A Visit to the Hand & Flowers by Matthew Fort

By Matthew Fort •

With series seven of The Great British Menu underway, at Great British Chefs we're delighted that a number of our chefs are competing or are veteran judges of the show. Matthew Fort one of the overall judges & our strategic advisor, was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of Tom Kerridge's new menu at The Hand & Flowers as he gets it ready for public unveiling.  Let's see what he thought 
Strawberries & Cream by Tom Kerridge - as prepared for Great British Menu
It’s 4 pm. Tom Kerridge is in his kitchen, carefully trimming a fillet of venison. The deep purple of the meat glistens on the chopping board. Around him, the Hand & Flowers kitchen team are just about winding down after another full lunch session.
Good cheer shines out of Tom Kerridge’s face as naturally as light from the sun. Even the beetling of his brow when one of the commis chefs drops a pan with a deafening clang passes like a brief shadow.  But beneath the bonhomie and cheer, is a chap who takes the business of cooking very seriously indeed. He has taken the principles of pub food and elevated them to a level of polish and brilliance, and won two Michelin stars, not to mention a cluster of awards and glowing reviews by the bushel, not to mention putting in starring turns in two series of the Great British Menu.
‘That isn’t easy in a pub with a small kitchen,’ said Tom. ‘You’ve got to keep the standards up there, and you’ve got to keep pushing on at the same time.’ To keep standards up there and to keep pushing, he’s about to extend his kitchen, and that doesn’t come cheap. ‘As fast as the money comes in, it goes out,’ he says philosophically.
Not everyone understands the Hand & Flowers. Getting two Michelin stars suggests a certain kind of fine dining experience to some people, and are disappointed when they come to a pub, with its hugger-mugger tables at which people actually talk to each other and visibly have a good time. The Hand & Flowers is not a place of silent gastronomic worship.  It’s a place for pleasure.
Still, there are enough people who do get it, who are only too happy to settle down in the informal surroundings to dishes that combine great, rollicking, muscular flavours with touches of extraordinary delicacy, almost daintiness, little dashes of acidity or herbal freshness that bring lightness and vividness to his dishes – a leaf or two of  floppy lettuce  with venison with ox tongue; salsa verde with Essex ‘Bun’ with sweetbread; a lovely sweet single large carrot to with red wine shin of beef served in half a marrow bone.
There are a couple of other dishes, too, which are almost ready for public unveiling, an elegant but sumptuous version of choucroute Alsacienne, with pork fillet pigs' cheek and frankfurter glazed with a sauce of shimmering amber and a leaf or two of emerald-green pickled cabbage ; and a brilliantly stylish and witty take on turf ‘n’ surf, combining beef consommé and lobster with little cubes of pickled apple or kohl rabi to give each mouthful a nip of sharpness.
Tom Kerridge beams again, and bends to his trimming. He is, he says, happy with the way things are going, but he has to keep pushing on.
Catch up with previews and reviews of Great British Menu 2012 on our site.  Tom will be the veteran judge for week 8, the south west region.
What's your favourite pub for dining?  We're discussing this over on Great British Chefs Facebook page 



Having watched Tom Kerridge on the tele on Great British Menu and also read some interviews with him, I can say wholeheartedly that he is one of my favourite chefs. His unbridled joy and enthusiasm in cooking and serving tasty and scrumy nosh is infectious. As a chef myself i can also tell (I think and hope) that he would be a fantastic boss in the kitchen and i am envious of all the young chefs who pass under his wing as surely they will be imbibed with such enthusiasm for the industry that it can only be a positive thing for British cooking in general. Bravo Tom and keep it up.
18 April 2012

Matthew Fort

Matthew is a source of infinite wisdom in the world of food. He was the Food Editor of The Guardian, judges on the Great British Menu and is a published author of numerous books. Matthew provides the team with much insight and is a regular contributor to our blog.

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