Last year, Ciaran’s Mum and I tried to book reservations at a very special pub in Marlow for his birthday on the 16th of January. Little did we realise that it was completely booked up for exactly one year, so we went ahead and booked The Hand & Flowers for his 28th birthday the following year. Fast forward 12 months and we were headed to the picturesque riverside town for a wonderful birthday surprise that I must say was well worth the wait.
The Hand & Flowers was opened by phenomenal chef Tom Kerridge and his wife Beth in 2005. In 2011, H&F became the first pub to be awarded two Michelin Stars. They also have four AA Rosettes. From the outside, you would never guess that this quaint pub would have such acclaim in the industry as it looks like any cute pub you’d find in England. The interior has a relaxed vibe with exposed brick walls, cosy fireplaces and rustic wood beams. For a restaurant that holds two Michelin Stars, one might assume beforehand that there would be a somewhat ostentatious atmosphere, but H&F couldn’t be further from pretentious.
We instantly felt right at home as we sat on plush, overstuffed leather sofas and ordered a round of champagne to toast to Ciaran’s birthday. I really loved the layout of the pub as it had a bar area and lounge as you walk in, with roaring fireplaces and cosy leather sofas and chairs to enjoy pre or post dinner drinks. Towards the back of the restaurant is the dining area, with farmhouse-style tables and chairs, dark wooden features and similar to the front of house, an all round cosy and intimate atmosphere. We finished our first round of champagne and headed into the dining room.
Our fantastic server whisked out another bottle of champagne, amuse bouche and fresh bread for the table.
We tucked into deep fried whitebait chips with a garlic aioli. Cooked to perfection, it was an unusual but lovely way to start off the meal.
I started off with the Duck Liver Parfait with Orange Chutney and Toasted Brioche. I only ever indulge in liver when I’m at a renowned restaurant and I couldn’t pass it up this time. It was deliciously creamy and the orange chutney was a great accompaniment combined with the buttery brioche.
Ciaran opted for the Salt Baked Swede and Haggis Tart with Crispy Lamb and “Chantilly de Chèvre”and Raw Mushroom, which really was a stunning dish. It was presented beautifully and he said it tasted as great as it looked. I’m not a huge fan of Haggis myself, so I took his word for it.
Julie’s Pavé and Parfait of Salmon with Black Apple Jelly, Confit Lemon, Avruga Caviar and Garlic Bread looked beautiful – almost like a dessert. She said it was one of the best dishes she’s ever had.
For my main, I had to order Tom’s signature dish – Slow Cooked Duck Breast “à l’Orange” with Duck Sausage, Girolle and Rillette Tart. The duck was perfectly cooked – incredibly tender and juicy. The Duck sausage was rich and filling and the two blended with the hints of orange, tasted wonderful. My only small suggestion would be to slice the duck before serving – as it is quite a large piece. The portion was surprisingly large and overall, a very decadent dish.
Ciaran ordered the Loin of Cotswold Venison with Boudin Noir Purée, Allotment Roots, Ragout Pie and Cow Puff. Again, another stunning dish. I tried a bit of his Venison and it was quite rich and cooked rare – a bit too rare for my taste, but overall very beautifully cooked. The Boudin Noir Purée was incredible – it was very thick and added even more depth to the dish.
Ciaran’s sister had ordered the Fish ‘Du Jour’ with Cornish Crab Pancake, Sauce Bouillabaisse and English Lettuce. The fish was sea bass and it was cooked to perfection as well. Crispy on the outside, tender and sweet on the inside. The Cornish Crab Pancake was also a unique element of the dish – salty and sweet with bits of fresh crab intertwined – it was one of the best fish dishes I’ve tried and she agreed. (I am also in love with this plate it was served on).
We were all utterly stuffed, filled to the brim, but as it was a birthday celebration – we had to indulge in some desserts.
Julie ordered the Banana Soufflé with Coffee Syrup and Caramelised Walnut Ice Cream. Once again, we weren’t disappointed. The presentation was lovely and she said the soufflé was superb.
Ciaran ordered the Apple and Custard Slice with Bramley Sorbet. I had a bite, and it was sweet and tart – a lighter option to balance out his rich main course.
The grand finale of the show was the Hand & Flowers Chocolate and Ale Cake with Salted Caramel and Muscovado Ice Cream. WOW – this was definitely a one-of-a-kind dish that I’ve never quite tasted anything like it before. The Ale Cake was dense and I could taste really taste the strong flavour of the ale, which was balanced nicely with the sweetness of the Ice Cream and saltiness of the salted caramel. It was a winning dish and definitely the star of the show. If only I could make this at home.
The Hand & Flowers is a really special place to go for celebrations, anniversaries, birthdays and any other momentous occasion. Tom Kerridge truly cooks simple yet outstanding food and the service was second to none. From the moment we walked in, we felt at home and really enjoyed ourselves. I’m already looking forward to heading back hopefully sooner rather than later!
The Hand & Flowers
126 West St
Marlow SL7 2BP