Top food at Marlow Bottom – The Hand and Flowers

In our quest to find decent food within 30 minutes drive of Pyrton, we combed the GFG and made a list and this was number 1. What prompted this listmania was the change to our old faithful, the Half Moon, in Cuxham.  Everyone has a standby don’t they and this was ours. Whenever you just couldn’t be bothered, or it was too late, or the shops were shut, it was always there.

I miss Andrew, Ailidh , and their dogs and have yet to make the trek to  in Goring, where they’re doing an evening service.

I have to say, I could easily have driven right past. Not memorable and on a major road out of Marlow. It’s not a pretty place but that isn’t really the point. It’s just that if you look at the website it does look a bit country pub. It’s not. For a place with such interesting food, the decor is a little bland. Not terrible, just not as sophisticated as the food to which it is a backdrop. And that road in the picture? It’s really busy.

Fortunately, the food is much more adventurous than the decor. I also like the fact that it appeals on a number of levels – there is an informality to the place which is slightly at odds with  the formality of the food but I’d rather it was that way round.

Maybe it’s because I’m addicted to carbohydrates, having taken them out of my diet for about three years – thank you Mr Montignac – but  bread is extremely important to me. Here, you get two types, a rustic bread with a  lovely crispy crust and a soda bread which is dense fresh and delicious.

I don’t generally eat whitebait (I don’t really like to eat anything with a face on it) but I make an exception here – deep-fried in a tasty batter and coming in a rolled up newspaper – good and tasty. I ate his.

I had the Moules Mariniere with Warm Stout and Brown Bread  -see below- moules, but not as you’d recognise them. It was as if the flavours have been taken from the original dish and multiplied by about 10. You needed to combine the two sections of the dish to make it work (I wish they had mentioned that) but work it did and despite my concern that the portion looked a little small (I always worry about that) I was, as usual having been unable to restrain myself around bread, almost full by the end of the starter.

I then had the Fillets of Cornish Plaice with Salt Baked Carrots, Girolles and Razor clams. It was intense and meaty, helped by the caul of lardo draped over it and I managed to leave a plate that was embarrassingly clean and empty. As if I’d licked it.

In my desire to do the menu justice, I decided to have dessert. Not always the case with me as I don’t like a sugar rush at the end of things, but I suspected that there would be a subtle hand on the sugar jar and I was right.  I wish I’d taken a picture of the dessert – it was Willie’s 100% of  Cacao Hot Chocolate Tart with a malted milk ice cream. I know, we’ve all had melted chocolate tarts haven’t we, but this one was exceptional. I even stopped talking.  Husband was extremely enthusiastic about his Glazed Cox’s Apple Tart with Rosewater ice cream and I had to give him “the look”, which generally then gets “the face” to get him to share.

He doesn’t actually subscribe to the rule that if his dish looks better than mine I am entitled to require him to swap, which is a slight disappointment, but I’m hoping to train him.

The problem with this restaurant is that I’m going to have to go back quite a lot which means it will take me some time to get through my list. Oh dear.

UPDATE 3/9/2105 I feel it necessary to mention that I revisited the Hand and Flowers on three subsequent occasions, each more disappointing than the last. It seemed to never reach the heights of the first visit and became a victim of its own success and it became impossible to get a table. I have not been back since 2013.

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