Tom Kerridge has certainly put Marlow on the map as a culinary destination achieving 2 Michelin Stars at The Hand and Flowers – famed as the only pub to achieve that distinction.
Now Tom and his wife Beth are expanding, by taking over and the old Coach and Horses pub – which many years ago was a popular watering hole, but has in effect operated as a (decent) Chinese takeaway for some time now. They are renaming it simply “The Coach”, in line with how locals always used to refer to it.
We were excited on hearing the news, and to find out more I met with Tom and Nick Beardshaw – his senior sous chef at the Hand and Flowers, who will be moving to become Head Chef at The Coach. We chatted about the plans they have, and then touched on some areas of their lives in Marlow.
Why a second location in Marlow?
Tom: “Marlow is my home. I left the West Country in my 20s, then lived in London, but myself and Beth have lived here 10 years and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s why we’ve put so much investment into the H&F.
The Hand and Flowers has never been about profit at all – it’s had to make a profit to survive, but there have been some very dodgy years where on a daily basis I was worried we would have to close. It’s always been about getting the right staff, serving great food, and reinvesting any profits back into the business.
In terms of new sites – we are offered probably 2 a week – some local, most are in London – but nothing has felt right until now. The previous owner of the Coach and Horses wanted out, and it was a great opportunity for us – a site in Marlow, and it being a pub entirely fitting in with our ethos.
A big part of our decision to go ahead with The Coach was because of our staff – we have great staff retention, many team members have been here several years. So, opening a second site is just a natural progression – being able to offer the staff career progression without them having to leave the H&F family”
What will the inside of The Coach be like?
I was shown the interior design plans – and it should be quite something. Main features are the L-shaped pewter bar top seating 20 on oxblood red leather bar seats, and then tables around the edges of the pub. There are loads of fun and quirky design details all round. We will share more details closer to opening!
Referring to the current state of the building, Tom said : “The whole building has been renovated – from the cellar up. Everything needed doing, it really has been gutted from top to bottom.”
Nick: “We want it to be an informal, relaxed environment – we like to think of it as where we would like to go on our days off. A flexible and sociable place where you would feel comfortable just dropping in for a quick bite and drink, maybe even have a chat with a stranger sat next to you at the bar.”
Tom: “We had a bit of a brainstorm – what makes a great pub? Informal, sociable, good value and sport. Sport is a huge part of British life and we will have 6 small screens, which might all have something different showing, but without any sound. It’s like Sports Bars in America which do the same – where sport is part of the atmosphere, , but not so that it dominates. Obviously if England reaches a World Cup Final – all 6 screens will be on that with the sound on! But that would be for really huge events, the vast majority of the time the sound will be down. We will have background music though, which is an important part of creating an atmosphere.”
What will the food offering be?
Nick: “The food at the H&F is sit down, 3 courses, whereas the Coach will be totally different – a sociable, and interactive experience. We will have seats for dining around an L shaped bar, the kitchen is open – the food is cooked and served by the chefs, although there will be front of house staff too. The menu isn’t based around 3 traditional courses, there will be smaller plates which you might choose several of, or have to share.”
Tom: “We’ve heard some people describing our plans as offering “tapas style” but we are completely avoiding the term – it suggests a type of food which is nothing like what we will be offering. The food will be served in smaller portions, so you might choose a selection – and they will be served to you when they are ready, rather than in any particular order – but the way I’d describe our food offering at The Coach is simply: flexible , British pub food with ingredients and recipes that are tried and tested, with methods and chefs that have come from the Hand and Flowers.”
Nick: “The menu will change with the seasons, increasingly using ingredients grown in our H&F allotment. Some items will stay on the menu all year round, probably including versions of some favourites from the H&F. The main feature of The Coach will be the Rotisserie – it’s going to be very prominent and visible behind the bar, and the cooking this way produces a slow and even cook, retaining much of the meat’s moisture – compared to how an oven typically roasts.”
We have a copy of an example menu, which includes versions of some H&F favourites such as the “Crispy Pigs Head” plus other dishes perhaps more familiar in a pub environment, including a burger, a steak and ale pie, soups, salads – but all with tweaks/ingredients to make them that bit more special!
So what about those long waiting lists….?
Tom: “You will know an issue we have with the H&F – our biggest problem, although of course from a business perspective it’s great. It’s embarrassing but also massively humbling that people will book their meal months ahead, and we are very aware in the kitchen that when guests sit down they might have been waiting up to a year for that food.
