Recently, I was lucky enough to be treated to a birthday dinner at the Hand & Flowers in Marlow. Opened in 2005, this was famously the first pub ever to be awarded two Michelin stars by the men from the little red book.
In the past, I’ve been lucky enough to eat at a few similarly decorated establishments, and they have all felt pretty special - the sort of places where a top hat and tails wouldn't be out of place.
On first inspection the Hand & Flowers doesn't feel particularly special. It feels like a pub. The sort of pub where you can buy a decent pint and you might spend an enjoyable afternoon with your mates, but a pub.
Of course, this is exactly what it's meant to be. Super-chef Tom Kerridge felt that he had served his time in the rarefied world of fine dining and “just wanted a village boozer with nice food".
To be perfectly honest, our experience didn't get off to a great start. When the menu arrived, there wasn't a single vegetarian main course. In an effort to help, the waitress said they could offer a very nice omelette and chips to which my better half replied that she hadn't just driven 30 miles for an omelette, even a two Michelin starred one...
Luckily, things got better. A lot better. I started with the crispy pigs head with artichoke puree and pancetta, followed by the 2010 Great British Menu winning main course of slow cooked duck breast. As if to blow away any notions of a highly trained palette, it was the accompanying duck fat chips that really stood out. They were amazing, even beating local rival Heston Blumenthal's triple-cooked efforts in my ongoing quest for the ultimate fries. The kitchen also rustled-up a magical hake dish for Jay, which cheered her up immensely. Of the desserts, a velvety chocolate cake with a feuillantine base, fondant centre and muscavado ice cream was the clear star of the show…cheering Jay up even more.
To top it off the man himself came out of the kitchen after service and was happy to join our well-lubricated discussions on the realities of approaching middle age. He also filled us in on his upcoming plans for the restaurant, which include a new bar area to make the time spent waiting for your table more comfortable and to allow locals to try the food without having to compete with the visiting tourists for a proper table.
Given the celebrity chef association, and its plethora of awards, this place is really good value for money. We paid less than £60/head for three courses, including drinks and a tip, and, if you can get there for lunch, they even have a three course fixed price menu for less than £20!
All-in-all we had a great time, partly due to the food, partly due to the unpretentious environment and partly due to the engaging but self-effacing Tom Kerridge. At the end of the day, this is a great pub with two Michelin starred grub, at an affordable price - what's not to like?