I recently came here for a Saturday lunch, the table had been booked nine months in advance.
Our booking had coincided with head chef Tom Kerridge’s new TV show Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes on BBC2. I imagine you have to wait a lot longer than nine months now to get a table on a Saturday.
My husband checked their website out of curiosity whilst the programme was on air and it had crashed.
I’m a huge fan of Tom Kerridge and I had the pleasure of meeting him last October at a cooking the books event at Sonny’s Kitchen. He cooked a three course lunch inspired by recipes from his first book, Proper Pub Food.
Meeting Mr Kerridge at Sonny’s Kitchen event November 2013
I was very excited, unfortunately I had to drive as getting there by train would have taken forever, the positive of this was that I got to experience the best Virgin mojito ever!!!!
The booking was for 12:45 due to an incident on the M25 I left far earlier than I needed and we arrived very early, but luckily managed to bag a parking spot. We sat in the bar and had an aperitif and some bar snacks.
I had a cheeky kent sparkling rose, and hubby had a pint of Hand & Flowers Ale. We ordered bar snacks of spicy nuts and pork puffs. I remember hubby making these pork puffs from the first cookery book, I definitely prefer the professional version. 😉
Hand & Flowers Ale
Balfour Brut Rose, Kent
As we took our last sip we were offered our table. We were shown to a cosy corner and we were very pleased with our designated table. It was nice to be able to sit next to each other in an informal dining room. The atmosphere was buzzing. Everyone here had been waiting as long as us for their golden ticket to dine in this two Michelin star pub.
My husband continued to drink pints throughout the meal, as I was driving I opted for water and a virgin mojito. The mocktail was was proper lush, I can only imagine what the real cocktails would have tasted like.
White Bait & Bread
Best Virgin Mojito EVER
We were given bread and white bait as we waited for our starters. My husband had planned his meal well in advance, I wanted to chose on the day and see what I fancied. My attitude to dining out has changed lately, rather than eat what I like and be safe I have started to order what I normally wouldn’t have. So I ordered lovage soup with smoked eel.
Lovage Soup with Bramley Apple, Smoked Eel, and Ham and Cheese Tortellini
Hubby ordered crispy pig face.
Crispy Pig’s Head with Spiced Date Puree, Apple, Blackberry and Pancetta
When the starters arrived I definitely had food envy. Mine was delicious, especially the tortellini hidden at the bottom, but hubby’s dish was something else. It was just perfect. I’m salivating just remembering the taste.
Next main course. Hubby ordered the duck, I ordered the grouse, I chose this as I’d only ever had this once before so wanted to try it again. The plates arrived and the portions were huge! I had ordered a side of chips too. I’m so used to eating smaller portions on tasting menus I didn’t realise how large the main course would be. I did have slight food envy again hubby’s research had definitely paid off.
Yorkshire Grouse with Black Pudding Purée, Morello Cherry Ketchup, Frosted Almond and Game Pie
Slow Cooked Duck Breast with Savoy cabbage, Duck Fat Chips and Gravy
Mains & Sides
The chips were a-maze-ing, the pie was really delicious perfect puffed pastry top and lovey rich filling. There were two pieces of grouse but I was really struggling to finish so passed one over to my hubby.
The food so far had been incredible and now looking back I appreciate it even more. Living in kent I have eaten in little country pubs before but this was a class above any pub I’d ever been to before. Well two Michelin stars above to be precise. Although I was absolutely stuffed I always manage to have room for dessert. Sometimes Michelin star desserts are a bit disappointing but The hand and flowers’ desserts fulfilled and exceeded expectations. The dessert menu was very hard to choose from so we actually chose three. I couldn’t resist the soufflé, well it was the Parma violet ice cream that swung it actually. Hubby chose the chocolate malt cake, this came with a potent shot of reduced ale, and in addition to those, a malt gateau. All three desserts were as luscious as each other. I’d of loved to have worked my way through the entire menu. Trying three out of the seven wasn’t bad going.
Blueberry Soufflé with Parma Violet Ice Cream and Lemon Verbena Syrup
Sweet Malt Gateau with Malted Milk Ice Cream, Yeast Tuile and Crème Fraîche
Hand & Flowers Chocolate and Ale Cake with Salted Caramel and Muscovado Ice Cream
Table full of desserts
The service here is great, very attentive, my water was constantly topped up and even though you are allocated a two hour sitting it does not feel at all rushed, it’s incredible how quickly the tables are turned and new guests are sat, such precision. Although it has been said that formal fine dining is dying out I have to admit I do prefer formal. I loved the hand and flowers and would definitely return as the food was outstanding but I prefer the traditional white table clothes and grand chandeliers and my chair being pulled out for me. BUT I have recently eaten in my local pub and now comparing the two it seems crazy to pay similar prices and receive such average food, now I can definitely see Tom Kerridge’s vision, it is not meant to be ‘fine dining’ this is just perfect proper pub grub!
(Now this isn’t something I usually take pictures of but I was really impressed with the flower arrangement on the toilet and the Hand & Flowers branded soap)