If you have watched any of the many BBC food programmes over the last few years (Masterchef, Saturday Kitchen, Great British Menu, etc.) then you cannot fail to be aware of Tom Kerridge. In contrast to some of his contemporaries, Tom always comes across as vivacious, friendly and supremely enthusiastic about what he does – which is cook very good food. His restaurant The Hand and Flowers in Marlow has won numerous awards (including two Michelin Stars) and there is a six month waiting list for tables on Friday/Saturday nights or Sunday lunchtimes. You can imagine how delighted I was, therefore, when I was able to secure a slot for Sunday lunch last weekend!
The restaurant itself is in a rather unassuming building for a venue with such accolades; however I was to find this entirely accorded with the ethos of the restaurant – which put quality at the forefront, without going in for any unnecessary flashiness. The emphasis on “good food cooked well” seems to have rubbed off on the staff too; who were all exceedingly friendly, approachable and knowledgeable. Every question of mine about food or wine during my visit was answered with a great deal of skill and enthusiasm.
We started the meal by being served an aperitif of crispy whitebait, with a Marie Rose sauce and some home-baked bread (white bloomer and soda bread). These were served on an attractive board and whilst simple, were perfectly enticing little morsels.
Following on from this, we moved on to the starters. I had the Crispy Pig’s Head with Artichoke, Pancetta and Chickweed. To make this a Pig’s Head is slow-cooked overnight, allowing the flesh to be made into a croquette, which is then deep-fried. This produced a wonderful texture of delicious meat that melted in the mouth with a crispy coating. The accompaniments, as you would expect, were all perfectly judged; the soft pancetta and the shard of crackling added differing textures, whilst a rich, creamy sauce added depth. My wife ordered the Parsley Soup with Smoked Eel, Bacon and Cheddar Tortellini. I was a little sceptical at first about how well these flavours would all go together, but I was quickly reassured. The star of the show was undoubtedly the Smoked Eel, which was packed with smokey flavour.
After this came the main course. I ordered the Treacle Cured Chateaubriand of Lancashire Beef, which was served with Yorkshire Pudding, Roast Potatoes, Spinach and a Red Wine Sauce. I had not tried Chateaubriand before, but had wanted to for a long time. As a result, the expectation levels were exceedingly high – I was not disappointed. The treacle curing effect around the outside meant that the taste was at first sweet; then the flavour of the meat came through. It was cooked to a lovely medium rare and was melt-in-your-mouth tender. I had to tell my wife that if she saw me crying it was because the meat was so beautiful. It was one of those dishes where you feel sad upon eating the last mouthful as it meant bringing an end to the experience. The red wine sauce was lovely, with enough to moisten all of the meat. The roast potatoes were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, just as they should be. My wife ordered the Slow Cooked Duck Breast with Savoy Cabbage, Duck Fat Chips and Gravy. As with the Chateaubriand, the meat came with a deliciously sweet glaze that perfectly complimented the richness of the meat. The duck was cooked supremely and tears once again threatened to be shed (by me again, I should note). A special mention needs to be made of the duck-fat chips, which were spectacular.
With the mains we had a bottle of: Lirac, ‘L’Heritage d’Aqueria’, Chateau d’Aqueria, Southern Rhone, 2007 (blend: 40% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 40% Mouvèdre.) I selected this wine as the 2007 is considered to be one of the best recent vintages for wines from the Rhone. This was a sumptuous wine that was decanted in order to allow it to open up. It had aromas of fruit and spice on the nose, as one would expect from a Rhone. The wine had a small amount of tannins present in the wine, giving it a little sharpness; however overall the wine had opened up very nicely and was fabulously smooth (perhaps owing to the Grenache in the blend?). On the palate, the wine tasted of Kirsch cherries and had an impressive length (c. 45 seconds). The wine paired very nicely with both the beef and the duck that we were having and I was very satisfied with this selection.
With all of the above dishes, you would expect that I would not have been foolish enough to order some side-dishes, but you would be wrong. We (or more accurately, I,) ordered both spring greens and broccoli with a Hollandaise and Walnut sauce. In truth, there wasn’t really a need for these sides, but they did add a nice variety to the dinner.
As a result of all of the above food, we could only manage to share one pudding between us. We plumped for the Tonka Bean Panna Cotta served with Poached Rhubarb, Ginger Wine Jelly and Rhubarb Sorbet. From the picture below you will see that the dish was very pleasingly presented, with lots of lovely little morsels to make extravagant flavour combinations in your mouth. The Tonka Bean flavouring gave the Panna Cotta an interesting taste, which my wife characterised as being akin to Frangipane.
I was recommended a glass of Willi Opitz Pinot Noir Neerenauslese 2009 (Burgenland, Austria) to have with this pudding, which was an excellent pairing. I would normally have looked to a white dessert wine for a dish of this kind, but the sommelier explained that with the complexity of flavours in the dish trying to find a white to match them all would have been difficult. As promised, it was pleasingly sweet, but with a robust enough flavour to stand up to the rigours of the dish that it was accompanying.
The problem with trying to serve Sunday lunch to a wide selection of people is that everyone believes that their mums cook the best Sunday lunch in the world and therefore it is tricky to try and best this. The problem for me is that my mum actually does cook the best Sunday lunch; however, the guys at the Hand and Flowers did an amazing job and came incredibly close to ousting Mother Milford for the title of “best Sunday lunch ever”.