I am quite slow catching up the UK trend and the fact that Tom Kerridge, chef patron at Michelin-starred pub Hand & Flowers in Marlow, has become the household name after winning THE main course two years straight on BBC Great British Menu was never quite enough to encourage me to move ass outside London. But, there was this pig trotter (aka the winner dish) that @APWChef tweeted. .. ah! that’s why I sprinted to Paddington and off to Buckinghamshire.
Marlow is a lovely town full of white people. During the course of 4 hours there I was the only non-white around. There appeared no chavs, no Chinese takeaway (it seemed), and in an odd way Marlow appeared stuck in the past. There was still a Wimpy and a Blockbuster DVD rental. A bit like Stratford-upon-Avon (a picturesque river, posh flats occupied by the elders, prim and proper residents walking their pristine dogs, etc.) just without Shakespeare (and Wimpy). A few minutes’ walk from the train station took us to this quiet end of town.. an almost cottage-y looking pub with an unmistakable sign “The Hand & Flowers”.
Only allocated a two-hour slot, I was apt at getting it all going. Bread – sourdough and rye – arrived promptly with deep-fried whitebaits and Marie Rose sauce. Very generous portion for freebies and tasted agreeable. Meaty finger-sized fish but not in the lightest batter. The ketcupnaise of Marie Rose had a good, relatively liquid consistency.
A simple dish of Glazed Smoked Haddock Omelette was almost out of this world – almost. More of a brunch dish than a starter to a meal. The firm skin cut to reveal a just perfectly runny centre made this dish, unlike its description, Oh-so-unforgettable. Pretty much like an English take on saucy tortilla (say, at Barrafina?). Again generous filling of flaked, smoked haddocks. My only criticism was that the kitchen was a little too heavy-handed with salt, otherwise an understated “out of this world” dish.
Sweetbread, Pearl Barley and Sweetcorn was also less impressive as a dish. Whilst texture perfect, the veal and the sauce suffered from being one dimensionally sweet. The juicy and nicely cooked sweetbread was finished with a maple glazing and arrived submerged in a sweet and corn-y sauce (pun intended). It could do with more refreshing sharpness to cut through and reclaim the balance of flavours.
Then came the Roast Hog (for two) with Salt Baked Potatoes and Baby Gem Salad – the dish that won the main course on Great British Menu 2011. The hog was served three ways, a stuffed trotter, a roulade with crispy skin and as deep-fried cubes of pig’s head, with rich pork jus, zingy apple sauce and a cup of strong cider. This was a DIY dish. You’ll have to slice this, take a bit of that, plate it all up yourself and sip the cider as you eat. A feast of fun!
Verdict on the hog? I particularly loved the simplicity of the trotter. Gelatinous skin with the minced, peppery stuffing. This showed how damned amazing pork can be without all the fuss. The roulade was tender and the skin mightily crackling, while the cubes of pig’s head were oozing porky depth of flavours, the most orchestrated of all the piggy components. That said, they would fare better with a bite-size so that I could put the whole cube in my mouth and let the flavours ignite.. BOOM!!
The salt baked potatoes in this sack of heavily salted pastry crust was no less a spectacle. I needed hands and knives to break it. Once broken, it was oozing this sea-scented steam. Perfectly cooked skin-on potatoes (there were four of them!). Just falling apart and deliciously grainy. The creamily dressed baby gem salad with crispy bacon, however, felt a little irrelevant in this context. Yes, this whole hog thing was heavy and could do with something light to balance it out. But, to me, it could be something else..
YES… THE HOG, DONE!!!!
Desserts.. the Strawberry & Cream received a gastronomic retouch in form of tonka bean panna cotta with multi-layers of meringue, crumbles of candy and compressed strawberries. It benefitted much from the silky panna cotta distilled by its mild sweetness. The ground ivy leaves added a less agressive minty note to the dish. My other bib’s dish and I only had a bite, and it was a real celebration of British summer! My dish Warm Pistachio Sponge Cake with Melon Sorbet was so delicate and seemed plated using a ruler. The superb sorbet toppling a mosaic of watermelon and melon looked as if an edible bathroom tile owned by millionaires. The pistachio cake tasted much like a financier but with a sumptuous smearing of pistachio syrup. It, too, boast a good texture contrast – glossy and chewy nuts and crispy pistachio crystals. Yet… these struck me as two otherworldly desserts that did not seem to join force as a dish. Good thing was.. they did not jar in flavours.
The meal concluded in about an hour and a half and at £130 sans service. We had two glasses of wine, water, Guiness, tea, latte, orange juice. …. in hindsight we did order too many drinks!! Most dishes were precisely executed. Some combinations were less successful than others. I can easily say I liked the Hand & Flowers for its comforting philosophy and genuineness. The paired down dining room and the efficient but casual service made this place a complete package as a relaxed venue for food admirers. And to my delight the fact that Kerridge is the GBM champion did not result in the restaurant’s being swarmed by food tourists. It’s pleasant. It’s local.. it’s everything you want a neighbourhood restaurant to be. We paid our bill, left some tip and departed..
AS STUFFED AS THE TROTTER!!
My head rating says, “9 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “7.5 out of 10″.
THE HAND AND FLOWERS
126 West Street
Tel. 01628 482 277