Oct 2
The Hand & Flowers, Marlow
posted by: Gomez in Dinner, Restaurant Reviews on Oct 2nd, 2011 | |


The Hand & Flowers

"Never trust a skinny cook" it used to say on an apron hanging in my mother's kitchen. I, like Mr. Kerridge, have little danger of being described with the adjective "skinny". Although I'm sure that this similarity wasn't the only reason that I wanted to eat Tom Kerridge's food pretty much the moment I saw him on TV.

It was Great British Menu that first brought him to my attention, in 2010, when he went through to win the main course with Slow-cooked Aylesbury duck with duck fat chips and gravy. In 2011 Tom won again and became the first chef ever on Great British Menu to cook the main course twice, as well as being the first to cook a main course pork dish with his Hog Roast.

Having decided that Tom's food was high on our list a quick Google led us to Marlow as being the home of his Michelin starred pub, The Hand & Flowers. Unfortunately Marlow is a long way for a night out and so the Hand & Flowers joined the "maybe one day" list.

Then we had some good news. MrsA's mother was coming over from the USA on her first visit to us, and the UK, and her arrival time meant that we needed to be at Heathrow fairly early one morning to meet her. The sensible option was to travel up the night before, stay over somewhere close and be at the airport without having had an early start and a 3.5hr drive before breakfast. Those nice people at Travelodge had yet another one of their 15 quid deals on and so accommodation was sorted, but the prospect of 'dining' at Heston Services gave rise to the idea of a slight detour.

One quick phone call later and a table for two, at the Hand & Flowers, was secured.

We had left plenty of time for the journey from South Wales to Marlow, which was just as well as the radio gave us advance notification on long delays ahead due to an accident. We opted for a detour and a more circular route, in order to keep moving. So we arrived in Marlow pretty much bang on time.

The Hand & Flowers is a 17th Century, low beamed, pretty, roadside ex-pub on the main road through the town. We pull into the car park and I look at the attendant in his Hi Viz jacket and wonder if this is a municipal pay and display. No, he's an employee making sure that it's patron's only and tending to the outside seating area which, being a balmy evening, is in use by more than the usual between course nicotine addicts.

The atmosphere inside is very relaxed, the decor simple; low ceilings with exposed beams, plain tables without tablecloths and a wooden floor. Service is friendly, helpful and happy to describe and recommend dishes.

Inside we peruse the menu. Winning the main course for Great British Menu two years on the trot and having that Michelin star over the door have brought a high level of expectation and the menu does not disappoint with both GBM dishes featuring. We start, as does everyone with an amuse bouche of a Cone of Whitebait. Delicious, salty, crispy, fresh Whitebait.

Cone of Whitebait

To start MrsA choses the "Maple Glazed Veal Sweetbread with Pearl Barley, Sweetcorn and Chives", whilst I opt for "Quail Tart with Green Olives, Chicory and Aged Gruyére."

Being a lover of Sweetbreads MrsA there is no way MrsA is going to to order anything else but Sweetbreads and Maple Syrup? How is this going to marry, let alone with the addition of Pearl Barley and Sweetcorn. Uncharted territory for sure. Of course she needn't have worried as it was a perfectly and expertly balanced dish.

Maple Glazed Veal Sweetbread

Quail Tart with Green Olives

MrsA thought the Sweetbread was a homage to America, well she would wouldn't she, with the Maple Glaze (Vermont) and the Barley and Sweetcorn being reminiscent of Succotash. This tongue in cheek, "tribute to America" was to become her running theme throughout the meal. Back in Britain I was very impressed with the Quail. Although I had been intrigued enough to order it I wasn't at all sure how all the ingredients would come together but I need not have feared. The unmentioned but underlying layer of pork pate being the glue that pulls it all together yet still allows the individual flavours to show through.   

For main course we both run up and down the menu looking at the 2010 GBM winning Slow Cooked Duck Breast, the Essex Lamb "Bun", the Cornish Plaice, but of course we really both know that we are going to join together as that Minimum 2 People and order the "Roast Hog with Salt Baked Potatoes and Apple Sauce".

