A year ago, due to the tender age of our son, I could only have imagined dropping the kids off at nursery or their grandparents and taking the day off work, skip-jump-hopping home to get ready for a sophisticated day off out in London lunching at a top restaurant and sampling a few wine bars that are only ever read about in our house these days.
The last time we carried on such as this was back in September for my other half’s birthday, under the guise of going to watch the Olympic parade. Of course we had every intention of cheering our heroic athletes down the Strand, but inevitably got caught up in the moment and spent over 3 hours lunching at Hawksmoor Seven Dials. It just so happened that Mondays at the innovative Hawksmoor are BYO, and we decadently matched our Lobster and Ribeye perfectly with a Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2008 (English fizz by Royal Appointment no less), followed by a very well-paired and deliciously chocolately Catena Alta Malbec (£22 Majestic) that we had brought along.
This week however, without the excuse of a birthday or a Red Arrow fly-by, the reality of an indulgent bar crawl, which would have been a fairly common occurrence a few years ago, would once more be relegated to my imagination. Instead, now that we are responsible parents and as well as being on an economy drive, we opted to spend this free time painting the dining room which, shamefully has had various tester paint patches on the walls since 2010. Not to be totally boring however, we agreed to compromise and reward our good behaviour with lunch somewhere locally but with the caveat that a set lunch for less than £20 must be on the menu.
Now, living in Maidenhead, we are very fortunate in that within a 5 mile radius, we have the picking of some very special restaurants, including some of the best establishments in the world. Sadly, the budget and lack of planning was not going to stretch to the Waterside Inn this time, but imagine our delight when our compromise turned out to be a very last minute lunch to Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers in Marlow, the first gastropub to have been awarded 2 Michelin stars.
Although it appeared that we might have been the only people having the £19.50 3-course set menu, I guess that the other diners were not compromising and tucking in to the full a-la-carte menu, being either on expenses or D.I.N.K.Y* food tourists ticking off entries in their Michelin guides. We had a fantastically rewarding meal; complimentary whitebait to begin with, then pumpkin soup with some groovy little cheesy balls followed by velvety beef cheeks with beetroot (my vegetable of the moment) and shallots and a creamy pudding with mango sorbet and toasted rice.
Then of course, what to drink? A ‘set menu’ Tempranillo for £18 is offered on the wine menu as well as a comparable white (sorry, I didn’t notice what it was), which I think is generous considering that 2 could dine for less than £65 in one of the top restaurants in the country. We however chose a £32 raspberry fruit, fresh and medium bodied Pinot Noir (Vin de Pays, Domaine Guillaume) from Franche Comte. Interestingly, I googled this wine and could only find it on-trade at Sketch (Conduit St, London) who are serving it for £37, so it does look like we are getting better value in the home counties! To follow, Mr. R opted for a chewy glass of Jurancon, La Magendia de Lapeyre 2008 (£8 a glass, or £14.99 in Selfridges) with a malty nose and a crisp acidity coming through before a final lemony finish on the palate, slightly preferable to my 2008 Sauternes (Chateau de Malle Sainte-Helene £7.70) which I found to be pleasantly honeyed and with a long tarmac finish (and I like that sort of thing!).
With the addition of great service, this made for a very satisfactory ‘compromise’ lunch enjoyed by all. I continue to stick to my preference of the Hand and Flowers over the very comparable Royal Oak in Paley Street, yet, I’m not quite sure whether it’s worthy of double the stars. Obviously I’ll have to go back to check both some other mid-week afternoons when the kids are at nursery, not that I need an excuse of course!
*Double Income No Kids Yet