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Three-times-cooked chips with everything, please

Published 17 April 2005
News Review
614th article

Chef Dominic Chapman, Chris Rea and Michael Winner outside the Hind's Head pub in Bray (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Mustard ice-cream or bacon-and-egg ice-cream alarms purists like me. What's wrong with vanilla or chocolate?

If you must experiment, why not deliver a strawberry ice-cream that tastes of strawberries and not chemical flavour? But Heston Blumenthal, Britain's latest three-Michelin-starred chef, is into new flavours.

I first visited his Fat Duck restaurant in Bray in Berkshire when Heston had no stars. He was, and is, a chef of outstanding skill. He's also the only sane chef I've met. Even though you might wonder, when, on my last visit, a waiter appeared with a teaspoon, instructed me to open my mouth and then stuffed the contents in.

Heston whiles away his time delving into ever more fanciful experiments while the other three-starred chef in Bray, Michel Roux, turns out boring and dreary food at his Waterside Inn.

Now Heston has excelled himself. He bought the pub almost beside the Fat Duck, called the Hind's Head. There they serve the best pub food in the world.

It's spectacularly simple. It's spectacularly good. This is the sort of restaurant I dream of finding but, even though I'm in my dotage, have never found before.

I soon encountered a problem. When I phoned on Sunday morning to confirm my booking, nobody answered. I had to phone the kitchen of the Fat Duck to get the kitchen number of the Hind's Head before I could communicate with them.

When Geraldine and I arrived we saw in gold letters above the fireplace the words "Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there."

"Well, Fear didn't ring the phone," I muttered, "because Faith wouldn't have answered."

A very charming restaurant manager, Susan Proctor, offered various tables. We opted for a large alcove in the bar - the site of the reception desk when it was a hotel. Now there are no bedrooms. The attic-type room above will soon be in ye olde English pub style and house extra tables. Currently it's only used on Sundays when they serve more than 200 people.

I advise dumping the "aren't we clever and sweet" sign which, above a low arch to the toilet, announces "Caution - duck or grouse". Other than that, and the disgusting use of paper napkins, the Hind's Head is close to perfect. Perfect, in case you're wondering, is above historic.

My guests were Chris Rea, musician supreme, and his exceptionally marvellous wife, Joan. They hadn't arrived, so I ordered potted shrimps with watercress salad and toast.

Chris looked startled to see me already eating when he was only 10 minutes late. I eat lunch at one o'clock regardless. Then I had oxtail and kidney pudding with red cabbage, bacon and triple-cooked chips.

Everything was fantastic. But the chips were super-stratospheric incredible. One of the greatest tastes in the history of the world.

Later the chef, Dominic Chapman, explained he had to have cleaned Maris Piper potatoes. They also offered "fries" at £2.50. The triple-cooked chips are £4.

"Chris, these three-times-cooked chips are beyond belief," I enthused. If you can't go bonkers about chips, what else is there?

"I like the other ones better," responded Chris dismissively. "They're bought in! They come pre-sliced in packets!" I said in horror. He's a sweet fellow, Chris Rea, and immensely talented. But he comes from Middlesbrough.

Say no more.

Geraldine had rabbit and bacon terrine with watercress salad followed by roast cod with champ and parsley sauce. It was all above sensational. I asked for more water and the waitress poured fizzy water into my glass without checking. I drink still water. That sort of thing, even when surrounded by brilliant food, does not amuse me.

I scoffed treacle tart with milk ice-cream. "Definitely one of the best treacle tarts I've ever eaten," I dictated into my Olympus tape recorder. I give Olympus a plug because I wrote them a snotty letter recently, returning a broken tape recorder. Only to be told I'd neglected to activate the "on" button!

Another minus at the Hind's Head was that they didn't take American Express. I buy all my staff Christmas presents from the Amex gift catalogue. I need all the points I can get.

Chris is bringing out a new CD called Twelve Blue. All different types of blues. I hope he makes a fortune. Or better still gets to realise made-on-the-premises chips, cut from real potatoes and fried, are better than plastic packed stuff that's bought in.

Flock to the Hind's Head, anyway. You'll love it. If you don't, sue me. See if I care.

Winner's letters

With gems describing you as "scarlet-faced, cheesy grin, offensive mess, ugly as usual and permanently intoxicated" your letters column should be re-named "Your chance to slag off MW". Seriously though, what better excuse for forking out £8 (that's what The Sunday Times costs out here!) than to chuckle at the abuse you get showered with every Sunday. It's to your credit you are broad-shouldered enough to print all this criticism. Or are you really too permanently intoxicated to care?
Paul Bowler, Barbados.

Why do all those readers who are nasty to you bother to read your column in the first place? I love it.
Helen Jones, Sussex.

Last week's correspondent Mr Fazalbhoy is wrong in advising you not to eat pig because they're filthy creatures. Sheep catch everything under the sun. Beef and chicken are mostly pumped full of drugs. A British straw-reared pig is a sweetie. They mostly eat and sleep. They are very hygienic and never poo where they lie. So eat that crackling with relish!
Heather Tanner, Suffolk.

I agree with you (Winner's Dinners, last week) that Thun is a pleasant place. But my stay was ruined when, instead of humming me gently to sleep, the Magic Fingers massager broke away and thrashed around the room on the end of its cable. As it was on a timer I couldn't stop it and people in the next rooms were woken up!
Ralph Oswick, Bath.

You wrote last week of the detritus created from the onerous task of removing sugar wrapping. It's more preferable to the alternative. I recently watched two "little darlings" in a local coffee shop happily lick unwrapped lump sugar and then replace each one in the bowl. Guess who doesn't take sugar in coffee any more!
Keith Rose, Sussex

Michael states, "I was not put on earth to unwrap sugar." What a fantastic idea for a competition. Why was Michael Winner put on earth?
Sue Riley, Halesowen

Please stick with your trainers and untucked shirts, unbecoming as they are. They're nothing compared to the night-dress and lipstick you've been spotted wearing on television.
Nicola Duggan, Ireland

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk