After thirteen months of waiting, the special Saturday finally arrived to claim our table at Hand and Flowers. This charming gastropub in Marlow has received phenomenal accolades, the only venue of its kind to be awarded two Michelin stars. Considering the menu features simple British classics like fish and chips, it is an impressive feat for chef Tom Kerridge.
I am a great fan of Kerridge’s enthusiastic food and wine programme, where he takes to the stove with many of London’s most notable chefs. Winning Michelin stars was never his main ambition but his food has been recognised thanks to his dedication and natural talent for creating blissfully delicious comfort food. After stints in various kitchens, Tom and his wife Beth opened Hand and Flowers in 2005 and he recently took over the Coach pub down the road as a second, more casual venue.
We arrived early and sat in the cosy bar area, sipping on locally produced Perry whilst greedily perusing the menu. After a year of anticipation, I felt under great pressure to choose the best dishes on the menu. We followed the waitress through the narrow corridor to our corner table. The interior is decorated in a farmhouse chic style with mementos on the walls that indicate the chef’s jovial character. I felt like I was in the middle of the countryside, in from the cold and ready to tuck in to an indulgent meal.
Rustic bread and unsalted butter arrived, along with tiny crispy whitebait poking out of a homemade newspaper cone. The non-fish eaters were offered thimble sized bowls of piccalilli salad. The starters demonstrate Kerridge’s ability to elevate basic ingredients to create sophisticated dishes with just a few simple flavours. Potato “Risotto” with Pied de Mouton mushrooms and samphire was the perfect example of an original but humble dish, woody mushrooms, a hint of sage and a flawlessly executed potato invention. Crispy pig’s head with spiced date puree, apple, plum and pancetta was a boy’s starter with bold and rich flavour pairings. I stole several mouthfuls and enjoyed the tenderness of the softened pork covered in an irresistibly crispy crumb coat. I chose the dainty Roast English Onion Tart with Etuve Alliums, smoked butter and salt cured pork, it was a sensation of different textures, most exciting was the pile of crispy onion shards on top.
My dad chose a unique Christian Lauverjat Moulin des Vrilleres rose Sancerre – we are all still dreaming about it, light and smooth and the prettiest pale salmon colour. Despite the big flavours of our meat course, the versatile wine suited every plate. These dishes were a triumph, I’ve never seen so many happy customers round one table. The renowned Hand and Flowers fish and chips was a hit, the lightest Whiting coated in a non-oily crispy shell and served with the famous triple-fried chips, that did not disappoint. I had been alerted that the Slow Cooked Duck Breast is must-try, accompanied by Savoy cabbage, Duck Fat chips and gravy. The duck was silky smooth with almost a liver-like texture, perhaps from the sous-vide (water bath) method of cooking. The duck fat chips were richer and even more tasty than the standard chips.
For an utterly indulgent main the Fillet of Stokes Marsh Beef with Bearnaise sauce was a wise choice. A chunky compact piece of meat, garnished with butter and a skinny onion ring it was one of the very best steaks I have ever tasted. Again the meat was of the highest quality and cooked sensitively to ensure the best flavour and texture. I ordered the Tenderloin of Wiltshire Pork which was the only slightly disappointing dish, the meat was an unattractive shape and looked clumsy on the plate. Accompanied by pickled mustard leaf, malt glazed cheek, garlic sausage and potato dauphine, there were plenty of other things to enjoy on the plate, this assortment was more exciting and enjoyable that the main event.
We found the service a little hit and miss, and one slightly grumpy waiter (who had clearly cut his hand) wore a very unappealing blue plastic glove to serve the food. Considering the status of the restaurant and the length of the waiting list I expected the staff to be jollier!
Desserts were thankfully light and refreshing. Numerous recommendations led two members of our party to order the Bitter Orange Souffle with sweet toast crumb, cardamom ice cream and citrus syrup. The soufflé was the perfect light melt in the mouth texture and served with a delicious spicy ice cream, though we thought the intense citrus syrup was an unnecessary addition. I loved my pretty in pink Tonka bean panna cotta with poached rhubarb, ginger wine jelly and rhubarb sorbet. The wonderfully complex flavours worked well together, and in particular the miniature meringues and fuchsia, fruity sorbet was divine. The Hand and Flowers chocolate and ale cake with salted caramel and muscovado ice cream was an intriguing and successful pudding, delicately presented but with powerful flavours, served with a shot of ale.
Hand and Flowers has the perfect balance: inspired and delicious food and a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. You don’t need to worry about dress code and yet the sophisticated dining experience will make the meal feel special. Outstanding fine dining with chips on the side… this restaurant combines the best of both worlds.
More information and book a table for 2016 here: www.thehandandflowers.co.uk