Yesterday I had my second visit to the still Two Michelin Stared Hand & Flowers Marlow owned by this year’s AA Chefs’ Chef of the year Tom Kerridge.
I went around this time two years ago (it is my birthday, my girlfriend’s birthday and our anniversary this week) when they only had one Michelin Star but it was a week maybe two later that it was announced that they had been awarded the second. It was brilliant and I couldn’t wait to go again. Tom being on the telly a lot since then hasn’t helped this and it has taken a couple of years to get a table at a time we could go. I guess the building work they are doing at the moment has helped that.
Anyway, lets get down to business. I’m going to do this in the style of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
The food was fantastic again. You get complimentary whitebait and bread before the meal.
To start, I had the Demi “En Croute” of Whole Baby Truffle with Foie Gras and Port. While Mrs TramP had the Parfait of Duck and Foie Gras with Orange Chutney and Toasted Brioche.
It was a bit pointless Mrs TramP looking at the starter menu as she was always going to get this. She had it last time, loved it, and was always going to get it again. I had a little bit, it is so rich and scrumptiously (I wanted to put umptiously but that isn’t a word) lovely. I would of had it myself but I like to get different things. Mine was equally decadent. Brilliant flavours, the texture was a little unusual but the sauce that went with it was fantastic.
Next up, the mains. I had Roast Lancashire Grouse with Hand and Flowers Carrot, Lime, Toasted Lentil Dahl and Carrot Cake. While Mrs TramP opted for the Tenderloin of Wiltshire Pork with Pickled Mustard Leaf, Malt Glazed Cheek, Garlic Sausage and Potato Dauphine.
Oh, and we shared some Broccoli with Hollandaise Sauce and Toasted Hazelnuts on the side. For anyone that knows me this is going to sound bizarre, but on my plate was maybe the best thing of the entire meal…the carrot! It was the most fantastically sweet carrot tasting carrot I have ever had. Bonkers I know. Mrs TramP’s pork dish was an adventure of flavours. Every bit was so different but all blended brilliantly to make the whole dish come together. I would have had this myself but she got in there before me.
Desert is where my rule of getting something different went out the window. The last time I went they had a pear soufflé that ruined all other deserts for me. To my delight when opening the menu (I think I went to the desert page first) they had pear soufflé on again. It was slightly different, this one was a Pear Soufflé with Caraway Crumble, Caramelised White Chocolate Ice Cream and Pear Sauce.
We both had it. It was great but the one I had last time was better. I think last time there was cinnamon and maybe walnut. Caraway is pretty distinctive and I’m not sure it went with the pear as well. It was still really good though.
That was the good. The food as fantastic, couldn’t fault it.
I wouldn’t say anything was bad. Just not as good as last time and slightly below expectations of a restaurant like this.
The service was lacking a bit. I think the main problem was waiting times. The Hand & Flowers is small and as a result busy. You get a two hour slot and that is it. With this in mind I want to be served quickly at every point. Because we had been before we arrived pretty much bang on time as we knew if you are early you don’t get sat down and there isn’t really anywhere to go. Last time we also ended up sat outside having a drink while waiting for a taxi. We were seated and given menus, our drinks order was taken pretty quickly but it must have been at least ten minutes before our food order was taken. Five minutes of that we must have been sat not looking at the menu. It was then another five or ten minutes before the whitebait and bread came. After that the starter and main came out at good intervals. Some how the people on the table next to us came in after we did, ordered after we did but received their food before we did. They did have bread but I’m not sure they had the whitebait so I am guessing that was the reason.
The next wait was to order desert. We knew what we were going to have but we took the menu anyway to look at teas and coffees on offer. This wait felt like forever. After about two minutes we had decided. We closed and piled up the menus and waited…and waited. There are what feel like a million people running around all with specific jobs, I wasn’t going to grab one to say look we don’t have much time and we what the soufflé that takes fifteen minutes to cook. We must have waited for at least fifteen minutes to order a couple of soufflés a pot of tea and a coffee.
Although I have another waiting gripe there were a couple of other little things about the standard of service. This one was probably my fault, I have a bit of a thick Wigan, Scouse, Manc mash of an accent but when I ordered my main I said “Roast Lancashire Grouse” and the waitress said, “lamb bun?” “No, the grouse”, I pointed, she looked at me like I had two heads, I said “grouse” again, still pointing. She understood. I can’t be that bad at speaking, maybe I am. When the starters came the waitress who brought them had mine in her left hand and Mrs TramP’s in her right. I’m sure she said “Foie Gras Parfait”, I pointed and said “that is hers”. She then leant over me to give Mrs TramP my starter. I had to stop her and tell her that one was mine. Am I that bad at speaking? Probably.
