Hand & Flowers, Marlow


26 West St  Marlow, Buckinghamshire SL7 2BP, United Kingdom

In the space of a year we’d gone from 3 close couples to 3 families. A short break in the Cotswolds was the opportunity to meet the new additions that we will hopefully see grow over many years. The break was over too soon with some decent home cooked meals, a memorable walk and drunken charades. Before venturing back to the city for dinner at Hedone, we had time for a pub lunch en route – The Hand & Flowers.

A renowned gastro-pub with the focus well and truly on the ‘gastro’ having being recently handed a 2nd Michelin star (the only pub to have such an honour)…. It was worthy of a detour and it proved to be an enjoyable meal, let down by its new found status that sets impossible expectations for a pub, which seems to be doing its things without trying to be cheffy. In these circumstances the Michelin Guide does more harm than good and serves to highlight the inconsistencies in its judgments. This is probably due to a lack of education on what star ratings are meant to denote.

There were four of us for lunch (with two babies – accommodated with no fuss). Deep fried whitebait was the amuse served in ‘traditional’ newspaper. Very cute, crunchy and moreish.

Washed down with a nostalgic half-pint of Abbots Ale. Growing up, my father always seemed to have a case of them in the larder and I would sneak one every now and again, even if they were a good few years out of date. It was ale and I was 15. I had no cause to be fussy. It tasted good.

Menu wise with the starters there was little to get excited about in terms of imaginative dishes. We are in the realm of pub food – terrines & moules etc.. Two of us opted for soups and the rest salmon tartare.

The soups were very good – rich, velvety and flavoursome with a couple of nice touches. The pumpkin soup has blue cheese gougeres. My parsley, bacon and eel soup had parmesan tortellini. Certainly satisfying, and a cut above, but nothing to get excited about (see it’s those bloody Michelin expectations).

Salmon Tartare with poppy seed crackers

The salmon tartare served with smoked salmon was fridge cold from being frozen and as we were told had to be left to thaw to be really enjoyed. I’m not sure any diner wants to be told to wait for their food to be edible. Again mildly irksome. I eventually had a taste. Again it was pleasant, but the temperature worked against the subtle flavours.

However, it’s the mains where this pub makes a statement.

Slow Cooked Duck Breast with Savoy Cabbage, Duck Fat Chips and Gravy

My wife had the Great British Menu famed roast duck – beautiful tranches of duck on the obligatory wooden board, served with duck sausage, cabbage & lardons and of course duck fat chips. Truly elevated pub food. No showy technique – just excellent ingredients and very well put together. It could not be faulted in terms of no-bullshit cuisine.

Breast of Suffolk Chicken with Pistachio Crumble, Lovage Poached Turnips, Soft Polenta and Winter Truffle

Two of us opted for the recommended chicken (ordering chicken again at a restaurant….). This was a glorious restaurant dish. A chicken that tasted of the country (i.e. not bland) served with chicken jus and freshly shaved black truffle. Every bite demanded to be savoured. With luscious polenta and an extra side of chips, that single dish was worthy of the (slight) detour.

The last dish was spiced Sea Bream with smoked aubergine and dahl. Indian food with finesse in a pub. nice. It was good.

We finished with three good desserts:

Tonka Bean Panna Cotta, Poached Plums, Honeycomb and Plum Sorbet

Warm Pistachio Sponge Cake with Melon Sorbet and Marzipan

Glazed Cox’s Apple Tart with Blackberry Sorbet

All good desserts each with a little something to get excited about. I particularly liked the pistachio cake – sweet and mildly nutty.

As a pub meal it was excellent, with very few pubs capable of equaling it. Food and cooking was generally terrific in a non-showy, traditional manner. The 2 star recognition is no doubt due to its best-in-class standing, but this will confuse people without proper context. It’s more about Michelin showing it is populist and gets pubs. However if you’re going to recognise the best in pubs, give The Sportsman 2 stars for its unique approach to ingredients.

Go expecting as good a pub meal as you will get, but no showy Michelin tricks. It makes it a fine regional destination, but not necessarily a road trip in its own right.


One Response to “Hand & Flowers, Marlow”

  1. vince75016 Says:

    Let’s not be blinded by an error of rating from the Michelin guide. They will pay for this outrageous mistake. and I’m not the only one apparently. A shame for such an established guide.
    review at http://wp.me/pYaBr-cm

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