On GBM they are forever going on about needing "Theatre" with the food presentation and it is easy to see how this dish managed to achieve that as even here in 2 person mode it is still a pretty impressive sight. For your £25 a head you get a trotter, a rolled joint with crackling and some cubes made of the meat from the head, together with apple sauce, jus and a mug of cider. Each of these three variations showed a different aspect of the versatility of the pig and the expert hand of the Chef.

The pork comes from Dingley Dell, the Hayward Brothers farm in Suffolk and is outdoor reared, welfare assured.  It's damn good pork and this dish is designed to show it off to perfection. The trotter is boned and stuffed to make something so rich and so intense, so packed with flavour it is hard to describe.  The loin showing the subtly of flavour that a beautifully moist piece of pork can bring, coupled to the wonderful crisp crackling. The cubes of head meat with their rich yet distinct flavour. The Gauls once held the pig as a sacred animal, I wonder if Tom Kerridge is descended from Gauls.

Then alongside this porcine wonderland we get a salad. A simple green salad. "Why?" I ask myself. Balance is the answer. A simple dressed salad perfectly judged to cut through the rich, fattiness of the pork. He's clever this Chef. Bloody clever.

Roast Hog & Salt Baked Potatoes

Salt Baked Potatoes

Roast Hog


The dish was accompanied by the salt baked potatoes. These are cooked in what appears to be a highly salted pastry casing, roughly wrapped round them and then tied at the top to create a bag.  We are advised that trying to eat the pastry won't kill us, but it isn't designed to be eaten and consequently doesn't taste very nice. Whilst it's good fun to untie the rope, break open the crust and fish out the spuds, I'm not really sure what this actually does to improve the potatoes. If I hadn't done it myself and they had just been put on my plate there is no way I would have thought them to be anything special. In fact to be honest I would probably have preferred a couple of nice roasties! MrsA disagrees! For her roasties would have meant more fat in the cooking. So the neutrality of the baked potato is the perfect accompaniment. She might just go with boiled but thinks that may be too wet for the dish. No, she'll stick with the baked but does conceed the method owes more to theatre than to taste.

I'm sure she was able to link this dish into her American Homage theme at the time but for the life of me I can't remember how now.

Dessert was a delightful "Glazed Cox's Apple Tart with Rose Water Ice Cream" for me and "English Blueberry Soufflé with Blueberry Sorbet and Verbena Sauce" for her.

Glazed Cox's Apple Tart

English Blueberry Soufflé

I love an Apple Tart and there's only two ways to make one. You either have to go the deep dish route so there's lots of sweet pastry and lots of filling that can be slathered in cream, custard or ice cream (delete as appropriate) or you have to present something that is intensely appley. Here they have gone the latter route so we have something light but flavourful, which is just as well as that main course has made anything heavy out of the question. The Blueberry soufflé brings MrsA back with glee to her "Homage to America" whilst I just roll my eyes and say nothing.

Fresh Mint Tea

As I sip my post dinner coffee and MrsA her fresh mint tea, we discuss the evening. The Hand and Flowers has been, we both agree, an enjoyable experience. Good food, served without pretention in relaxed surroundings. Highly recommended! My only regret? That I didn't book a room here so that I could just fall, replete into bed and into sleep instead of having to get back in the car and drive to Heston. Ah well, next time……

The Hand & Flowers
126 West Street

Tel: +44 (0) 1628 482 277


Hand & Flowers on Urbanspoon

5 Responses to “The Hand & Flowers, Marlow”

  1. you lucky devil the meal looked tottally out of this world , and a treat to eat, can see why this chief is world class

  2. Just looking at the photos, I can see the H & F has come up a further notch since we ate there! Time for a revisit…

  3. I don’t even know where to start, seriously. Hand and flowers is this kind of places – not being their fault – but trapped into the endlessness vicious circle of Michelin establishment and early stage rating and granted 2 stars by the Michelin guide in the 2012 edition. OK this is nice, this friendly, this is overwhelming…but STOP with young staff, waiting for you (as we were 36 min late – our fault, I’ve to say).

