Tom Kerridge has a reputation for big, bold and gutsy food, and shot to fame after twice winning the Great British Menu. Indeed Tom will be back as a judge in this years' competition... Tom's previous experience includes Adlards, Hampton, Odettes, Rhodes in the Square, Stephen Bull and The Capital.
The Hand & Flowers is a sweet little pub in Marlow and has two Michelin stars. The building has exposed wooden beams, wooden floors and low ceilings. The tables are wooden, without tablecloths. It's all rustically laid out, lots of wood - bespoke wooden accessories, such as the little wooden container for the complimentary whitebait etc... It is pretty dark inside, so please forgive the photographs!
I ordered the parfait of duck and foie gras with the orange chutney and brioche - the brioche was crisp on the outside and soft and dense on the inside - very good. The orange chutney added both the required acidity and sweetness, cutting through the richness of the parfait. I tried a tiny bit of my chums braised pearl barley - utterly scrummy - and truthfully I wish I had ordered that.
As for sides, the lovage in the turnips was nice, but by far the best thing about the dish for me was the polenta. Ironically I'm not a polenta fan but buried in the smooth polenta was some lovely lemon confit - oh my word, Oh. My. Word... The polenta had also been spiked with a little truffle oil - a perfect little dish - worthy of any two Michelin starred restaurant. I did also try one of the duck fat cooked chips - definitely not for me. In the way that you occasionally pickup up a shard of über crispy roast potato from the bottom of the pan without thinking, this tasted overwhelmingly of fat.
For dessert I ordered the pear soufflé - I've been blogging about soufflés lately and, rather ironically, had made the point that finding a good soufflé is rarely about the technical ability of a kitchen, and more about the flavour combinations. Here, I'm very sorry to say it was entirely about the technical skill of the pâtissier - our soufflés were actually undercooked, and we left them... There was no discernible pear flavour, instead they tasted of scrambled egg whites - bleh! The apparent quenelle of ice-cream you can see in the picture was actually a lukewarm quenelle of cream spiked with mace - both Xavier and I took a big mouthful thinking it would be cold ice-cream - a bit of a shock! I know it was listed on the menu, but it was just a little incongruous..
For over a year Elizabeth and I have been debating about whether it's fair to blog poor experiences in restaurants, as it can seem that all you're doing is knocking the kitchen. However, now our debate turned to whether or not you could let such things slip. The is especially true in a two starred restaurant - except this is a two starred pub. We raged endlessly, comparing different two starred restaurants: how did they compare to this; was it relevant to compare them; are there different rules for pubs; why are restaurants like Koffman's ignored entirely; was it because they were in London and this was in the countryside?
There are some really delcious things going on in Tom's kitchen - that polenta was majestic. The rest of the meal was good, but not up to two stars. I had to pass L'Ortolan on the way the the Hand & Flowers, and frankly I know where I'd rather eat next time.
If I lived locally I'd be in there frequently - but could I, in all good conscience, tell you to seek this place out - to make a journey here to eat the food? Honestly, no. If you find yourself in the area - please do eat there - the atmosphere is friendly - the surroundings are relaxed and rustic - and you're going to find some yummy things on the menu.
We didn't go into the kitchen - we were too busy arguing with each other <laughs>, but I know there were two other bloggers there that day, and one did go in to meet Tom.
The same kitchen, the same service, the same day - varying experiences - perhaps this is the best reflection of the Hand & Flowers.
The Hand & Flowers Menu
Braised Pearl Barley with Somerset Hare, Orange Oil and Foie Gras. £11.00
Salmon Tartare with Poppy Seed Crackers. £9.50
Crispy Pig’s Head with Artichokes, Crackling and Pancetta £9.00
Truffled Pork Terrine with Dill, Pickles and Toasted Sour Dough. £10.95
Parsley Soup with Smoked Eel, Bacon and Parmesan Tortellini. £8.50
Parfait of Duck and Foie Gras with Orange Chutney and Toasted Brioche. £11.50
Glazed Omelette of Smoked Haddock and Parmesan. £10.50
Moules Marinière with Warm Stout and Brown Bread. £9.50
Slow Cooked Duck Breast with Savoy Cabbage, Duck Fat Chips and Gravy. £22.50
Red Wine Braised Shin of Beef with Hand and Flowers Carrot and Shin Sauce. £19.50
Essex Lamb “Bun” with Sweetbreads and Salsa Verde. £23.50
Spiced Sea Bream with Smoked Aubergine, Dahl, Sea Aster and Moilee Sauce. £19.50
Cornish Day Boat Skate with Bacon Roast Parsnip, Trompettes, Clams and Lardo. £23.00
Fillet of Lancashire Beef with Hand and Flowers Chips and Béarnaise Sauce. £32.00
Breast of Suffolk Chicken with Pistachio Crumble,
Lovage Poached Turnips, Soft Polenta and Winter Truffle. £21.00
Salt Baked Potatoes (for two) £6.00
All at £4.00 Hand & Flowers Chips
Crushed Swede with Cracked Black Pepper
Buttered Brussel Tops
Winter Leaves with English Dressing
Bucksum Kale with Crispy Ham Hock Pomme Boulangère
(All at £9.00) Selection of Cheese Served with Grape Chutney. £10.50
Tonka Bean Panna Cotta, Poached Plums, Honeycomb and Plum Sorbet.
Glazed Cox’s Apple Tart with Blackberry Sorbet.
Warm Pistachio Sponge Cake with Melon Sorbet and Marzipan.
Vanilla Crème Brulée.
Hand & Flowers Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel and Muscovado Ice Cream.
Pear Soufflé with Poire William Purée, Sweet Cheese and Mace.