Contrary to popular belief, birthdays are never really my favourite day of the year. Like New Year’s Eve, there are a lot of expectations from this day and I almost always end up feeling disappointed, underwhelmed (and older) by the time the day ends.
This year, thanks to my new found passion for food blogging, I decided to start a new tradition. I will be ticking off restaurants that have long been on my foodie bucket list. After all, for someone who loves to eat, there is no better day to indulge in my greatest passion than on my birthday.
This year, my birthday fell on a Tuesday which was super annoying as you can’t really do anything midweek. However, there was a silver lining to it; being a weekday meant we suddenly had a lunch slot available to us for a place that is normally booked out six months in advance – The Hand & Flowers in Marlow. We jumped at this opportunity.
An hour’s train ride away from London Paddington, the scenery outside dramatically changed from the dull grey cityscape to the lush green landscape of Buckinghamshire. Marlow is a charming, friendly and quaint little town with boutique stores and cozy cafés rubbing shoulders with Michelin restaurants. The Hand and Flowers, famous for being the only pub with two Michelin stars, is a 15-minute leisurely walk from the train station or you could pinch a cab for under a fiver.
The staff were very welcoming right from the start. They knew it was my birthday (thanks to the clever planning by Kris) and almost everyone greeted me with a Happy Birthday which I thought was a special touch. We took our seats at the bar, next to a roaring fire whilst our table was being prepared, sipping on a glass of bubbly and perusing the lunch menu.
Inside, it was warm, cozy and trad-rustic, like a proper country pub but swished-up with bespoke glassware, gleaming cutlery and flickering candles. The menu was an old-school set up of starter, mains and dessert (none of those modish sharing plates here). Being a Michelin pub, the food does come with a price tag to match. There is, however, a very reasonably priced set lunch menu available (£25 for two courses) which is great value for money. But since this was a special occasion, we decided to splurge a bit.
We were served a complimentary bread basket and some Crispy Whitebait with Marie Rose Sauce to start with, which were both excellent.
Tough decisions lay ahead of us as everything on the menu looked enticing. My starter was a creative Warm Salt Baked Carrot Tart with Keema Lamb, Haggis, Dahl Purée and Lime Pickle. It hummed with earthy Indian spices but was not too overbearingly ‘curry’ . The haggis added depth and drama to the whole dish and the pastry base underneath was spot-on.
Kris was intrigued by the West Country Pasty with Turnip, Swede and English Mustard Purée. His theory was that if anyone can elevate a simple everyday dish into the realms of the extraordinary, it would be here. He was right; it was sheer brilliance. The pasty here was one of the best things I have had in terms of food (and I don’t even like pasties). It was comfort and class all rolled into one – a true culinary masterpiece.
Moving on to the mains, I had the Loin of Cotswold Venison with Date Purée, Salt Baked Parsnip and Stilton, Game and Bacon Pie. There were lots of different elements to this dish which came together harmoniously. The star of the show, however, was the little Game and Bacon Pie; luxurious pastry engorged with a deep, rich filling. It was simply game-changing (no pun intended). My only complaint was that, for that price, I would have preferred a bit more venison on my plate!
We were hugely impressed by Kris’s main of Fillet of Stokes Marsh Farm Beef, Hand & Flowers Chips, Béarnaise Sauce. This is where the meal just came alive. Big, bold, hunk of flavoursome beef fillet, sliced like butter under the knife, unearthing all the delicious, dense layers within. It was served alongside perfectly cooked thick cut chips. The entire lot was just faultless. In hindsight, I wish I had ordered this as my main!
I did, however, cheekily order a side Pomme Boulangere which was simply too beautiful to eat. Thin slivers of crisped potatoes splayed in a spiral fashion, hiding a moist onion filling underneath. The only minor niggle was that it was tad under-seasoned.
For dessert, we polished off a Marmalade Sponge with Crème Fraîche and Cardamom Ice Cream. It came with a special message to mark my special day.
The staff were super-polite and caring throughout our meal; service was meticulous. There were also lots of them, all beaming and zipping around.
The Hand & Flowers turned out to be an excellent choice for my birthday meal, offering good-looking and sumptuous tasting food. I was further blessed with a sunny day in the middle of January. Overall, it turned out to be a calm and relaxing day out of London, indulging in all things I like. I believe I have nailed the perfect way to celebrate my birthday from now on. I can’t wait for the next one!