    This is a fact, after 7 years being living in the UK I’ve always been easy with the rating of restaurants in the country, trying to identify the difference and understand. When we go back to France, I do feel the rating is more serious and professional than in the British country one. However I’ve so say it’s sometime difficult to even understand, within the UK itself. From the lovely Sporstman in Whistable with 1 star, where despite being served the classical tasting menu, at least they had the decency of showing a certain hospitality to Alain Ducasse in London, there is a huge gap (of price as well).

    From most starred restaurant in the world, to the best places in France and the UK, I’ve to say, that in this particular occasion we reached the level of the ridicule. Certainly supported by an unexperienced staff, lovely crew of people, but young.

    Not for the respect of the chef, certainly not. After a full meal I think I had quite a decent experience for 3 hours. But come on, this is not acceptable to compare some places in the UK to the Hand and Flowers. How can this be marked 2 stars. This is illogical and can’t be reproduced.

    This is not acceptable to compare the Green House (two stars) in London to this pub, or the Maison Lassere in Paris, all those teams in the world suffering every day to bring an experience, a moment in the life for you and me. This is not simply acceptable to compare the Gavroche or Joel Robuchon to the H/S. Even the Mid-Summer which I detailed over a full post was to be applauded in this particular day. Something is going wrong in the Michelin rating establishment and we will have to understand what is happening.

    Is it a kind of mafia surrounding the French established born guide ….. carrying what they did for the some recently recognized Chef in the world, and almost being creating a subsidiaries of connection with some grown up chef.

    I’m seriously fed up with this outrageous way of the Michelin guide to establish new scales, new benchmarking where there is definitely none. This is a real downfall and this is bad from a guide which has established a reputation of regularity and impartiality in their judgment. I will take the example of some Tailevent in Paris. How dare would you rate Taillevent the same level as the Hand and Flowers? How rude is that.

    Am I missing the point here? Are we saying the UK Michelin got a different rating as the rest of the world? Then if the anwer to that question is a Yes, then I’m giving up. I though Michelin was establishing a global and standard level of rating all cross the world and this is what we’re paying for? This would be my mistake.

    Here Tom Tom Kerridge, with all the best respect I got for his talent since I’ve seen him in Great British Menu, I can’t understand how you could have the respect to be part of the group of established Michel Roux or Joel Robuchon and not being ashamed of been awarded the same level on a simple pub in the middle of Marlow. I would be you, I would write to the Michelin headquarter telling that there must be a misunderstanding.

    The first minute of this moment, when we arrived, I think we all been chocked almost.………was close to nothing….I think I almost thought for two seconds that we must have made a mistake and this is not the place we were suppose to open the door….maybe it’s was 200 meters away…no IT WAS THERE.

    on top of that, like Matthew Norman for the telegraph said here, “It’s the absolutely generic Home Counties gastropub,” with a referenced Classic Posh Pub Décor No 4 (B).

    We arrive, we see a nice pub, a team chatting, an usual hesitation on taking your clothes and then the noisy dining room, then the waitress telling that you’re late (which of course, you aplologies and I suggested we could take the dessert/coffee in another room to aarange, we’re flexible…..but no other option I’m told)….are you sure this is the place you’re coming to have a Sunday roast?? Almost surreal.

    Two Stars? This is a joke!!

    My god….Michelin Guide UK is driving the people nuts by doing this kind of analogy. This is really bad, and this is not even the fault of mister Kerridge. Seriously.

    The Michelin star in the UK is not on the first time proceeding to this kind of operation. They did it recently in 2011 for Arbutus in London. Same scenario, as the good (or bad) surprise was random and unexpected from the staff (I’ve been told by an established 1 star chef – friend of mine).

    Come on Michelin team, you can do better and be realistically independent. Stop trying to ruin the level you established in other countries by just rushing and creating stars where there is none. This is a competition, but a real high level one. You’re destroying the credibility of your own establishment by acting as such.

    I’ve been recently to the Elephant in Torquay*and this was a far better experience than the Hand and Flowers….how weird.

    Worse than that, something happen which never happen to me before, and which was even worse for this poor chef…..a hair….seriously I’m not joking….this is a first time I had a hair in a dish. This was a joke. I’m not even doing any fuss of it ….expect that my friend had to wait 20 minutes to get another dish ready to replace, and that has not even change the attitude regarding the timing.

