notice, however, is an entire refurbishment of the restaurant itself at the end of March (reopening 20 April 2017). Doing away with à la carte menus entirely and offering a choice of three, four and six-course menus instead, it's another chapter in The Hinds Head's long history. A glass-fronted wine cellar, lounge areas and a completely redesigned private dining room will also be unveiled, accentuating the old beams and historic character of the building.

Janos Veres
The Hind's Head
Bought by Heston in 2004, The Hinds Head won a Michelin star in 2013
The Hind's Head
The dishes might be simpler and more 'classic' than those found at The Fat Duck, but the same intricate cooking methods are used throughout all of Heston's restaurants

Just because the kitchen isn’t bound by tradition, however, doesn’t mean János is going down the modernist route, or putting dishes on the menu for the sake of it. One of his favourite dishes at The Hinds Head is an homage to the pub’s history as an inn. ‘Old inns and ale houses always used to serve something called beef a la mode, which was basically braised beef with potatoes and whatever vegetables were available and would fit in the pot,’ he explains. ‘So we created a beef cheek a la mode, flavoured with mace, a very traditional British spice. Oysters were sometimes included too, so we added some oyster leaf as well, and finished off the dish with some crispy beef tendons to contrast with the rich, unctuous cheek. It all comes together as a very earthy, original dish, which has its roots in the history of the building.’

One thing The Hinds Head does have in common with the rest of the restaurants under The Fat Duck Group’s umbrella is the amount of time and effort that goes into every aspect of every dish. Even the seemingly simple choices, such as lamb tongue on toast with smoked anchovies and capers, took a couple of years to perfect. The pea and ham soup requires a raw pea purée, ham hock stock, sous vide Alsace bacon, shredded ham hock, fresh peas, mint oil and Alsace bacon dripping. Each Scotch egg must be exactly the same and made fresh every day; a fiddly and labour-intensive process that took the team years to master for what is, essentially, a bar snack. ‘We sell about 10,000 Scotch eggs every year,’ says János. ‘There are so many points at which the process can go wrong, and while we still have the occasional mishap the system we have today keeps things consistent.’

Scotch egg
János says his team makes around 10,000 Scotch eggs every year
Hind's Head
The restaurant is housed inside a Grade I listed building, with original beams and features throughout

All of this work – and this is a theme found throughout every single one of Heston’s restaurants, from The Fat Duck to The Perfectionists’ Café at Heathrow – is never down to just one person. The collaborative nature of what Heston has built over the years is key to the success of his business. All the chefs are able to make use of the development kitchens, access painstaking research conducted in-house and share cooking techniques. This makes The Fat Duck Group an incredible place to work for any chef; provided you are just as obsessed with great food as Heston and everyone else in his team.

‘You have to really love what you do to be a part of The Fat Duck Group,’ explains János. ‘It’s not an easy trade – I came in today at 8am and I’m going home at midnight. But that’s just what’s needed to be cooking at this level. You need to have passion, consistency and the drive to make everything better before you even come here, and then the ethos of the group – to question everything and strive for perfection – takes you to new heights. It’s no use being able to get everything right for a day, a week or a month; you need to nail it for years and years without ever slipping up, and that’s hard. I’ve been here for six years now, and to stay that long in one place is hard to find in the cheffing world. But The Fat Duck Group looks after me, and to have access to everything it offers is such a fantastic opportunity for any chef or front of house. The dedication to amazing food filters right down to the little details, and there's nowhere else in the world like it.’