If you are interested in food or cooking then there is no way that you won’t already know the name of chef Tom Kerridge. For those of you who don’t, turn over onto BBC and watch The Great British Menu, Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes, Proper Pub Food, Masterchef or Saturday Kitchen to name but a few and see just how enthusiastic and driven this chef is towards creating food he is passionate about. The Great British Menu saw Tom win the main course in 2010 with his slow cooked duck breast with peas, duck fat chips and gravy, which can be ordered on the menu at his restaurant, the two michelin starred ‘The Hand and Flowers’. The first pub ever to have been awarded two stars.
The Hand and Flowers is situated in Marlow, a beautiful Georgian town just to the west of London, rich in history and architecture. Very fitting for this stunningly presented pub famed for it’s Michelin starred food, drawing in customers from all over the country and even further afield. Located on the main road running through Marlow, it was not difficult to find and clearly stood out. There was plenty of space in the car park and from here you enter straight into the bar area where we found a seat and ordered a cocktail to enjoy as we perused the menu. The cocktails were brought over by a very polite, friendly member of staff and we were asked if we needed any help with the menu. We had both mulled over the menu rather thoroughly online before coming here and we were both fairly certain of what we wanted to devour so needless to say, not much help was needed.
When our table was ready we were taken though into the restaurant and seated next to a window which was ideal as we got plenty of natural light coming through. The meal started with complimentary crispy whitebait served with home made soda bread and a Marie Rose sauce. I’ve got to admit, I am not the biggest fan of seafood and had my qualms about the whitebait. But I dared not leave without at least sampling it so after deciding whether or not to bite tail end or head end first, down the hatch it went..quickly followed by another..and another..
The Marie Rose sauce worked perfectly with the fish and the freshly baked bread with the salted butter was lush. Very hard not to have too much of before the starter arrived!
Pigs head is a little used ingredient these days and seldom seen on a menu. I like the idea of using the whole animal and letting nothing go to waste, and this is why the crispy pigs head was the starter for me. I love the charm of using local produce, making use of an animal in its entirety and making traditional food that our families would have grown up with before we lost a lot of our traditions. The pigs head is slow cooked over night with its braising ingredients and once falling from the bone the soft meat is pulled and shaped into cubes and battered in panko breadcrumbs before being deep fried. This is served with a strip of soft pancetta, a rhubarb compote, thin slices of rhubarb, a small piece of black pudding, chickweed and a thin strip of crackling. The meat is succulent and rich but mouth wateringly tender. This is complimented by the texture of the crisp casing of the croquette. The rhubarb is delightfully tart and this cuts through the richness of the meat and balances the flavours. The pancetta adds a subtle hint of saltiness, as does the crackling which also gives extra texture to the dish. Everything together on the plate works perfectly.
Monsieur Pierre opted for the glazed omelette of smoked haddock and parmesan..I obviously can’t comment on the taste of this, however I can say that silence continued throughout the course whilst it was being enjoyed and an extremely satisfied look was on his face from start to finish.
Afterwards came the main event. Otherwise known as ‘Treacle Cured Chateaubriand of Stokes Farm Beef with Triple Cooked Chips and Caesar Salad with a serving of Bearnaise Sauce and Red Wine Gravy’. I did not ask, however it looked as though the beef had been cooked using the larding technique, where strips of pork fat are ‘sewn’ into the meat which melt through into the flesh as it cooks and prevents it from drying out and adds extra flavour. This resulted in the softest steak I have ever had the pleasure of eating. It literally melted and oozed flavour. I most certainly left wanting to use my larding needle! The outside gave a subtle sweetness and this gave way to the richness of the meat which fell apart in the mouth. The chips were absolutely divine. Crispy on the outside and light and fluffy in the middle and salted just to my liking. I couldn’t get through enough of these. Then there was the caesar salad. I am a massive fan of a good caesar salad and this didn’t disappoint. A good amount of dressing and just enough anchoives without them being overpowering. My only criticism was the croutons..tasty as hell but they were massive, far too big to fit in the mouth in one bite, which meant we had to break them with our fingers and were worried about firing bits off in the direction of other diners! I can’t forget the sauces, which tied everything together. Perfectly rich creamy Bearnaise and an equally rich red wine gravy, what more needs to be said.
We held off ordering a dessert until we knew we would definitely have room. Thankfully we did! The grande finale of the meal was a peach soufflé with a tea sorbet and a rosemary custard. The soufflé was everything it should be. Perfectly light and risen and had a delicate subtle flavour of peach. The tea sorbet was lovely and worked well with the soufflé however I have to say I wasn’t sold on the rosemary custard. I think this is one of those that will divide people and very much a chalk and cheese element. For me it didn’t work and I left it, as did Peter, however please go and try for yourself and see if it tickles your taste buds.
We both enjoyed our lunch immensely and it was such a lovely treat for my birthday, especially the bottle of champagne for miss birthday girl! We left wanting to go back again and that is the only sign you need to know you thoroughly enjoyed yourself.