Hip, hip hoo-bray!
Fancy a foodie autumn break? Then head to the tiny Berkshire village with SIX Michelin stars and hidden treasures aplenty
So where’s the best place to eat in Britain? London, perhaps? Or Edinburgh? How about Harrogate or Padstow?
Well, all of them have their undisputed highlights. But there’s one little Berkshire village, hidden away off the shoulder of Maidenhead, which, on one measure at least, is streets ahead of them all. While there are only four three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK, Bray (population: 4,646) is home to two: Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck – www.thefatduck.co.uk – of snail-porridge fame, and Alain Roux’s Waterside Inn – www.waterside-inn.co.uk
That means Bray has a Michelin star for every 774 people. London has one per 127,692 (roughly). And as if that wasn’t enough to get you resigning from WeightWatchers, Heston Blumenthal has even bought up the local – The Hinds Head, www.hinds headbray.com – where the triple-cooked chips have done perhaps more than anything else to revolutionise the humble potato. Bray is, you might say, the Belly of Britain.
And it is particularly beautiful in the early autumn sunshine. You can walk from one end of the village to the other in the time it takes you to read the Fat Duck’s tasting menu, but it’s perfect for a lazy weekend, even if you are on a diet. For it is full of treasures: the parish church of St Michael dates back to 1293, and is a magnet for brass rubbers, who flock here to rub the 1378 memorial brass of the Constable of Southampton Castle, Sir John Foxley.
There’s also England’s oldest cricket club (so they say), and a beautiful stretch of the River Thames, split momentarily by Monkey Island, which was once owned by the Duke of Marlborough, who used it for angling. In 2005, Bray even won Britain In Bloom, that ultimate gong of Middle England. No wonder Michael Parkinson, who coowns the nearby Royal Oak Paley Street – www.theroyaloakpaleystreet.com – finds the area irresistible. In fact, Bray is one of those little places that feels like it has an awful lot to offer, a place of intrigue and mystery. Indeed, Bray Studios was once the home of Hammer Horror.
And then, of course, there are the restaurants. The Fat Duck, voted world’s best restaurant in 2005 and owned by media darling and ‘culinary alchemist’ Heston Blumenthal, is best-known for its whiz-bang, experimental cooking, its Mock Turtle soup and whiskey wine gums: food as theatre.
The Waterside Inn, meanwhile, was founded by French cooking legends Michel and Albert Roux, in the 1970s. Now run by Alain Roux, it has held its three Michelin stars for a record-breaking 25 years plus – and serves exquisitely crafted French cuisine of the highest order.
But you don’t have to go (too) over the top to eat here. The Hinds Head offers oodles of local pub atmosphere and reasonably priced top-notch cuisine – with a sprinkling of the old Blumenthal magic. And you won’t have to book weeks ahead to get a table.
You will want to stay for longer than it takes to eat a three-course meal. And fortunately, someone’s thought of that, too. Bray Cottages – 01628-771171, www.braycottages.com – has a clutch of stunningly pretty, one-bedroom historic cottages (Clematis, Tiggers and Christmas), and the spectacular, three-bedroom Bray House. All of them combine ‘oldie worldie’ charm with space-age creature comforts. Bray House even has its own koi carp pond – and an old ship’s bar, stocked with fine spirits.
In fact, I’d say that even if you aren’t a fan of Parky, snail porridge, Hammer Horror – or koi carp – Bray is one of the best little autumn staycations in Britain.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“PEOPLE cannot help being influenced by their surroundings and their environment; therefore how all important it is that both of these should be healthy and cheery, for health and happiness both go hand-in-hand.”The Lady. The Blessing of Old Health, 18th November 1920