Is there anything more British than a pub? Honestly, I’m not sure there is. Opened in 2005, winning its first Michelin Star in 2006 and the second coming just 6 years later, The Hand and Flowers can now boast to be the only 2 starred pub in the UK.
Our visit started as most do, with a trip to the bar for pre-meal drinks. A Bellini for my partner, and a non-alcoholic G&T for myself. Seedlip, a distilled non-alcoholic spirit replacing the Gin and a mixer in the form of 1724 tonic. To my surprise, it tasted very similar to the more common alcoholic alternative.
We’d just about finished our drinks when we were taken through to our table. After a few short moments it became apparent that the table was, to my mind, unnecessarily full. Four empty wine glasses, glasses for water, cutlery and plates made things feel somewhat clumsy, especially when it came to finding somewhere to rest each of our (rather large) food menus as we perused the wine list.
Our drinks were delivered in yet another two wine glasses, with the original four eventually being take away towards the end of the amuse bouche.
The amuse bouche came in two parts. A selection of crispy Whitebait with a Marie Rose sauce and two versions of Sour Dough Bread.
The Whitebait, lightly fried until they had just turned golden, still possessed the obvious taste and aroma of fish, sometimes off-putting for many. However, the accompanying Marie Rose sauce helped to keep the strong flavour of the Whitebait in check.
Bread followed in two variations. The usual soft white version, although not bad by any stretch of the imagination, was over shadowed by the subtle warmth delivered by the Black Pepper in the second of the Sourdoughs.
We were still making our way through the amuse bouche when the Starters arrived.
For me, a Salt Baked Swede and Haggis Tart with Crispy Lamb, “Chantilly de Chevre” and Raw Mushroom. For a starter, it was unusually filling. The lamb, beautifully crispy and clearly the star of the show, still allowed the more delicate components of the dish to shine through. For my other half, Pave and Parfait of Salmon with Black Apple Jelly, confit Lemon, Avruga Caviar and Garlic Bread. With all the distinct flavours going on in the dish, it was surprising how well balanced the end result was, without any single aspect overpowering the other elements of the dish. Their take on garlic bread was visually unlike the more traditional form that most people know. More of a crisp than a bread, it still possessed the essential garlic flavour paramount in this side dish.
After a good amount of time had passed, the mains were presented. Tenderloin of Wiltshire Pork with Pickled Cabbage, Garlic Sausage, Malted Cheek Beignet and Mustard Mayonnaise for me and a Loin of Cotswold Venison with Boudin Noir Puree, Salt Baked Celariac, Ragout Pie and Cow Puff for my partner. The pork dish, their take on a New York style hotdog, comprised of all the elements you would expect to find in a traditional American dog. The pork, served slightly pink, oozed moisture throughout and was brushed with toasted mustard seeds to add a crunchy outer crust. The pickled cabbage gave the dish acidity, with a slight sweetness coming from a heavily caramelised half of an onion. While I did not eat the venison main, I could see that it was cooked rare, and was informed by my partner that it was rich in flavour. A thick Boudin Noir Puree added depth to the dish. A slightly salted ‘cow puff’ dissolved in the mouth. As we were, you may be wondering just what on earth cow puff actually is. Upon returning home, the only description we could find is a tweet from Sat Bains, chef and friend of The Hand and Flowers owner and chef, Tom Kerridge, who, in response to a tweet inquiring what cow puff is, replied with ‘think prawn cracker’.
Hand and Flowers Chips and Pomme Boulangere were our choice of sides to attend the party. Usually, I feel a certain amount of discomfort ordering chips whenever I go out for a high quality meal. However, this is the exception to the rule. Before I’d even got a reservation, I knew that should I ever get the chance, I’d order a side of Toms’ famous chips. Using an Apple Corer to maintain an even size, and triple cooking to ensure there is nothing but crunch on the outside, and not a hint of moisture in the centre. Well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, as chips go, these are in a league of their own. A MUST for any visit here.
We agreed that the desserts were the two best desserts we’ve ever eaten and for me, the highlight of the meal. The Passion Fruit and White Chocolate Bavarois with Honeycomb and 70% Cocoa Sorbet was a work of art. A delicately positioned sphere of white chocolate housed sharp passion fruit, honeycomb and chocolate sorbet. The honeycomb transported me back to my childhood and a favourite as a young boy: the Crunchie bar, whilst the Cocoa sorbet contributed bitterness and refreshment. A piece of edible gold leaf was a nice touch too, while not adding flavour to the dish it added a certain je ne sais quoi. As for the Apple and Custard Slice with Bramley Sorbet, it was light and crisp with the sorbet being refreshing but not overly acidic. The perfect combination of sweet and sharp.
When it comes to pubs, it’s fair to say Tom Kerridge knows a thing or two. He owns two of the country’s best examples, his flagship The Hand and Flowers, and its sister restaurant, The Coach, which is ranked #5 in the list of the Top 50 Gastropubs in the U.K. With faultless service, knowledgeable staff, and the best food we’ve ever tasted, incorporating bold flavours and beautifully presented dishes, The Hand and Flowers, despite its long list of accolades and industry acclaim, still looks and feels like a Great British pub.