It's fair to say I'm a big fan of Michelin-starred pubs; that combination of a relaxed (usually child friendly) environment with great food is hard to beat. Having held two stars since 2012, and indeed being the only pub in the UK to have that accolade, The Hand and Flowers in Marlow can with some justification be proclaimed as the home of the very best "pub food" in the land, as well as the flagship restaurant of celebrity Chef Patron Tom Kerridge. I was certainly looking forward to some top rate pub grub as I visited for lunch with my wife and two young children, on a mild October Saturday.
After a drive of over three hours, we were relived to find there was plenty of space in the attached car park on arrival, amongst as you might expect for a restaurant of this reputation, many fancy cars. My wife and I donned our masks and made our way inside with the kids. The welcome on arrival was warm and friendly, and we were shown straight to our table. There were screens up in various places (including around our table), anti-bacterial spray on the table (plus hand sanitiser in various other locations) and all the staff were wearing masks or full face visors too; in short I don't think they could really be doing much more to be COIVD-safe.
We were seated in the main pub area; the decor is nice with exposed brickwork and chunky beams, it's what you'd expect really for a (very) high end pub. All the staff were very friendly with our children and indeed despite the status of the restaurant, it felt relaxed with no air of pretentiousness, which as a working class hero is something I had feared might be present before arrival. That's no mean feat at all for a place that's so uber-popular (and it has to be said, uber-expensive, but more on that later). That said, despite the "pub" title, even in a COVID-free world, I wouldn't expect to see too many people popping in for just a quick pint.
Drinks wise, there's a good wine list and an expansive drinks selection too, featuring a wide range of cocktails including a large selection of non-alcoholic options, which was good to see. My wife enjoyed a 'Cucumber Collins' with her meal, I stuck with my trusty Hendrick's and tonic, although there are a number of more exotic gins available too. For the kids, there's plenty of juices and other soft drinks also, and indeed my daughter proclaimed her apple juice was the nicest she's ever tasted; high praise indeed.
For food on a Saturday lunch, there's one carte menu with six choices per course. There's no children's menu which is a bit of a shame (it is absolutely possible to offer a fantastic children's menu in a high end restaurant) but they are able to provide a child sized portion of either the fish and chips or steak and chips which I'd seen on their website in advance, but also a scoop of ice cream for dessert which I didn't know, and that was much appreciated when we got to dessert. We were all provided with wax sealed copies of the menu at the start of the meal too, which was another nice touch.
First up was a selection of bread; some small white rolls and some brown sliced bread also, both accompanied by different butter. There was also a little snack bowl of fish batter scraps (as we call them up North) with a cheesy mouse. Everything here was delicious and like all good restaurants, they provided full servings for both children even though they weren't eating from the full menu, which was great to see.
For starters, I opted for the pork, truffle and foie gras pie, with a port sauce. This looked great on the plate but whilst the flavours were very good, it maybe didn't pack quite the outstanding level of punch as I'd been hoping for. My wife's beetroot and cheddar tart was unquestionably a very accomplished dish also which she very much enjoyed. For my daughter, they were happy to bring her child portion of steak and chips with the starters although our waiter did warn us in advance, it would take a little bit longer due the cooking of the meat which is perfectly understandable. It arrived only a few minutes after our starters and I have to say the steak was delicious; the cooking was perfect and it tasted great. For my toddler son, there was no issue bringing him just a portion of chips with our starters which he happily munched through.
There wasn't too long a wait for the mains to arrive, and in fact I'd say the pacing throughout the whole meal was absolutely spot on, so often that's difficult to achieve in a busy restaurant. I had the black pepper and shitake fried chicken with a chunk of spicy Korean glazed swede; it was a great dish and probably the best chicken main course I can recall eating. All the elements were cooked perfectly and the flavour combinations were great; it was an excellent dish. My wife opted for the duck with a sweet and sour onion tart and it was equally delicious. The cooking of the duck was genuinely faultless, I don't think we've ever had a carte sized piece of duck cooked so well, and the accompanying tart and other elements were delicious too. In short, the main courses were very, very impressive.
There's no pre-dessert here so last up for me was the milk toffee tart with blackberry sorbet. The tart had a lovely gooey texture and was full of flavour; the sorbet was as good a sorbet as you could hope to eat in terms of both texture and taste. My wife thoroughly enjoyed her choux bun featuring meringue and clotted cream ice cream as well, another technically skilful and delicious dessert. And for the children, there was no problem providing them both with a single scoop of vanilla ice cream.
And that as they say, was pretty much that. The bill was delivered promptly when asked (complete with 12.5% service charge) and an outstanding lunch came to an end. The food was excellent throughout, probably better than I'd expected despite the accolades the restaurant holds, and the service was faultless too; warm and friendly but with just the right level of tangible professionalism. The menu pacing as I alluded to earlier was spot on also, so often it's not and you're left with long waits between courses, but not here.
The elephant in the room of course is the pricing; this place isn't cheap. My three courses came in at £103 which admittedly is a big chunk of cash for a pub lunch, and the price is frequently cited on review sites like TripAdvisor as a major gripe (particularly with the prices having increased significantly in the last two to three years as I understand). Even my daughter's main course came in at £33, which must be the most expensive children's main course I've ever purchased (her ice cream was mercifully only £3 for a scoop though).
Having said all that, given the quality of the food and service, I genuinely left the restaurant happy. I remember going to one particular two star restaurant last year and feeling completely ripped off, I just didn't feel that at all here. And look, the pricing can't be a surprise, the menus are on their website so anyone who goes has ample opportunity to check that before they visit. Ultimately if a restaurant is "too" expensive versus the quality of the offering, people just won't book; I have no issue whatsoever with a restaurant charging as much as their customers are happy to pay (particularly in this COVID ravaged time) and a full dining room was testament to the pricing level here being right for the restaurant, as much as I of course would have liked it to be a bit less expensive.
Overall, we hugely enjoyed our lunch here; the food and service were both absolutely top rate. Although the distance and cost will preclude me from making a returning visit anytime soon, I'd be very happy to venture back at some point in the future and look forward to doing so.
|Ratings||Michelin Guide||AA Guide||Good Food Guide|
|At time of review||5|