You could say that The Coach is our response to that, giving the people of Marlow a pub back. So, even though it is food led, The Coach will be completely non-bookable.”
Who do you see yourself as competing with?
Tom: “The sales of alcohol in pubs is down – people don’t drink in the day, or in the week as much as they used to. You can see in town, on Tuesday night say, a lot of local pubs are empty. But places like Pizza Express and Zizzis tend to be busy, or in the day even Starbucks and Costa. We have to be competing with them – we might be a bit more expensive but still offering great value. The ability to put life back into a pub is something we are so excited about. I love the H&F – every brick in the place – and it will be the same with The Coach.”
Nick: “You can come for breakfast, lunch or dinner – or in between, and there will be something on offer. You might be shopping, you can pop in have one dish for say £6 or £7 and have half a pint of Rebellion, or pop in for coffee and cake.”
Choosing the team for The Coach
Tom: “All chefs reach a point in their career when they need to start putting their own imprint on something. I’ve been there myself, and we are very aware of where all our 19 chefs are at in that respect and of their career paths. Nick has been with us for 4 years now, and for us to be able to create a head chef position where he will have a team of 6 or 7 chefs from the H&F going with him is fantastic for us and for him.”
Other key staff members moving across from the H&F include Claire Kreigenfeld, who has been assistant manager for the last 4 years – and will run front of house, and the bar will be managed by James Shaw who has been there 18 months.
Nick: “I’m obviously very excited – this is definitely one of the most exciting restaurant openings in the UK this year. Of course, I’m nervous too, which is entirely how it should be given what we are trying to achieve.”
Tom: “We are so strong at the H&F in terms of management, staff skills, and team loyalty and retention. And because we are staffing The Coach with a team transferring from the H&F, it means our ethos, skills and entire approach in every respect is going with them – so I have 100% confidence in the team we will have in place.”
Random snippets from end of interview Marlow banter!
Tom and Beth at one point lived above the H&F, but have now lived in Bisham for past 2 years. Nick is from Somerset originally, and now lives in Marlow. He added “Most of the staff live in town, just because of the hours we work – you don’t want to be adding much of a commute on top of that.”
I asked Tom how he felt being compared to the likes of Rick Stein – in terms of the hospitality “empire” Rick has built around Padstow, and the way the H&F moved into accommodation and now another site. “Everything Rick Stein does is to be admired in terms of what he has achieved in restaurants and hospitality. High quality food, accessible to everybody, in a lovely town. We are in a lovely town too, but we are a long way from Rick Stein – we have just 8 bedrooms, and this is just our second location in 10 years….”
We also chatted about the area round Marlow becoming a bit of a foodie destination, with Atul Kochhar moving in at the Compleat Angler – we have Michelin starred chefs at either end of town. “ Yeah there’s Atul moving in at the Compleat Angler, Andre Garrett over at Cliveden, he’s a brilliant chef – and of course Bray is just down the road. There’s a couple of decent places there I’ve heard…”
Tom is turning on the town’s Christmas lights on Thursday 20th November – “Its a massive honour. It’s not something I could have ever imagined when we moved here to set up the H&F.”
The Hand and Flowers are kit sponsors of Marlow Football Club, and Tom explained why he is so keen to support the team. “Most chefs are football mad – I don’t know why, but its great to have some sort of escape from the day job. Marlow has popular, well supported and successful clubs in other sports like rowing, rugby and hockey. The support from the town is fantastic, and well deserved. But grass roots football is such an important thing to me, and in Marlow, compared to a lot of other towns – it’s the Football Club which is often most overlooked, compared to those other sports. So if we can do anything for them – we do.”
Nitty Gritty Details
- The Coach will be open from 8am non stop, the same every day including weekends.
- 8 -10.30am Breakfast will be served – screens will be showing news etc.
- 10.30-12.00 – Pop in for cake of the day, small snacks like freshly made pork pie.
- 12.00 Lunch – full menu
- Afternoon – again cake, snacks on offer
- Evening – full menu
The building and fitting out should be completed by 20-24th November. So, a realistic opening date would be the very end of November, or first week in December.
Tom said “We’ve waited so long for this, we want to wait until we are ready rather than rush to meet a particular date”
Watch this space for more preview news, and of course a review when The Coach opens!