A crisp, sunny weekend earlier this year, Matt and I set off for an indulgent weekend away in Bray, Berkshire. We were super excited to have booked 2 nights in the newest Plum cottage, right next to the Fat Duck on Bray High Street.
The village of Bray, or Bray on Thames, is a suburb of Maidenhead on the banks of the River Thames. It has a church, a post office, a cricket club, and five restaurants, two of which are Michelin-starred. We had lots of eating planned for our weekend, including cooked breakfast in our lovely cottage, and two meals booked at various Heston Blumenthal establishments.
Despite staying right next to the Fat Duck, the prices were just a bit too steep for us to justify eating there. Luckily the slightly more affordable Hind’s Head is adjacent, and the Crown is a short walk down the high street, both of which we had booked for Friday and Saturday night, respectively.
Inside Plum Cottage Bray
After staying at the Plum at Henley in 2020, we knew the Plum at Bray would be gorgeous, and boy were we right. The owners Cara and Andrew have immaculate taste in decor, and every room of this little cottage is perfectly lit and beautifully furnished, leaving the original bones of the house intact. We were glad to see some of our favourite features of Henley appear again at Bray – a working fireplace, an excellent coffee machine, an enormous bed, and a cavernous bath tub.
Other similarities include the unique log coffee table, the beautiful books everywhere, the lovely natural colour scheme, and the gorgeous shaker-style kitchen with golden plumbing. Not everything is the same though – this Plum is a tad larger, with a second bedroom and bathroom with walk-in shower, and a handy boot room just off the living room by the front door.
Friday: Canal walk & Hinds Head dinner
The first thing we did on arrival was deposit our walking boots in said boot room and explore our temporary home, ducking under wood beams and inspecting all the different teas and coffees provided. At this point we didn’t know that the Post Office in Bray sells essentials like milk and bread etc, and google maps was showing zero grocery shops in the village itself, so our first plan was to walk into Maidenhead to get some food for the weekend.
It was a wrench to leave this oasis so soon after arriving, and we lingered as we unpacked, relaxing in the chaise long and smelling all the Bramley bath products. Bramley was the soap of choice at the Pig at Combe and the Hotel Endsleigh where we stayed on our honeymoon, so these smells will always hold infinite joy for me.
Bray is such a small village is really is baffling that it has so many restaurants. From our arrival it seemed as though it mainly consisted of this triangle of pavement, and we were determined to widen our mental image and do some exploring.
We set off for the shops via the village church, St Michael’s, built in 1293. It’s famous for having an underground tunnel running from the church to one of the nearby cottages across the graveyard. We walked from the church through the nearby gated community, along a public footpath between the cricket club and the river. The houses around us were just beautiful, and seemed to get ever larger as we walked.
Quite a few celebs live in Bray, including Sir Michael Parkinson, DJ Tony Prince, presenter Carol Kirkwood, musician Ian Bairnson, co-creator of the Thunderbirds TV show Sylvia Anderson, and, ahem, Rolf Harris.
It would have been nice to follow the river all the way to Maidenhead, but this side of the Thames is taken up by private residences and their boathouses. So instead we followed this route along the road, and then took the scenic route back through Braywick nature reserve.
On our return we popped open the prosecco we’d purchased, keen to use the exquisite coupe champaign glasses in the kitchen cabinet. We played a few games of 7 Wonders Duel – our go-to couple game, before getting ourselves ready for an evening out.
Dinner: The Hinds Head
Our dinner at the Hinds Head was such a treat. We’ve had some truly memorable meals recently, and this was up there with the best of them. We started with cocktails and a bar snack – devils on horseback, which was an absolute triumph of next-level flavour and texture. The caramelised treacle softness of the date was perfectly set off by the rich salty crunch of the bacon wrapped around it. I knew it would be good, because when is it not, but truly I was not prepared.
For mains we shared a carafe of wine and both had the roast guinea fowl breast with potato fondant and beetroot puree. The plating was an absolute work of art as you can see, with all the flavours and textures pairing perfectly – the light meaty guinea fowl with crispy roast kale, buttery potato and fresh earthy beetroot. A masterpiece. We were slightly concerned by the small portion size, but this was deceptive and we were completely satisfied by the end. I would say dessert actually tipped us over the edge, but we didn’t want to share so I had the sticky toffee pudding and Matt had the bakewell tart. These were both delicious, but not quite up there with the savoury elements of the meal for me (this is usually the case though, I might have to come to terms with the fact that I’m more of a savoury person).
The vibe of the pub was really lovely. It did feel like a special night out at a posh restaurant, but it also had that cosy welcoming pub atmosphere with an open fire and lots of dark wood. I’d compare it to the kind of high end place you often get at ski resorts. The service was also excellent, we never felt rushed and the servers were great at talking us through the menu with their own recommendations.
Saturday: Thames walk and pub dinner
We kicked off our Saturday with a five star breakfast, if I do say so myself. When we go away we always like to have a nice kitchen to cook in, as I love cooking, and Plum cottage definitely delivers. We had all the various pans and baking trays, and of course a dishwasher so the cleaning up isn’t too much of a chore either.
