There I was sprawled across our couch with a cup of tea to my left, a stack of cookbooks to my right, and Saturday Kitchen bumbling along with its forced laughs in the background; a familiar scene that happens most lazy Saturday mornings in our flat. I was ready to complete my favourite chore of the weekend: planning that week’s menu. What a rock and roll life I lead, eh? I had already spent the last ten minutes debating the merits of using up the rest of my gochujang in a Korean stew from ‘Our Korean Kitchen’, or making Tom Kerridge’s barbeque pineapple chicken for the hundredth time when I had a different brainwave. Flipping through our well-thumbed copy of his ‘Best Ever Dishes’ one more time, I decided to take a break from Tom’s recipes in my kitchen because I would rather try them out in his kitchen instead…
The thing is, the recipes in this book are quite involved. We’ve cooked from it many times but have rarely followed all the steps because unlike Tom, we don’t have the patience nor dedication; and yet, most dishes are still rib-tickling winners. So imagine how good his food must be when someone doesn’t cut corners. And with that thought I was sold. Alas, getting a table at The Hand and Flowers, Tom Kerridge’s two Michelin star pub, is easier said than done. It is notoriously hard to book, even harder if you also want a room reservation, as I did. Near impossible if you were looking for a specific day or date. Thankfully I was not; with the end of my work contract and the start of our travels looming, the one thing I did have on my side was flexibility. A random Tuesday night in two month’s time? Mission accomplished.
Dinner at The Hand and Flowers
Our evening started by the roaring fire, where both we and the room were happily bathed by its soothing glow. Upon first impressions, this is your quintessential English countryside pub, however take a closer look at the menu and you’ll remember that The Hand and Flowers is so much more. A warm Ploughman’s tart brought together all the components of the classic lunch, but would be unrecognisable to traditionalists. The short pastry case held together layers of cheese, lamb porchetta, crispy haggis, and dainty rounds of onion, all to be topped with a perfect quenelle of pickle. I lapped up the plump slices of Loch Duart salmon gradvalax, glistening so beautifully under the candlelight of our table. Such is my obsession that each bite had to be carefully built to form the perfect mouthful; a chunk of the apple pancake, a light slather of the creme fraiche, a morsel of salmon, a few beads of caviar.
Lured in by the promise of sweetbreads, a certain someone decided to find out more about the intriguing Essex lamb bun. Unfortunately, it was a lot more than he had bargained for – the braised lamb, a lamb cutlet and sweetbreads enveloped in a doughy crust defeated him. We often find that lamb can be a tricky beast to tame, and this one was just far too rich for our tastes. I fared better with my Cotswold venison; the plummy hued slices of loin were magnificent, the salt baked carrot and keema pie were fine accompaniments, but then there was the lime pickle. I understand why it came to the party, but that pickle was too big and burly for this civilised soiree. We only managed one dessert that night, and sensibly chose the delightfully airy souffle to cap off our night. Dinner at The Hand and Flowers is not for the faint hearted; it may be adorned with two Michelin stars, but this is fine dining that is plentiful and ladened with heart and soul!
Bed and Breakfast at Apple House
As soon as we gave our driver the signal, we were whisked back to our room at Apple House on Marlow’s High Street, where several of The Hand and Flower’s rooms are located. All eleven rooms are individually decorated, but the cosy cottage vibe runs through them all, meaning you can expect warm tones and comfortable furnishings, but also compact rooms. We stayed in Davey; it was certainly snug, but the design was clever and they had not skimped on the luxury elements. The plush bed dominated one end of the room while the remarkably deep freestanding bath dominated the other. It had all the usual mod cons such as the Nespresso machine, well stocked snacks and mini bar, and Netflix all hooked up, but the best little treat was the basket filled with hot chocolate and biscuits we came back to after dinner! I might have been too full for the hot chocolate but it was a thoughtful gesture all the same. After a restful night’s sleep, we were ferried back to The Hand and Flowers to start our day right with a hearty full English and proper cups of tea!
Lunch at The Coach
Squeezing another Michelin star meal into a 24 hour period was not part of my original plan but when a certain someone suggested we also try Tom Kerridge’s other pub, I happily obliged. We did attempt to walk off breakfast first with a turn around the town, but unless you’re keen on upmarket high street shopping, there isn’t much to see or do. We killed as much time by the riverside as possible before admitting defeat and plonking ourselves down on the bar seats at The Coach. This is The Hand and Flower’s more casual sibling, but they still take their food very seriously, enough for it to be awarded its first Michelin star in 2017. You could hog your own dish, but we found the menu is better for sharing as the dishes are small and once you’ve seen them flying out of the open kitchen, you will want to try as many as possible.
Their quail scotch egg was one of the best we’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming, and the sausage roll, though tiny, was a shining example of the way they are elevating classic pub grub to Michelin star level. However, if you only have room for one dish, then make it The Coach burger – a meticulously balanced tower of bun, patty, pulled pork and dill pickle. Despite having to take marks off for it not being a burger you can pick up and eat with your hands (key criteria for me), it made up for it in the juiciness of the patty and combination of flavours! The Coach pleasantly surprised us; we loved the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant but also the finesse and attention to detail they showed in their dishes. So much so, that dare we say, we might have actually enjoyed this lunch a smidgen more than our dinner at The Hand and Flowers!
Have you ever dined at Tom Kerridge’s The Hand and Flowers or The Coach?
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