Many moons ago, before this blog was even a bun in the oven, the Hand and Flowers - Tom Kerridge’s lauded two Michelin Star gastropub – was about as close to a local as the Ewing and I had. The perfect spot for some lovely grub and a pint of local ale, and somewhere we still haven't really managed to replace.
This may seem like a fanciful story for two impoverished library workers, especially if you consider it currently has a six month plus long waiting list for dinner and mains on the ala carte menu starting at thirty quid. But back in the good old days, when the pub had ‘just the one’ star, they offered a two course set lunch for a tenner - including their fabulous bread and famed whitebait amouse bouche - with pudding for an extra £3.50. Plus you could easily get a table on a Monday (the library workers’ traditional day off) at a few days’ notice.
Sadly, for someone who remembers having three courses, pints of beer and cheeseboard and still getting out for £50 for two, those days are long gone. Although, at thirty quid for three courses, the set lunch remains decent value. And they still serve the whitebait.
But, while the H&F might not now be the place for an impromptu late lunch, Chef Kerridge’s march on Marlow continues with The Coach, his second pub on the same road - complete with all day opening hours, small plate ‘pub grub’ menu and, best of all for someone with a last minute bonus afternoon off work, no reservations.
Being a solo diner, I slotted instantly in to a spare barstool, complete with view of the open kitchen, and was soon nursing a glass of house red and a (pristine) copy of the Guardian, offered from a wide selection of papers by the charming bar staff.
It might be an unfortunate symptom of the modern age, but there’s nothing worse than feeling at a loose end when eating on your own so I was pleased to have the tragi-comic diversion of the day’s current affairs, interspersed with tragi-comic updates from the Magical Stealth on WhatsApp, to keep me amused until my food arrived.
The menu is essential ‘pub tapas’, with the size of dishes being roughly proportionate to their (not inconsequential) price tag. As I was on my own, and so mercifully spared from sharing, I pretty much stuck to a classic ‘starter, main, pud’ order of proceedings, which began mushroom risotto ‘Claude Bosi’.
Whether you think that this is an improvement on the classic Italian version would depend on how wedded you are to your carbs, but I did find myself strangely impressed by the tiny uniform pieces of perfectly cooked mushroom, bound in a cheesy sauce and topped with a dreft of Parmesan like fresh snow on the top of Monte Bianco.
My next plate was a little closer to home; pigeon from the West Wycombe Estate (a far more appetising prospect than High Wycombe High Street), served with trompettes and pearl barley. I often judge a good dish by its gravy, and this was some of the best. Shimmery and shiny with a deep meatiness that complimented the blushing pigeon and nutty grains.
Alongside were the famed pomme boulangeres, or bakers taters in English. Arriving in their own saucepan, topped with a disc of crisp potato shards that had been brushed with another slick of glossy meat juices, I doubt you could spend a better £2.50 anywhere.
Although ordered from the ‘non-meat’ section of the menu (with a ‘contains meat' caveat in brackets after) make no mistake, this one's for the carnivores. As soon as the tuber lid was lifted I was greeted by a heap of dark and sticky braised meat on top of further layers of slow cooked potato; a satisfying sight and they tasted even better.
Pud was a warm chocolate and peanut tart with a ball of salted caramel ice cream perched in a chocolate tuile basket on top. Like everything that had come before, this was a superlative plate of food - the friable pastry giving way to a perfectly oozy, nutty fondant centre. If I hadn't been half-cut on house red I'd have felt guilty that my chocoholic wife was down the road at work, and not sat at the bar sharing it with me.
While I'm still a little wistful for those halcyon days enjoying long boozy lunches up the road, the Coach is an more than able enthusiastic younger sibling with the added advantage of not having to plan your visit weeks in advance. Add in the warm and friendly service and (not too eye-watering) pricing and it might be time to pull up a stool and get comfy; there's a new local in town.