One of the most remarkable gastronomic ascents in recent years is that of chef Tom Kerridge. From scraping together enough money to buy The Hand & Flowers, a run-down pub in Marlow, to earning two Michelin stars there and a third at The Coach, another Marlow pub, appearing regularly on TV and publishing a string of bestselling cookbooks, soufflé-like he has risen.
To start with, though, times were tough. His sculptor wife Beth Cullen Kerridge, a graduate of the Royal College of Art, chipped in earnings from her creations (after being “laughed out of the bank” when they applied for a loan), then took a break from art to work full-time in the restaurant.
That she has been able to resume her career is clear from her husband’s handsome new venture – a kind of British brasserie de luxe in the Corinthia Hotel, just off Trafalgar Square. Two of her recent works are prominently on display in the rather lovely, high-ceilinged dining room: Dorsal Angel, a Carrara marble sculpture of a collar and tie, and Steve, a glittering and crumpled two‑piece suit, cast in bronze and notably missing its occupant.
Kerridge’s menu steers a course between nostalgic comfort food and brasserie classics, each element of every dish carefully considered and tweaked, and flavour turned up to 11. Coronation chicken – Rosemary Hume’s 1950s classic of cold chicken with curry powder, apricot purée and mayonnaise – is reworked as a terrine with fresh mango and celery to winning effect; a clever dish of “risotto” made from mushrooms, not rice, topped with an egg bound up in a tangle of potato ribbons and deep-fried, is credited to two chef friends: “Claude” (Bosi, of Bibendum) and “Daniel” (Clifford, of Midsummer House, Cambridge).
Main courses have an equal regard for big flavours: pig’s cheek pie, for example, its sphere of shortcrust topped with a pair of hog-nostril-like holes, its innards almost squelchy with gelatin. And a boned and stuffed quail cooked on the impressive rotisserie in the corner, partnered with boudin blanc and silky white beans, the whole doused in a sticky jus.
Kerridge’s grasp of culinary technique is as fine as that of any chef in Britain, using his talents to intensify flavour rather than simply to show off. It is food of some heft and substance: after lunch, my jacket was bulging rather more than the hollow bronze version in the middle of the room. Beth Cullen Kerridge says she intends the “empty suits” in her work to represent the vacuous promises of various bank managers when The Hand & Flowers was struggling to stay afloat. My advice to FT readers who work in the finance sector is go to Kerridge’s Bar & Grill, enjoy the food, marvel at the sculptures and don’t take it personally.