    Also I’ve to say, on top of that, we’ve been commended to leave the table for a certain time….what the hell is that…if you’re a 2 stars…you deal with that, aren’t you? I can’t wait to see serious people coming to your restaurant (pub), some people who are filling up the places like Gavroche or Robuchon un Tokyo….there will be an issue…I’m telling you.

    Stop it Michelin……

    In essence…..forget about this place, as a 2 stars this is simply NOT ACCEPTABLE…..as a good pub…yes, certainly one of the best …. but in this case I would put 1 star to the Great-house in Lavenham then.

    This is stupid, as if the food can be nice….and the fact than such a bad start can ruin the full experience.

    But about the food, I’ll not even comment about it as I use to do usually….as I’ve been so much disgusted by the treatment and the rudeness of the management and staff.

    Enjoy the photos below and I’ll make short comments….rude as they could have been….but still fair.

    Braised Pearl Barley, pan fried foie gras with Orange Oil and Sommerset Hare
    Interesting one, with the crackling effect of the pearl. Overall interesting, nice try on the combo of orange and foie gras (maybe a variation of the Heston classic). But I’m afraid the orange flavour is too subtle, the hare totally disappear in the sauce. Over all feeling a richness more than flavour. Nice but not fantastic.

    Salt Cod Scotch Egg with Chorizo, red pepper sauce
    Quite nice flavour, I’ve to say, but you’ll tell me it’s a big bacalao with a chorizo base. Good point for the red pepper purée….superb to balance the chorizo.

    Parsley soup with smoked Eel, Bacon and Parmesan Tortelini.
    The winner without any doubt. Amazing parley potage (not velouté in this case). the eel was supberly balancing the herb effect.

    Breast of Suffolk chicken with Pistachio crumble, lovage poached turnips, Soft Polenta and Winter Truffle
    I was my first attempt, what a shame. I’ll not reveal the location of the intruder. However the flavour of the truffle was sublimed by the richness of the creamy polenta. I’m afraid the turnips didn’t turn up (ahahaha) as being the most flavoury vegetable to go with this dish. However the chicken was super moist and the creamy polenta was adding so much value to the overall combo. The pistachio crust was just sumptuous. Well done. Shame I didn’t finish it.

    Red Wine Braised Shin of Beef, with Hand and Flowers carrot and Shin sauce. (Replacement)
    My second main course, I have to say has totally rebalanced the overall drama. The carrot slow cooked in somewhat an essence of flower I guess, was just the best carrot I had ever. The sous vide technique is bringing here a sweet carrot, glazed at the last minute. Stunning.

    And the beef shin, covered with a layer of simple potatoe purée, all wrapped in caul fat. The beef was superb, maybe a little bit rich again. But this is a very good traditional dish. Almost a boeuf Bourguignon, revisited.

    Cornish Day boat Skate, with bacon roast parsnips, trompette, cockles and lardo.
    I’ve tried also this one. I’m afraid we all agree the skate was dry. On this kind of variation around a Classical Grenobloise Skate dish, I would have expected a kind of noisette butter on the side.

    Essex Lamb “bun” with sweetbreads and salsa verde.(closed)

    Essex Lamb “bun” with sweetbreads and salsa verde (open)
    This one was of course the most impressive. Just by the look. However, seem like the expectation was again too high. When you open it you’ll find a nicely wrapped in caul fat lamb minced meat. Surprisingly no sweetbreads as they’ve been mixed up in the meat.

    I would cook this same dish, I would separate the 2 elements, do one big for the lamb, one for the sweetbreads, as the client can enjoy the combo like a game. This would have been more ludic and the client would have enjoyed the flavour separately.

    Amazing good point here for the Salsa Verde, the best one I’ve ever tried. Purée of Parsley, Garlic and Olive oil…..simple but done to PERFECTION.

