126 West St, Marlow SL7 2BP
Phone: 01628 482277
First Review Date: January 2016
Chef & owner Tom Kerridge has often been quoted as wanting to create a good country pub rather than a fine dining experience and his Marlow-based, Great British pub, The Hand & Flowers, certainly achieves that with it’s first impression.
A traditionally low-ceilinged, white-fronted affair with a hard wood bar and a cosy interior. It’s got the ‘old, oak furniture and open fire’ vibe down to a tee. But that’s where the similarities end.
Sure you can order a pint but there’s not the line of slightly intimidating good ol’ boys propping up the bar – that ever-present staple of the British country pub. The atmosphere is refined, it’s sophisticated but it’s also friendly, approachable and welcoming.
Kerridge’s approach to the menu is modern pub. Some dishes you’d expect to see on any pub menu but given a Michelin-worthy make-over. Every type of animal we eat and a good crack at emptying the oceans and rivers too.
The Hand & Flowers is a meat-lovers paradise. It’s where Kerridge’s menu is at its strongest and boldest.
However some dishes are trying a bit too hard to be different. Though all cooked perfectly and balanced brilliantly, there’s almost an over reliance standard luxury fare: a little caviar here, a whole truffle here.
It has it’s place on the plate but it feels somewhat obvious. I almost want more humble ingredients lifted to new heights instead.
Pork was meltingly tender and mouth-wateringly flavourful. A subtle sneaking pigginess that had me salivating for my next mouthful even before I’d fully finished the one in my jaws.
I will often find myself ordering the pork option as it’s so easy to get wrong. The excellence of the meat at the Hand & Flowers is evident – it’s clear they care about the produce: their mission is to never compromise on the quality.
A no compromise approach is admirable but I did feel there was one area the pub had well and truly compromised on. Most disappointingly, vegetarian options are on request and not just an integral part of the menu.
Making incredible vegetarian food is more of an achievement than cooking a good steak and given the fantastic handling of the sides and garnishes it’s a wonder the Hand & Flowers chefs don’t showcase that talent on the menu in a louder, prouder way.
Modern cooking should be less reliant on meat, poultry and fish. It’s this level of cooking – those inspirational “every man” leaders of culinary excellence like Tom Kerridge – that should be blazing the trail towards more sustainable eating and showing us, mere mortals, how to elevate the humble veggie to a Michelin-starred meal.
The Hand & Flowers was the first pub to be awarded two Michelin stars and four AA rosettes and with the standard of cooking, the attentive, unassuming service and the casual, informal dining space they’re deserved.
But until the Hand & Flowers presents some innovative and exciting meat and fish-free options on it’s menu, it’s not fully representing an outstanding dining experience so it can only be two and a half forks from me.