My brilliant girlfriend, Debbie, had won the British Original Romance competition on the facebook page of Nyetimber Wines, and the prize was a voucher to be used at The Hand And Flowers in Marlow. I have to admit that I had never heard of the place before Debbie mentioned that she had won the competition, but she was clearly excited at the prospect. It turns out it is a pub which was opened in March 2005 by Tom and Beth Kerridge and has two Michelin Stars, so I was now intrigued to be going to a pub, rather than a restaurant, which had two Michelin Stars.
The traffic was not as bad as I feared it might be on the drive from St Albans to Marlow, so we were able to take the M25 to the M40, came off at the Marlow bypass junction and went through to the other side of Marlow on the road to Henley. We knew where to find the pub because we had passed it coming the other way from our walk in Mapledurham last Saturday.
It has its own parking area, which would appear to hold more cars than it could hold customers inside, so you can probably be assured of finding a space. We had arrived about an hour early for our half past seven seating, so we had no problem finding one, and then had some time to enjoy watching the red kite swooping overhead. We decided to have a drink in the time we still had available and sat outside under the early evening sun in the very pleasant garden area to do this. My lovely girlfriend Debbie had a Hendricks gin and Fever Tree tonic
and I had a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. We immediately noticed how very friendly and welcoming the staff were, and I also noticed that the soft drinks were not overpriced (actually, Debbie noticed it, and now I think it was my original thought, and until this part was added by a hand unknown, you, dear reader, would have gone along with that), which is always a pleasant surprise. We were brought the food menus and were able to go through the extensive menu many times to try to make our selections as we sat there enjoying our drinks.
We were taken to our table on time. It feels very cosy inside as you walk through and mind your head on the low ceilings, but it is not overcrowded at the tables. We were sat at the far end in a corner which held four tables and there was more than enough room to accommodate this, leaving you feeling that you had sufficient seclusion and privacy. Debbie ordered a glass of the Jean-Paul Deville Carte Noire NV Champagne to drink with her starter, and thought it was lovely with a sweet taste you do not often get with Champagnes. We were then brought some complimentary whitebait with a Marie Rose sauce, together with some sourdough and soda bread,
all of which was delicious, before our starters arrived, with Debbie having the parfait of duck and foie gras with orange chutney and toasted brioche,
while I had the smoked mackerel and wild garlic scotch egg with white onion soubise and charred English onion.
My amazing girlfriend, Debbie, thought that the orange chutney really complimented the duck and foie gras very well, and that it all had such a rich taste she could have been served half the amount and thought it enough, though she was glad to have the full portion. I thought mine was wonderfully inventive, as pleasing on the eye as it was on the palate, and a delight to find the egg yolk was runny. If you look at my full set of photographs from the evening you can see the before, during and after shots of my starter and will appreciate how very much I enjoyed it.
I was drinking sparkling water and Debbie chose to have a glass of the Chasselas, Domaine Pierre Frick-Alsace, France 2009, their Natural White Wine of the Month, with her main course. It is described as a fresh wine with keen acidity and great fruit expression including green and ripe red apples and apricots followed by a yeasty finish. Indeed, Debbie said that at times it tasted more like a cider than a wine, with a very definite taste of apples. It is made from biodynamically farmed grapes from a vineyard where biodiversity is respected and fermented on the wild yeasts and finally bottled with minimum filtration, fining or addition of sulphur. The intention is to express the “terroir” or provenance of the wine, the individuality of the vine in its particular location and the nature of the vintage itself. The listing in the very informative wine menu concludes by saying “These wines, with their purity, freshness and undoubted minerality, have a wonderful affinity for food.” This process also explains its cloudy look.
We had been at our table for just over 45 minutes by the time our main course was served, which we both thought was just the right sort of time for such an establishment. Debbie had chosen the fillet of Lancashire beef with Hand & Flowers chips and Bearnaise sauce,
while I had gone with the spiced tranche of Cornish monkfish with roasted cauliflower, peanut crumble and verjus. We had also ordered side dishes of crushed swede with cracked black pepper, and broccoli with Hollandaise sauce and toasted hazelnuts. Everything was beautifully presented, and Debbie had her steak rare, and felt it had been perfectly prepared, and while she loved the chips I did manage to get a couple myself, obviously just to confirm her opinion of them. My monkfish was a good size and had a lovely texture and taste,
and while the cauliflower was very special, and the swede had a real edge with the cracked black pepper, my vegetable of the evening was the broccoli, which must be the best I have ever tasted. It had just the perfect kind of crunch, worked perfectly with the hazelnuts, and the Hollandaise sauce was not intrusive when it came to the flavour. It is worth noting at this point that the serving staff were not intrusive in the slightest either, were clearly very knowledgeable, and added to the overall experience in a positive way.
We had both eaten enough that we could have stopped at that point, but I defy you to resist the dessert menu. Debbie chose the vanilla creme brulee, which came with a little glass of beer, which had a honey taste and worked well with the very creamy pudding, and once again there was just a lot of it, and maybe too much at this time in the meal,
while I had to choose the banana souffle with gingerbread custard and yoghurt ice cream after seeing it presented at another table.
It really did look spectacular, and no part of the glorious triumvirate disappointed as I ate them.
As I said at the beginning, we had won a voucher for this evening’s meal, and maybe the highest compliment we can pay the chef and the pub is that we would very happily have paid for the meal ourselves. We will definitely be going back again. The whole evening had been a very enjoyable experience in good surroundings with a lovely ambience and excellent food. We would both thoroughly recommend The Hand & Flowers.
You can see more of my photographs from the evening here.