River Thames Walk
The weather forecast had clearly received our memo and was very accommodating of our plan for the day – river walk in the morning followed by an afternoon of watching rugby. Our route started with the same road into Maidenhead before crossing over the Thames and following the riverside path down to the next crossing.
The main topic of conversation on our walk was all the ludicrous houses on the opposite riverbank. I mean these things were palatial and seemed totally deserted. Some of them were possibly even hotels, but what they all had in common were the boathouses and private docks at the bottom of long expanses of green lawns. It reminded me of Florida, where mansions and boathouses are a staple along the edge of the everglades.
The sun stayed out for us as we looped back over Summerleaze Bridge next to Bray marina – we could just see a flock of white sales over the bare treetops. Monkey Island Lane brought us back up to the edge of Bray, leading us past fields of horses and exclusive, unwelcoming gated communities. Apart from the occasional massive 4×4 with blacked out windows, we felt like the only people in the world as we walked through this eerily empty countryside.
As we walked back through the village we took our chance to check out its other Michelin-star restaurant. The Waterside Inn, founded in 1972 by Michel Roux and currently run by his son Alain, describes itself as a “family-run restaurant with rooms”. It has three Michelin stars and in 2010 became the first restaurant outside France to keep all three stars for 25 years. Just like the Hinds Head, its presence dominates the little street of cottages, and the pavement is lined with expensive-looking cars. When we walked past there was even an idle chauffeur having a cigarette on the slipway by the dock.
Lunch: The Old Post Office Bray
This was when we spotted the Old Post Office and discovered the hidden treasure trove of culinary delights within (and realised we needn’t have walked all the way to Maidenhead the day before). Everything from milk and bread to pastries and wine – and in the back there was the most random selection of gifty things and homeware. We bought sandwiches and fizzy drinks for our lunch and headed back just as the sky was clouding over and the first rain drops began to fall.
We spent a cosy afternoon in front of the fire watching Wales lose (oh dear) with tasty snacks and drinks to enjoy (yay). The 6 Nations was followed by more 7 Wonders, before it was time to get ready for another night of delicious food.
Dinner: The Crown
The Crown is a lovely little pub further down the high street in Bray. It’s not obvious that it’s also owned by Heston, but you might start to suspect when you notice they use the same booking software as Hinds Head, with all the same email wording. It feels like a really welcoming community pub, super casual and cosy, with lots of nooks and crannies to make yourself at home in.
We followed the same dinner formula as the night before – cocktail and snack, main and carafe, with dessert to fish. The cocktails were really tasty – touted as a quince martini but with a satisfying froth that can only come from egg white (not a traditional martini component). I had steak and Matt had duck for mains, both perfectly cooked and tender. The sticky toffee pudding was top notch too.
Sunday: Cliveden House
We were nothing short of devastated to leave Plum cottage at the end of our stay. It was definitely a much-needed treat in the middle of a chilly start to the year. Rather than going straight home, we tempered our disappointment with a day out, and travelled to Cliveden House.
Cliveden House is a bit of a family haunt for me. My grandparents used to live in nearby Beaconsfield, and my mum and her brothers spent many days out visiting Cliveden. My uncle even got married there ten years ago, so for me it holds happy memories of a sunny family wedding.
As a National Trust property, Cliveden House is a great day out with expansive gardens and woodland to explore, and a view in every direction. You can do walking tours of the house, but as a luxury hotel it isn’t really open to the public (although that didn’t stop us peeking through the windows).
We decided to do a full loop of the grounds using the National Trust map provided on entry (see our route here). This takes you all the way down the central lawn and the steep hill to the Thames riverbank. The path follows the river to the edge of the house grounds, where you climb back up through the woodland. This leads to the Duke of Sutherland’s statue which has an incredible view back towards the house.
This is only a 4 mile walk, but we were totally exhausted with so much climbing. Going off a tip from my mum, we made our way to Cookham in search of a pub lunch.
Lunch: The Old Swan Uppers, Cookham
Cookham was heaving. Obviously. Who were we to try a spontaneous Sunday roast in this day and age? Lunatics, clearly.
Luckily we squeezed into a free space in the Old Swan Uppers car park, and our prayers were answered with an empty table for two inside. After quite a heavy weekend of indulging, I opted for a veggie roast which arrived in the form of a caramelised roasted butternut squash. Matt went for lamb and we told them to keep the gravy jugs coming. We stayed just long enough to watch the first half of the rugby, before heading home to catch the end.
The Plum at Bray is another jewel in their cottage crown, perfect for escaping the city to somewhere with good food and good countryside. Granted, we were a bit limited with our plans because of the rugby, but if I re-did this weekend I would spend the Saturday somewhere further afield like we did on Sunday with Cliveden. The Plum website has lots of suggestions for day trips – Marlow or Henley-on-Thames would have been a good shout, and I’ve always wanted to visit Windsor castle.