That leads to another thing. This one is Michel Roux’s fault for doing that program about service. This really wasn’t something that I was bothered about (or even thought about at the time), neither was people not being able to understand what I say. But, all Mrs TramP’s food was served across me. It is pretty small in there, and we were sat in a pretty shit position next to where the food comes out. The waiting staff all came past me to get out of the way and then put the food down. But if they were quick they could have stood on my left to put Mrs TramP’s food down and then walk around me to put mine down. I suppose they don’t make a rule of serving from one side and not over people as it is pretty small and on some of the tables it would probably be difficult to do.
I feel like I’m saying the service was crap. It wasn’t, it just wasn’t fantastic. It wasn’t as good as last time and it wasn’t what I was expecting from a two Michelin Star restaurant. One guy, the main one, was really good. My beer was getting low, he asked did I want another. He pointed out to other staff that peoples drinks were getting low. When he brought food out he told the people he was serving what they were getting. He had an approachable manor, I noticed that when other people asked questions it was almost always to him. There are what I would say a lot of people serving and they all have their own roles and it is clear that some are there to top drinks up and not say anything. But for me that can be a bit strange. One bad thing though, he didn’t ask me did I want a third beer when my second ran out. Mrs TramP had a full glass of wine. I had nothing and I finished drinking my beer during the time we were waiting for our deserts. I probably wouldn’t have had a beer but I would have had something else if someone had asked. Again, with that many people running around I didn’t know which one to grab to ask for a drink, so I didn’t ask and just waited.
I’m sure you have been waiting to hear about more waiting. This is a real bugbear of mine. It happens to me all the time in restaurants and does make me really agitated and irritated. The bill! We finished desert, we finished our tea and coffee. I wan’t to order an Armagnac, Mrs TramP wanted a port and we both wanted the bill. But no-one came to us, we must have been sat there for another ten or fifteen minutes waiting. The people on the table next to us had asked for the bill, it came, the server walked off, the guy spent thirty seconds reading the bill (as everyone does), he got his credit card out (as most people do) and he sat and waited for at least ten minutes (why do we have to wait?). This is what really bugs me everywhere I go. I ask for the bill, I want to pay and leave. I don’t want to wait ten minutes for a card machine to appear.
So you might have guessed. All that unnecessary waiting throughout the evening meant that when we asked for the bill our time was up. A bit annoying but I knew we only had two hours. We ended up stood at the bar (in the way of everyone) waiting for someone to take my money and give us our drinks. We must have been stood there at least five minutes before the bar man took payment and I had to say we were waiting for drinks. More irritating was no-one took our seats in the entire time it took us to be served, drink our drinks and leave (maybe the next people were late).
What can I say for this bit. There isn’t anything really besides it being a restaurant and not a pub. I’m not sure why they say it is a pub. It isn’t. It wasn’t two years ago when I went and it still isn’t now. Hopefully with the bar extension that is happening it will become a pub and after your two hours is up you will have somewhere to go and have a few drinks without having to stand at a tiny bar covered in empty glasses right in the way of everyone.
Other ugly parts, unrelated to the restaurant. The people in there. I know I’m a scruffy bastard, I have a rather large beard, dreadlocks, I’m overweight and I struggle with smart casual. I know there isn’t a dress code in there and it is supposed to be a pub but come on, you are going to a nice restaurant, make a little more of an effort than jeans and t-shirt or a scruffy old jumper with holes in it.
That bad section looks really long. It wasn’t at all bad, if you get the chance to go then you should. The food is fantastic and to be honest I couldn’t give a shit how I’m served it.
I think what made the waiting around worse was one particular bloke in there who wouldn’t stop talking crap. Long story short, a guy proposed to his girlfriend and the guy on the table next to them wouldn’t shut up about it, to the point were after the couple that got engaged left and new people sat down he started to tell them about it. He also talked shit about the building work that was going on. He said they were supposed to be shut for all of September but they had changed it “a couple of weeks ago” and are going to be shut for October. Erm, what? I booked on the 10th of July and at that time it said that the restaurant would be shut for three days in October, not all of it! When the new people came in who he was regaling about the previous people getting engaged he started telling them what to get and he said get the pork it is a “creation” and that even the waitress had told him not to get the steak as he can get steak anywhere and the pork was a “creation” so get that. Shut up, no she didn’t. I heard him order (yes he was very loud as well), the waitress came back to take the order and he said to her, “I was going to get the steak, but I can get steak anywhere can’t I? I want a creation and well the pork, that is more of a creation isn’t it? Yes, I will have the pork, that is a creation”. In that time he didn’t pause, and the waitress didn’t say anything. I remember what he said as it was super irritating him keep saying “creation”.
So that is that.
The (very) Good, the food.
The (slightly) Bad, the service.
The Ugly, the clientèle.