    Tonka Bean Panacotta, poached Rhubarb, ginger wine jelly and rhubarb sorbet.
    I’ve to say this one, despite a really non glamorous presetnation was from far the best dish on that day. Light but creamy. Full of flavor and I’ve to confess I’m not the biggest fan of rubarhb as well. The sorbet was stunning, the jelly tasteless…unfortunately. But overall a WINNER

    Warm Pistachio Sponge cake, melon sorbet and marzipan
    This one was defo my favourite, as I LOVE melon. Very surprising to have melon in the middle of Jan, but who cares. I was essentially tempted by the pistachio sponge cake. I have to say my pistachio financier are stronger in flavour than this one. I like the chequers of melon. Nice one also.

    Hand and Flowers Chocolate Cake, salted caramel and Muscovado Ice Cream
    Maybe the boring one. Chocolate…….again!! and certainly not the the WOW you’ll expect. Nice ganache made of good quality chocolate, but the texture was somewhat too creamy. The Salted caramel and muscovado Ice cream was low in flavor and I’ve to say, this version of this dessert a the Elephant in Torquay was far more better….no futher comments.


    To put an end to this bad story, I even had to claim to cancel the price of counted replacement dish???? …….in a history of good food and Michelin star, this is a pure disappointment, leaving me with hanger against my favourite guide and the fact that some people are currently committing into the selling of the quite old and established guide. We’re losing in quality and independence. This is a shame.

    I hope this is not the start or even continuity of a downfall. I’m working to make people understand the real rating established a long time ago by people with passion. Recently the Michelin guide has committed a self-suicide by promoting too many places ….and not really looking to their own rating benchmark or policy guide. I would recommend to those people currently working at Michelin to travel more. To experience more places in the world. To come back to the root of the rating and system they implemented. Also to the Management to introduce some level of double checking (I can’t possibly conceve that the H/F has been double checked in this case).

    You should go to Tokyo messieurs. You should go to Paris or Spain messieurs.

    How can you rate Noma, Robuchon, Gavroche, Carré de Feuillants, …..or even Mid-Summer with a 2 stars when you are rating 2 star at Hand and Flower.

    Let’s enjoy also this picture of the toilets taken by my friend. Notice the lovely plastic flowers. The apparent plumbing is adding to the global experience as well. Hopefully the towels were ready and some moisturiser for hands…. at least.

    lovely plastic flowers…..a must to have in a 2 Michelin Star rated place.
    This is OUTREAGOUS.

    I would recommend you to extend your bib gourmand to different level…..this would be wiser.

    As a lover of food and quality…….I’m sorry Hand and Flowers is a nice pub…maybe the best….but this is a PUB. Don’t get me wrong, this must be the best food I’ve had in a PUB, indeed…..but if you establish a rating with Hibiscus in London, or Taillevent in Paris as challenger….the Hand and Flowers can’t compete….and this is the issue with the rating here.

    Please do try to enjoy the food…….unfortunately on shade by the silliness of an international rating established by the Michelin currently falling regulators.

    It seems that we’ve got here some similarities with the big financial rating agencies…..it seems that some food rating agencies are currently diverting from the core established policy to please a maximum of people and maybe to create virtually some stars where there is none…..this could be their downfall soon….the scale you established mister Michelin is not a race, it’s a recognition, and this need to be given fairly. Some people, clearly strong in this industrie will soon dislike your judgment. And I’m starting to be one of the people, and I’m not the only one…..watch that space.

  4. Vincent,
    while I’m sure your comments are most welcome by the lovely people who run this site, I’m not sure this is the place to wage your one man war on the little red book.
    if, as you suggest, you are a connoisseur of all things Michelin, you will be aware that any star rating is not an established level with set requirements, as there is no way you can compare restaurants across a single country, never mind continents or even the globe. there WILL be differences between a French two star run by an old school Michelin stalwart and a new two star in the UK. we have very different heritages and training. I believe Mr Kerridge achieved the rating for his consistency, and his commitment to ingredient quality and technical ability.
    to ridicule him for having plastic flowers in the toilets is short sighted at the least. there is a one star street vendor in Hong Kong doing dim sum, would you berate him for not having a covered seating area, tablecloths and sommeliers trained at m. Ducasse?
    time and a place Vincent, think about it.

  5. […] divided people. As one irate Frenchman pointed out rather sarcastically (check his comment below this blog for the full rant), the toilets even have “lovely plastic flowers…..a must have in a 2 Michelin […]

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