Celebrating 12 years at the Hand and Flowers

by Jo Kenny

I’m doing a great job of late ticking off a number of restaurants from my hit list! Almost two years since we started talking about visiting the Hand & Flowers, we finally visited this week.

A lot of that has to do with the recent change in rules around booking. With two Michelin stars (which is pretty insane for a pub) and one very popular TV chef the waiting list for the Hand & Flowers was getting out of control. I don’t know about you but I do not make dinner reservations a year in advance. Tom Kerridge decided that wasn’t his vibe either and changed the format so that reservations could be made a maximum of 3 months in advance. Well played Tom, I feel much more comfortable planning my life a few months ahead. So Q and I booked up in the New Year to celebrate a pretty special milestone: our 12 year anniversary and the last one before it all changes with us getting married later on this year.

With a stroke of luck the weather (which has been swinging between sunshine and showers) was absolutely stunning the day we visited and Marlow was looking beautiful in the sunshine. Very chocolate box. Very upper class England. What what.

As we were shown through to our table the sunshine disappeared and we were taken into the crooked depths of what was very much an old English pub. I’m not sure what I was expecting, I suppose the Michelin stars playing in my mind had me imagining something more modern; a nod to the pub vibes if you will. But nope, the Hand & Flowers is as quaint and cosy as any other pub you’ll find, complete with ‘Mind Your Head’ plaques.

Knowing that everyone had booked their table so long in advance I couldn’t help but sit there and ponder what all the occasions were. I got to mull over these thoughts with a small feast of complimentary nibbles which came our way in beautiful moulded clay cones and dark wooden bowls. Sour dough bread with lashings of rich butter and gorgeously battered whitebait with thousand island sauce.

So the menu is like pub food on steroids. It’s full of rich and hearty flavours; incredibly meat-centric and studded with ingredients and cooking methods of which at least one you won’t have heard of before. It’s all incredibly exciting for someone like myself who is already massively into Gastro Pub dining. Picking each course was agonising! You’ll definitely want to arrive ravenous for this meal to make the most of the menu.

Q’s starter pretty much epitomises everything the menu is about with one seriously generous portion of swede and haggis in a beautiful tart, topped with crispy lamb. Very heavy, very Earthy and oh so British. My starter on the other hand was probably the most delicate and ‘pretty’ thing on the menu; parfait of salmon with black apple jelly and caviar. It was just beautiful: cool and soft with flavours as just delicate and pretty as the presentation. It was almost comical to me that such a refined dish came with a side of garlic bread, served boldly in a slotted wooden slab with garlic aioli. It’s as if Tom doesn’t want us thinking he’s gone all soft on us. To be honest the bread was alright, but I ate it completely separately to the salmon as it felt totally alien to the dish.

Oh yes. They aren’t shy with the meat servings here and I couldn’t have been more pleased as a giant hunk of juicy, wobbly pink duck arrived in front of me, surrounded by satisfyingly thick and shiny spheres of bittersweet orange puree. My duck also came with a pastry tart layered with rich duck sausage and mushroom. Accompanying my meal was a separate jug of beautiful gravy.

Q chose the pork, and we were both incredibly pleased when the waiter announced on ordering that it would be served pink. Too long has pork been treated with the same fear as chicken. The tenderloin was soft as you like, on a bed of pickled cabbage with garlic sausage (so much meat), malted cheek beignet (seriously) and mustard mayo. You know the more Q likes a dish, the more forkfuls get made up for me with an insistent “You have to try this!” Which is a winning situation for me, I have to say the pork dish is absolutely incredible.

The chips are, as you’d expect with two michelin stars, as technical as chips can get. Rigid cylinders, the inside is like mashed potato whilst the outside is an impressive thick and crunchy coating. Very nice for dunking in my jug of gravy.

As is pretty standard for Q, he threw in the towel at this point and I was left to fly the dessert flag on my own, save for the promise of helping with, “a bite.” I had to go for the signature Hand & Flowers chocolate and ale cake.

Small but mighty, it’s a perfect little cube of ultra chocolatey mousse topped with a salted caramel ice cream and served with a little shot of the ale.

Aaah, just beautiful! That perfect little cube absolutely finished me off and at this point I was so full. My cider was tough work to fit in my belly around all the other delicious things I’ve consumed.

What a stunning meal! I watch a lot of Tom Kerridge on TV and I’ve always drooled over the food he cooks. How thoroughly satisfying to have actually eaten it! Absolutely worth the wait and a great way to celebrate our anniversary. As we emerged from the pub back into the sun, I was definitely in need of a riverside digestion walk.

The house situation in Marlow is unreal. How lovely, to have a mansion on the riverside eh? It was lovely enough just walking along, soaking up the chocolate box atmosphere in the sun.

And I know I said I was totally stuffed. But as we passed an ice cream van how could we not complete the stereotype?! I don’t think I’ve ever taken half an hour to eat a 99 flake before…

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