Marlow is a charming town in rural-England, complete with leafy parks, statuesque houses and the Thames meandering its way through the centre. But we’re not here for Marlow; we’re here for the food.
The Hand and Flowers is Tom Kerridge’s two Michelin starred gastropub and the destination of our foodie pilgrimage. After a sun-filled day, my boyfriend and I relax into the rustic country pub, with wooden beams and a cosy atmosphere to match. A ‘happy anniversary’ card awaits us at our table; a nice touch.
Our waiter is friendly, helpful and brimming with the enthusiasm and recommendations about the food to come. He’s tried every dish on the menu, something that has since become a life ambition of mine.
Home-baked bread, steeped in malt and seeds, dense and fluffy all at once and smeared in creamy butter, is presented first. This is followed by a complementary appetiser of deep-fried whitebait, which come wrapped in a cone of newspaper with aioli. The slivers of white fish, encased in a thin, crispy batter, leave slicks of salty grease on our fingers.
After choosing our wine – a smooth and vanillary Rijoca, which is good value at £28 – we settle into our starters.
I’ve opted for Smoked Mackerel, Parsley and Garlic Scotch Egg with White Onion Soubise and Charred English Onion. It’s beautifully presented, looking like an upmarket scotch egg until you break into it and reveal the deep green of the parsley. The orangey yolk spills out, perfectly runny. Despite its amazing appearance, the taste is pleasant but disappointingly monotonous, though perhaps that speaks more of my high expectations than the quality of the food.
On the other hand, Marc raves about his Demi “En Croute” of Whole Baby Truffle with Foie Gras and Port – luxuriant to the extreme.
That said, my aforementioned expectations were blown to smithereens with my main: Slow Cooked Duck Breast with Savoy Cabbage and Bacon, Duck Fat Chips and Gravy. If heaven were incarnated as food, it would surely be this. This dish won “Great British Menu 2010” and I can now attest to the judges’ scoring.
The duck breast is tender, juicy and perfectly pink with a crispy, sugary sweet skin. The gravy is liquid caramel, infused with duck. I could literally drink it by the bucketful. The buttery savoy cabbage, with a hint of al denté and salty nuggets of bacon, is the perfect accompaniment. And the chips. They are the best chips I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating; golden and plump with fluffy potato on the inside. Every bite is an explosion of deliciousness in my mouth.
Marc’s Tenderloin of Wiltshire Pork with Pickled Mustard Leaf, Malt Glazed Cheek, Garlic Sausage and Potato Dauphine is almost as perfect- a hearty pork medley, oozing with flavour and layers of creamy, garlicky potato.
The finale comes in the form of a Banana Soufflé with Gingerbread Custard and Yoghurt Ice Cream. The soufflé rises tall, light and airy as a cloud with a sweetly chewy, meringue-esque outer-shell. The mellow taste of banana blends beautifully with the creamy gingerbread custard and refreshing ice cream that cuts across the palette.
Marc loved his Hand & Flowers Chocolate and Ale Cake with Salted Caramel and Muscovado Ice Cream. The smooth, rich chocolate cake came with a shot-sized pint glass of Hand and Flowers ale to sip and bring our the flavor of the dessert.
It’s safe to say we leave feeling extremely full, with the contented feeling that utterly blissful food gives you. If only we’d had room (in our stomachs and our wallets) for a little more…
Our three course meal for two, with wine and a pint of ale cost: £152.16
Be sure to book a few month’s in advance for a table, more if you want one at the weekend.