Perhaps I should have given this review the title of where NOT to go for a birthday meal.
With such glowing reports of the Hand and Flowers a 2 Michelin starred pub, we decided we really should try it for ourselves, especially as we had recently moved and were now only live 20 minutes away. The chef is frequently on Masterchef and always comes across as passionate about his food. My husband decided that my birthday was the ideal occasion to go.
Nobody seems to answer the phone. When you call you instantly get a message saying that the Hand and Flowers is fully booked Friday, Saturday and Sunday for 6 months. For other days leave a message and they will call back within 48 hours. Of course if you happen to not be able to take their call at the precise time they return it, you call back and end up once again in the 48 hour queue. We booked our table by physically dropping in.
If you are expecting a warm welcome you will be disappointed. We made the mistake of arriving 10 minutes early. An unsmiling brusque young woman made it clear that this was very inconvenient. There was nowhere to sit and wait. Perhaps we could stand by the bar and look at the menus I suggested. Not possible I was told – this was a working bar – our option was to stand outside (it was dark outside, drizzly and The Hand and Flowers is situated directly on a main road) or just inside the door. Not a good start to the evening – especially as I could see two empty tables already laid. Another couple arrived – and instantly shown to their table. We were then told- ‘we do have your table ready now – but we had to wait for the other clients to arrive first to choose which table they wanted’. Hmmmm. How to make your guests feel welcome – if it hadn’t been my birthday I would have been tempted to leave right then.
We were then shown to a table where we were literally crammed in like sardines.
Food and Wine
My husband loves choosing wine (well, he is French). Unfortunately he made his selection to be told that they had just ‘run out’ of that one.
A disappointing evening
Starters were chosen. I ordered a potato risotto with baked girolles and samphire. For £14:00 the portion was incredibly small. I did not notice the samphire at all, but did have half an asparagus spear- so perhaps they swapped the ingredients. That wasn’t the main problem though – the main problem was the level of salt. It was incredibly salty and totally overpowered the dish. Portions were very small. We wondered if the food had been made by accountants. My husband had scallops – presented in a jelly- he thought the jelly was a bit sweet and a little strange tasting. For main course I had monkfish with roasted cauliflower.- he had grouse. Again the levels of salt were far too high and my dish too dry and in terms of the roasted cauliflower I had half a charred florette – the accountants must have been helping again!
On to dessert – Chocolate and ale cake for me, glazed apple tart for him. OK but nothing special – not 2 michelin star quality.
Overall an incredibly disappointing evening. We were really looking forward to going but feel let down by the michelin star rating. For 2 michelin stars you expect great food, good ambience and excellent service. Based on our experience we felt it fell short on all fronts. From the moment we arrived we felt rushed. Food was rushed out between courses with staff asking if they could clear the plates before we had even finished. There was no time to relax and enjoy – our own particular table was very wide for 2 people – not condusive to having a cosy conversation – or indeed any type of conversation.
Perhaps the Hand and Flowers started out well, but I feel now that the marketing machine and television appearances of the chef have taken over from the food. Needless to say we will not be going back. By coincidence some friends went there for lunch last week – they were also disappointed.
I think next birthday we will go back to the Waterside Inn – great setting and always a warm welcome!