Marlow Can You Go?
Gastropubs are ten a penny these days. Gastropubs with Michelin stars however... can't be many of them, right? So when the opportunity to sample the delights of Marlow's The Hand & Flowers, particularly in my birthday week, it was very hard to turn down.
While the overall quality of the place wasn't quite the tongue-dazzling experience that Michelin recognition suggests, and while there were some obvious flaws in the seasoning and the odd misfire, we had to agree with The Guardian's 2005 review: it was still very hard to dislike.
The kitchen is run by Tom Kerridge, a man I'd happily stand alongside any day. I've often said I don't trust thin chefs which is, to be fair, a joke. As someone who can put on a stone thinking about a profiterole, I'm just jealous of anyone who can stay whippet-like when surrounded by calories in their loveliest forms. But Tom is a big man, a huge, convivial soul and you get the impression that while the star is nice to have, it's not actually his driving force. He'd be cooking this kind of food anyway - and packing them in regardless. The place was heaving, which isn't a surprise when there's a set lunch deal of three courses for £13.50. Indeed, the dishes coming out for that - a steaming bowl of crab bisque, a lovely pork pie with homemade mustard pickle, steak, egg and chips, coq au vin - looked every bit as appetising as the dishes on the a la carte.
While the main courses - rump steak with triple cooked chips and bearnaise sauce, saddle of lamb, with bacon, pearl barley and laverbread - suffered from zealous salting, and the complimentary bread and whitebait were only fair-to-middling - the starters were excellent. Potted crab with dill and pickled cucumber sang across the palate, while my glazed omelette of smoked haddock and parmesan was divine. Arnold Bennett himself would have been dancing along the riverbank, frankly. The puddings were lovely too, although the rhubarb crumble souffle, while elaborate and very clever with the stem ginger creme anglaise, could happily have been replaced with a straightforward rhubarb crumble. No such complaints with the apple tart and caramel ice cream. That was all big flavours and lovely pastry and I'll leave it at that before I get all Greg Wallace and stuff.