Do you remember when you were dating in high school and you’d celebrate your relationships as they matured month by month? Back then, a month was a long time. I guess it made sense. Nowadays, it feels as though we celebrate our relationships in five-year increments. Sure, we acknowledge them on an annual basis, but there is a real sense of achievement by the time five years pass you by. So, with Si’s and my five-year anniversary approaching, we thought it would be nice to get away for the weekend to celebrate. With that and foodies at heart, we decided to head towards Marlow to stay at luxurious Danesfield House Hotel and Spa and check out Tom Kerridge’s acclaimed Michelin starred restaurant, The Hand and Flowers.
Marlow is easily accessible from London and is an hour and a half’s drive from Central or about an hour on the train. It is a pretty Georgian market town, alongside the River Thames in Buckinghamshire. Driving through the village, the historic streets were busy with local pedestrians who are lucky enough to have a bounty of charming boutiques and cafes and restaurants on their doorstep.
Where to stay in Marlow
As we drove through the town, towards Danesfield House Hotel and Spa we were quickly surrounded by lush green rolling meadows and fields of cows, sheep and horses passed us by. The hotel is an elegant property. Grand gates welcome you, and the estate is perfectly manicured in every way. I had initially been excited to stay at the hotel because they are a dog-friendly, however, when I enquired about the dog-friendly rooms, it transpired that only a handful of Garden Suites welcome furry companions. The price difference between the standard rooms and dog-friendly rooms was quite a lot, so sadly Smithers didn’t make it along on this trip. Though, the property did seem the perfect place to take your pooch along to with a number of walking trails near the hotel and great selection of dog-friendly pubs in the area to choose from.
Crossing the gravelled courtyard, we entered the reception and were warmly greeted by the hotel’s staff. We were escorted to our room, one of the 79 bedrooms on offer, with no two being the same. Some are traditional and have four-poster beds, whilst others have incredible river or garden views, whilst others are contemporary. Our room was spacious, with partial views out over the beautiful gardens. Furnished traditionally the room was very country chic.
Pros: Generously sized room with elegant and traditional English décor.
Cons: I’m afraid to report our room felt slightly dated with paint peeling from the ceiling. The bed had very soft springs and sunk in the middle. And the partial garden views were slightly disappointing.
Before our dinner reservation, we spent the afternoon strolling through the hotel’s grounds. The beautiful gardens are lovingly cared for. We had fun practising our putting on the green (for some), and mastering how to put (for others – no names of course). There is a hiking trail that follows the meandering River Thames, and small hedged maze to explore. If you have some more time on your hands, enjoy the hotel’s award-winning spa facilities, croquet lawns, or tennis courts.
I wasn’t particularly awestruck by the dining facilities on offer at the hotel. The Orangery, where afternoon tea and breakfast are served, seemed a little tired and in need of a little TLC. I can’t vouch for the afternoon tea, but the traditional English breakfast buffet was or ordinary rather than extraordinary. The outdoor paved terrace overlooking the River Thames and the Chilterns would be fantastic for warmer months. Given the impressive local dining options on offer in the nearby villages, I would not be in a hurry to sample the offerings in The Oak Room. Ahead of our supper, we headed to the hotel’s resident cocktail bar for pre-dinner drinks. Hotel guests and non-residents are served an array of classic and signature cocktails. However, be warned, the service is not particularly forthcoming and you may be waiting a while to wet your whistle.
Rooms at Danesfield House Hotel and Spa start at £250 per night.
Where to dine in Marlow
A few minutes down the road in the village of Marlow, you will find Tom Kerridge’s two Michelin starred pub, The Hand and the Flowers. Tom and his team invite guests to stay and dine with them, whilst they serve divine, award-winning grub, in comfortable surroundings.
Originally a 17thcentury pub, The Hand and the Flowers, is no longer as you would imagine a traditional local. As you enter, you will discover a new conservatory extension with a small courtyard. Guests are welcomed here and offered drinks from the well-stocked bar either before or after their meals. Locals are also warmly welcomed to join for drinks, without a restaurant reservation. The large leather armchairs and a warm crackling fire, are toasty and inviting. All of the staff without exception were lovely and friendly, making us feel most at home.
As it was an unusually warm autumn evening, we sat outside in the courtyard and had an aperitif alongside the most delicious home-made pork scratchings I have ever tried! I highly recommend trying the Eric Bordelet, Poire Authentique, a refreshing pear cider as the perfect accompaniment and a great alternative to champagne/ sparkling wine.
Now trust me when I say you’ll want to go starving to this meal, wearing elasticated trousers! You’ll not leave wanting more, that’s for sure. After our drinks, we were shown into the cosy dining room. Ambiently lit by candlelight, the pub’s original 17thcentury features with low wooden beams and timber framed sash windows, created a charming and romantic setting. Awaiting us at our table was a lovely card from the team wishing us a happy anniversary.
To be very honest, given the generous size of the portions served, and the rich decadent flavours, I would suggest ordering one starter to share. Ahead of our starters, we were also presented with two amuse bouche dishes, including Tom’s signiture dish of Whitebait with Marie-rose sauce.
I ordered the roasted scallop with preserved fennel, pollen and sauce bouillabaisse au beurre to start, and Si went for the West Country beef pasty with parsley purée, lemon and marsala wine gravy. The scallop was the clear winner. Sadly, the pasty was a bit of a let-down. Si had craved the traditional flavour of a pasty and was not a fan of the contemporary twist with lemon and marsala.
There wasn’t a lot of time between our starters and mains. Given the quantity of food and the richness of the dishes, this would have made the experience more comfortable. Si ordered the slow cooked duck breast with sour apple, baked celeriac, liver and radish tart and I went for theWest End Farm pork belly with barbeque brawn fritter, roasted pineapple and chorizo mayonnaise. Both dishes were absolutely outstanding. There are no plated greens with either dish, so be sure to order sides to share.
Dessert was totally unnecessary, however, it felt rude not to complete the meal with pudding when the other courses had been so delicious, so we went for the Hand and Flowers chocolate and ale cake with salted caramel and muscovado ice cream to share. I’m so pleased that we did too, as it was gorgeous.
We really enjoyed the dining experience and would highly recommend giving it a go. Just remember, the portions are very large and the flavours are very rich! Share, share, share.
Pros: Amazing food and service in an ambient, down to earth setting.
Cons: I’m not sure if this is a con – but possibly too much food! Smaller portions and more time between the courses required for the comfort of diners.
The verdict: Marlow is absolutely beautiful. So much so, I’d even consider living there! If you haven’t been, you must go. Whilst we enjoyed our stay at Danesfield House Hotel and Spa I do feel like it was slightly dated and in need of refurbishment. The food and beverage service were less than impressive and fell short of the five-star service promised. Given the price for the rooms, I’d expect more.
The Hand and the Flowers was the most delicious dining experience. We really enjoyed Tom’s modern interpretation of classic British pub classics in a warm and friendly (not pretentious) setting.
Make sure you get yourself out to Marlow to enjoy the charming countryside and all that it has to offer.
Until next time, safe travels.
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