The best chefs will take the discipline, skill, technique and precision developed during their training in high end dining and apply it to cooking the food they love. This is what Tom Kerridge did when he opened The Hand & Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. One meal here and it is obvious that he is cooking the food that means a lot to him, the food that he himself would love to eat. His food is British and has it's roots in the British pub. A Sunday lunch in a pub sounds quite ordinary and not something that usually requires a booking 12 months in advance, but that is what faced us when we alighted the train from London in Marlow. But of course this isn't pub food in any shape or form that most people will have had before. Instead it is a decadent, almost flawless, highly accomplished display of fine food and skilled cookery. The Sunday lunch menu reads as an array of tempting dishes that you would love to eat on Sunday afternoon before sinking into the sofa to watch a movie or the football.
One starter of crispy pigs head with spiced date purée was warm and comforting, managing to be both satisfying, but surprisingly light. A duck liver parfait with orange chutney was intensely rich and highly addictive. After the starters you start to realise why this restaurant has created such a stir over the last few years. A main of Yorkshire grouse was perfectly cooked and it was extremely tasty dish, although it probably could have done without the game pie. It suffered slightly in comparison to the other main of the most amazing half roast chicken and summer truffle which was certainly the best dish of the day. The chicken was perfect, extremely moist and still slightly pink close to bone and it had the almost gamey taste that chicken should have, but rarely does these days. Long brining and, possibly, a water bath, are evident in it's preparation. Desserts didn't let the meal down either. A rich chocolate and ale cake was quite divine and the apple & custard slice was beautiful.
Kerridge has managed to keep an essence of pub food in his menu. It is very comforting, very moreish and very accessible to both the fine dining novice and the experienced gastronome. However, a meal in The Hand & Flowers is most definitely fine dining. The skill is evident and abundant, the techniques, although hidden from the diner (there are no foams, gels, leathers, powders etc), is there behind the scenes and it is obvious that a lot of time, love and attention goes into the dishes.
One slight criticism of our experience is it felt a little rushed near the end of the meal when we told they would need the table and we had to have our coffee at the bar. After waiting a year to get in it would be nice to be able to take a bit more time and relax. Especially since you will certainly be feeling full and content at the end of a meal in The Hand & Flowers.