The Hand and Flowers is Tom Kerridge’s double Michelin-starred pub (the only one in the U.K!!) in Marlow (just North West of London), and a couple of weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of not just eating there, but spending the night in one of their eight charming cottage rooms.
We arrived at The Hand and Flowers just after midday, and although we were aware the accommodation wouldn’t be available until after 3pm, we decided to make full use of the pub, and have a couple of drinks. The pub is as quintessential as they come, large wooden beams, a wood burning fire place, wing back leather chairs and a very impressively stocked bar. It was exactly what I expected, although the drink prices were not. Living in London, my feel for what a drink should cost is completely skewed, so when I go into a nice pub or bar, especially a double michelin starred pub, I expect to pay something North of £7 a pint. And I was pleasantly surprised to find all the draught beers and ciders at The Hand and Flowers to be approximately £5, around the price you’d expect to pay at a decent (but not Michelin-starred) London pub. I have to admit, this put me in a great mood.
Having booked a reservation to stay in one of the nearby rooms which wouldn’t be ready for a couple of hours on leaving our names at the desk we were each offered vouchers to enjoy a complimentary cup of coffee and a slice cake at sister pub The Coach, just a short walk away. I have never been one to turn down cake or anything free, so we headed to The Coach and had a truly fantastic slice of freshly made New York cheesecake. A very nice touch indeed!
The rooms at The Hand and Flowers are split across two cottages, one literally metres away from the pub itself, and another, The Apple House, in the centre of Marlow town which is a five minute walk away, although there is a driver who will pick you up and take you back as frequently as you like (again, nice touch). All of the rooms in the cottage nearest the pub are named after breeds of cow, and those in The Apple House after types of apple. We stayed in the Charolais room, a spacious ground floor room with a small back garden complete with decking, a table and chairs, sun loungers and a hot tub!! The room was beautifully quant, and came stocked with a kettle and a coffee machine, home made cookies, a small box of rich white chocolates and lardy cakes, although these weren’t vegetarian (the clue is in the name) so I can’t comment on how good they were. The fridge was stocked with both still and sparking water and a proper bottle of fresh milk. We had brought our own fizz and glasses and an ice bucket were brought over for us to use.
My only issue with our entire stay was that we didn’t end up actually setting foot in our rooms until gone half 4. Since check-out the next day is 11, and our dinner reservation at quarter past 7, that didn’t give us much time to properly enjoy the room. However, the service from the entire staff at The Hand and Flowers was otherwise faultless.
Now the for the best bit, the food. The pub, like most pubs, is split into two areas, the bar area, where you can sit and have a drink, and the restaurant area. Both are fairly small, and were completely full for pretty much the entirety of our stay. We were seated at our table promptly at 7:15, and having been told that I was a vegetarian I was immediately handed a separate veggie menu, something I am always impressed with and wasn’t expecting as there is no vegetarian menu available on the pub’s website. The vegetarian menu was, as vegetarian menus go, incredibly comprehensive, with a choice of three starters and three mains. There was also an entirely separate vegetarian dessert menu, something that I have only experienced at a handful of restaurants before (including Hakkasan). The fact that dessert might not be vegetarian is often overlooked by many restaurants, with most restaurants giving no indication to whether something includes gelatine, for example, unless directly asked. I was thoroughly impressed by this. I was also impressed, and quite shocked at the price of the vegetarian dishes, with starters priced from £9.50 and mains from £14.50, again what you might expect from a posh London pub, not from a double-Michelin starred restaurant. This was not the case for the meat alternatives, with starters starting from £13.50 and mains from £29.50 and soaring up to £42 for steak. My entire vegetarian three course meal course meal cost under £40, excluding wine, roughly the price of a meat main, and as a believer that vegetarian dishes should be cheaper, as vegetables are far cheaper to purchase than meat products, I was incredibly pleased with the pricing of The Hand and Flowers’ menu.
I started my meal with a steaming bowl of lovage soup with blue cheese tortellini, it seems soup with tortellini is somewhat becoming my go-to starter. The broth itself was bright and fresh, if you’ve never had lovage the taste is very similar to celery or parsley, and the tortellini whilst few were cooked to perfection, the creamy blue cheese complemented the crisp summer soup perfectly. I ordered the chicory and caramelised onion tarte tatin for my main, which arrived with a small salad of chicory leaves, apple and bitter orange. The tart’s pastry was beautifully buttery and flakey, and the filling was the perfect balance of savoury, peppery chicory and sweet caramelised onion, topped with what appeared to be little chunks of nougat. I ordered chips on the side of this dish, but they weren’t entirely needed, the dish was far more filling than it appeared. I will say that whilst the chips were perfectly crispy, they were probably slightly too salty for my taste.
I finished the meal with the banana soufflé, which is cooked to order and, for want of a better word, massive. The soufflé comes with baked cheesecake ice-cream topped with pistachio crumble and a little jug of praline syrup to pour over the top. It was divine. And I enjoyed every single mouthful of it. Desserts at The Hand and Flowers are all priced at £12.50, except for the cheese board which is a pound more.
After a drink at the bar we returned to our room, and were welcomed by a picnic basket full of home made stuffed chocolate chip cookies (think Oreos but twice as big and ten times as rich), a flask of malted milk and a little note from the staff. Another example of exquisite service by the staff, and having had a few drinks I could not quite contain my excitement to open the basket.
We awoke the next day and had to rush a little to pack, get to breakfast and check out. Once again I was reminded of the late check in time and our limited stay in the cottage, which I must admit cast a small shadow over the stay. Breakfast was pretty standard, and consisted of a range of fresh pastries, yogurt, homemade granola and the option of cooked food. The juice is freshly squeezed and staff are very happy to bring all sorts of items to your table as you want them. We left the Hand and Flowers with a small goodie bag of bottled water, a signed note from Tom Kerridge (who I’m sure I spied in the carpark) and a box of homemade flapjacks to enjoy on the train home to London.
I cannot recommend The Hand and Flowers enough. If you are looking for a special weekend away, or just a celebration dinner, this is the place to go. Whilst the ‘normal’ al a carte menu may seem a bit pricy, you cannot forget that this is the only pub of its kind in the UK, and if you’re looking for something a little cheaper, you could always try the vegetarian menu or make a lunchtime reservation when the set lunch is available (£25 for two courses and £29.50 for three). One thing I would be aware of is that it is incredibly difficult to actually get a reservation for The Hand and Flowers, as I understand it, you can book the restaurant up to three months in advance, however you can book a room up to twelve months in advance, and every room comes with a corresponding table reservation, so if you’re keen to make a weekend of it, I definitely recommend that option.