Tom Kerridge on why Marlow has become his home and everything he loves about Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 12:17 21 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:52 11 January 2018
Celebrated chef Tom Kerridge explains why Marlow has become his home, with nervous energy in the kitchen spreading to the terraces of the town's football club
He might have been born in the West Country, but Tom Kerridge now has a passion for Buckinghamshire running through his blood.
That’s what a decade of living here will do - especially when the pub that you own has made you not just one of the most recognisable faces in the community, but a nationwide celebrity chef as well.
For Buckinghamshire has given the 40-year-old the platform on which to elevate from promising chef - schooled by Gary Rhodes and Stephen Bull - to culinary heavyweight, thanks in no small part to his decision to buy The Hand & Flowers pub in West Street, Marlow, 10 years ago with his wife Beth. The hostelry is now generally regarded as the best in the entire country.
Specialising in taking traditional pub food and turning it into an art form, Kerridge’s ‘posh pub grub’ has earned him two Michelin stars, making the Hand & Flowers the first pub in Britain to receive such a significant accolade.
Yet for all the fame it has bought him - the bubbly lead man is a regular on TV cooking programmes too numerous to name and the author of bestselling book Proper Pub Food - Kerridge terms Marlow, “the best place to be in the world”. Now there’s a statement we need to explore…
Why Tom loves Marlow
“The way the people of Marlow, and other places nearby such as Beaconsfield and Henley, have treated us since we bought the pub has been fantastic,” Kerridge says. “They have been so supportive of what we are doing from the minute we opened up, and we appreciate it so much. From the very beginning we have had regulars come in and support us. And in return, we love to look after those people.
“I have always seen the pub as part of the wider community – I think every publican hopes that will be the case, but there’s never a cast iron guarantee you can pull that off. But our aim right from the start was to try to come across as people who respect the locals and their community, and I understand that people like that. And we will always have that community spirit, because it’s a genuine quality around here… that’s my favourite thing.
“And of course, what happens is that as the profile of the establishment becomes bigger we have people coming from all over, but we will never forget about those on the doorstep.”
Kerridge’s love of Buckinghamshire is not restricted to his own immediate surroundings (no matter how inviting and impressive The Hand & Flowers is), with the Salisbury-born chef always looking to enjoy the other culinary hotspots the area has to offer.
Away from your own restaurant, where do you like to dine?
There are lots of other places I would go to eat. I like a curry at The Tiger Club in Marlow, the food there is excellent.
I go to Andre Garrett at Cliveden House down in Taplow, and a bit further away I like The Hinds Head in Bray... of course, that’s Heston Blumenthal country! I’m not one of those chefs who won’t praise others, and after all, those establishments are all catering for different markets to me, so I can go and enjoy them when I fancy a change.
What do you do to relax?
The opportunities to relax are few and far between, but when they do come about it makes you enjoy it more. I like to watch Marlow Football Club – that’s a great escape, and a very different environment. There are about 120 of us but it is a great way to unwind, I really enjoy it. The standard is a bit below the Premier League, as are the wages! But it is good fun. Plus the social element is excellent: there are some good bars and a couple of good clubs around the ground that have a late licence, so we make the most of that.
And I’ll take Sundays off, walk the dogs, things like that. Otherwise there is something going on every day, but maybe for around an hour about 1am when I get back home, I might get to watch a bit of sub-standard telly!
A bundle of energy
Kerridge has a big personality, although after losing six stone last year he’s certainly not as big as he once was. He knows too that likeability was only one factor that would endear him to local punters having moved from Norfolk - he had to work as hard as anyone to ensure he was welcomed to what is a tight-knit community.
“We felt ready to move to Marlow and thought we could make a success of ourselves here, but when you open a business you are filled with uncertainty. The pursuit of success is a nervy one. I think it helped us that there was no big plan or end game - we just needed to work hard and hope the community took to us which, thankfully, they did.
“And I think our philosophy remains strong: we don’t cook for awards. We cook food that is lovely, not fashionable. That food might have become fashionable over time, but that is not and never will be the intention. Everything that goes on the plate I want to eat myself, so it is all prepared with love. We don’t aim to please guide books, we aim to please customers.”
Proud of his accomplishments and the Michelin stars he has picked up along the way – particularly given that his is the first pub to achieve a double-star rating – Kerridge is steadfast in the belief that if The Hand & Flowers is to remain the jewel in Marlow’s crown he has to continue to marry his talent with hard graft.
“I don’t ever feel like we’ve made it; I am terrified it will end tomorrow,” he admits. “That means we want to keep pushing on, working hard and enjoying the moment. When we aren’t enjoying it, we will stop. But at the moment, right now… everything is great.”
Dining at the Hand & Flowers
You’re always spoilt for choices at The Hand & Flowers, where old favourites are transformed into truly magical dishes.
A la carte starters (from around £8.50-£18) include crispy pig’s head with rhubarb, pancetta and chickweed or demi ‘en croute of whole baby truffle with foie gras and port.
It’s hard to get past the slow cooked duck breast with Savoy cabbage, duck fat chips and gravy when it comes to main courses, but with choices such as the best British venison, pork, lamb and South coast sea bass, all delivered with innovative surprises, you’ll be pushed to pick and want to come back for more.
Desserts (£9.50) include Hand & Flowers chocolate and ale cake with salted caramel and Muscovado ice cream; then there’s Tonka Bean panna cotta with poached plums, plum sorbet and ginger wine jelly.
Crumbles. soufflés, cheese, it’s the most delicious dilemma. From around £45 for three ourses, a la carte.
There’s a very nice set lunch (£15 two courses, £19.50 for three) which will have you rebooking for the a la carte or perhaps Sunday lunch (from around £35 for three courses), which is a magnificent feast.
Raise your glasses
Whether you’re looking for an expertly made Martini, glass of crisp white, or something very special from the vintage selection, it’s all there. Classic and refreshing Reislings start at £23 a bottle, and a fruity Italian red at £19. There’s an excellent choice of organic and natural wines as well as top end vintage choices and some genuine rarities.
Stay a little longer in Marlow
Make the most of dining here by enjoying a stay to see more of marvellous Marlow. The Hand & Flowers has four cottage suites close to the restaurant, including two with luxurious Jacuzzi terraces. The Angus is also dog-friendly (£25 extra to bring your pooch) while the Charolais Suite is baby-friendly (add £25) and has two waterfall showers. From £140 a night.
The Hand & Flowers
www.thehandandflowers.co.uk, tel 01628 482277. You can buy gift vouchers on the website as well as Tom’s book, Proper Pub Food. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner (12 to 2.45pm and 6.30 to 9.45pm) and on Sundays (12 to 3.15pm)