Tom Kerridge is an ingloriously talented chef. We both know this guy can cook the pants off of anybody, competition or no competition. I first savoured his brilliant ways when he joined forces with Anthony Demetre at Arbutus for the one-off 10-10-10 event for last year’s London Restaurant Festival.
Look I’m a Demetre fan right, and you know I love his michelin winning pigs head terrine, but when placed side by side with Tom’s dishes; we were absolutely blown to bits by the quality of Kerridge’s cooking. His mussels in warm stout was nothing short of edible divinity. Anthony aint no slouch in the kitchen, but we thought Tom’s dishes totally outclassed Anthony’s on that day. A visit to Marlow to Tom’s pub with an overachieving, and michelin starred kitchen was inevitable, obviously, but I had forgotten about it the Marlow trip until I saw the chief on GBM last week, creating his ultimate lobster burger, which in itself, caused quite a stir on twitter. And with the last bank holiday in May, I thought it the perfect opportunity to finally eat at Tom Kerridge HQ.
Deep fried whitebait to start.
Crispy, warm and juicy on the inside, mmm. The low ceilings, brick walls, solid wooden beams and sturdy wooden tables, grant the pub a genuinely old world, country feel. The room is naturally cavernous, and a little musky and dark which adds to the ambiance. It’s so comfortable inside, I could fall asleep. The pub does feel like it has been here for a long, long time.
Truffled Pork Terrine with Dill, Pickles and Toasted Sour Dough. £9.95
A little unsuccessful. I know its suppose to be served cold, but it was probably a little too cold. This meant the terrine was quite hard to chew, and rather numb to taste. The layer of truffle jelly was intoxicating on the other hand, really concentrated truffle flavours, and so too was the mousse-like truffle butter on the side. The slice of sourdough however, was overly crispy and so burnt, that the taste of carbon had all but destroyed the wonderfully delicate flavours of truffle.
Maybe if terrine was warmer, it would have been better. In my mind, I wished the textures were mushy, oily and congealing, and it seemed to have the potential to be amazing. But this feeling remained only a fantasy, the reality was soberingly benumbed.
Crispy Pig’s Head with Pickled Rhubarb, Pancetta and Chickweed. £8.50
On the other hand, this deep fried fritter of meat from the head of pig was nothing short of elegant brillance. Moist with rich porky flavours, a sharp apple sauce, a tangy pickled rhubarb, and also served with a thin film-like layer of skin, which tasted like bacon. Bacon skin? I liked this.
Breast of Suffolk Chicken with Pistachio Crumble, Lovage Poached Celery, Soft Polenta and Spring Truffle £19.50
Wow! Possibly the best chicken recipe I’ve tried in a restaurant. Alot of effort has gone into ensuring this piece of chicken breast got the attention it deserved; This was a michelin star winning dish. Freshly shaved truffle, rained upon the chicken breast encrusted in an armor of pistachio, a dash of gravy to bring wetness to the chicken, and voila, what an enticing plate of food.
Mmm, the dish had a certain sweet fragrance to it, a sweet chicken, vanilla scent and forest fresh. On the side, a bowl of truffle infused polenta, took the chicken to a place, where you didn’t think chicken could go. Heady truffle infused flavours in the polenta stew overwhelmed the senses. It was very impressive. The chicken itself was sweating with juice and tenderness, but I think the way the chef had chose to dress the chicken gave it an air of regality. Accomplished.
Slow Cooked Duck Breast with Peas, Duck Fat Chips and Gravy. £22.50
To be honest, the duck breast was rubbery. The caramelised skin was a beauty, but I didn’t like the deep fried dumplings – livery. I wasn’t too sure what the mince was, but it was overpowering and it made me queasy, abit like deep-fried balls of aromatic duck. Oil everywhere. The oil from the duck leg made the peas an extremely sluggish side, which I struggled to finish it. I wished for something fresh to balance out all the duck fat, the peas did not work at all, again, too oily.
On the other hand, the duck fat chips… ACE. Better than chips cooked in beef dripping and on par with Heston’s triple cooked genius. Some of the best chips I’ve ever had, in a restaurant.
Mango souffle, cardamon ice cream, lime custard, £8.50.
Initially, I wanted to try the pannacotta, but then I saw the perfectly risen souffles headed to the other tables, that I became curious…
…and my god, it was the perfect souffle. Sugary goo, a candy floss centre and eggy, custardness, like sticking a spoon into puffs of clouds. Infusing the souffle with mango, was a stroke of genius, it imbued the pudding with a whiff of tropical elegance, like a mango pudding, but with the tender textures of a quickly diminishing souffle; this is something that must be experienced first hand. Observing etiquette, I dropped dollops of the cardamom ice cream into the hot centre, so now we had this cold subtly spiced sensation mingling with the hot puffy souffle. The lime custard, only added to the elegance of the pudding, it gave it a refreshing fragrance. It reminded me of the ‘lime grove’ course at The Fat Duck.
The best souffle I have ever had, even better than Pierre Koffman’s pistachio souffle. If you visit H&F, you must have the souffle, well worth the 20 minute wait, and the strong finish itself, was worth the trek to Marlow.
The cost for two was £84.30. Service was at our discretion.
The style of H&F compels me to make the comparison to Harwood Arms. While the latter is meatier, heavier in cooking, and lighter and airier in ambiance; they share the essential posh pub grub spirit.
There is wonderful elegance and rusticity in Tom’s cooking. A genuine sense of heartwarming nourishment, enhanced by the shrubby environs of Marlow. It’s wholesome cooking, it left us feeling utterly stuffed to the brim, and I enjoyed nodding off on the train ride back to Paddington. However, the food was a little on the heavy side and – dare I say – a little stodgy, that I feel that it would probably better suit a wandering glutton in winter than in spring. I think some of the faults in a couple of the dishes, could probably be due to Kerridge’s absence in the kitchen (it was a bank holiday monday afterall) , but I also think some of the dishes were hit and miss, a little ordinary, but on the same token, the others were simply brilliant. Overall it was a positive experience altogether. And now we wait until the Ultimate Lobster Burger to appear on the menu, plus the perfect souffle man has ever made, and it might just be enough to propel me to return to the scenic town on the Thames..
The Gist of It
The Hand & Flowers
Michelin starred British Grub £45pp
126 West Street SL7 2BP
Tel: +44 (0)1628 482 277
Rail : Marlow