16.5/20. Tom Kerridge country. Bountiful, lively, informal. Not your average pub grub. Top tucker, with the familiar Kerridge ingredients – rippling, muscular flavours with exquisite delicacy of touch.
My brother, James, and I went for a walk yesterday along the Kennet & Avon Canal. Reading to Aldermaston. 32,523 steps. 20 km, give or take. The sun was high, the air was warm, an agreeable breeze tempered the heat. Lunch at the Cunning Man at Burghfield Bridge was so abominable I can’t bring myself to go into any detail. It’s amazing what you will eat when hot, thirsty, tired and very hungry. Come the evening, James and I felt we deserved some reward for our efforts and so we went to The Coach in Marlow, a short haul from where James lives.
The Coach is the easy-going sister to the more famous Hand & Flowers in the same town, both expressions of Tom Kerridge’s happy relationship with very fine food. While the Hand & Flowers is more restaurant than pub, The Coach is definitely more pub than restaurant, although, in a way, it’s more diner than either. Booth and bar seating, bustle and babble, relaxed and rollicking. Open plan kitchen. Service personable, professional and engaged. Rebellion beers. Better class of wine. And – here’s the real clue – a better class of food.
This not your average pub grub – duck leg, heart & gizzard terrine with prune & Armagnac ketchup (£8.50); Jersey Royal soup with truffle pesto and egg yolk dressing (£7.50); crispy pig’s head with celeriac remoulade (£7.50); whole stuffed rotisserie quail with black pudding and moilee sauce (£16.50); baked eggs smoked haddock Thermidor (£9.50; profiteroles with soured vanilla cream and chocolate sauce (£7.50). Oh, and The Coach burger with Pulled pork and dill pickle and the Coach chips with Bearnaise sauce the size of railway sleepers, which means that you get a proper flavour of potato to go along with the divine crisp, brittle plating on the outside.
Any menu can sing an enticing melody when reading it, but how many go on to seduce when it comes to the eating part? The great quality of Tom Kerridge’s food, whether fancy or (relatively) plain, is that it’s as sexy to eat as it is to read. There’s a sense of a chap who glories in flavour. Yes, he can handle details of exquisite delicacy , but mostly you’re aware of a warm sense of pleasure and gratification because it tastes so good. Of course, Tom isn’t in the kitchen of The Coach, but he has a first class team at work there who understand his approach to cooking.
Brother James was so intoxicated by the Jersey Royal soup concoction that he guzzled the whole lot, simply grunting ‘God, this is good’ at regular intervals. I’d say the same about the quail stuffed with black pudding. The black pudding was made with fresh blood rather than dried, and it showed. It was mild and moist (dread word, but no other will do) and imparted a wonderful richness to the bird. The baked eggs smoked haddock Thermidor was an opulent, smoky, creamy, slathery indulgence. The pig’s head came like a small, plump pillow in a crunchy case, a Home Counties crubbeen. And the burger was a monument to meat eating in very sense of the word, a towering inferno of protein. The only mild disappointment was the terrine, that sounded more interesting than it actually tasted. I suspect that it had been freshly made, and terrines always benefit from sitting for a day or two to allow what I old friend, Peter Lewis, termed the ‘polite exchange of flavours’ to take place and develop.
But that is a minor quibble about a place that has all the characteristics of the proprietor’s ebullience, generosity, taste and skill. What a great day. What a happy ending to it.
The Coach, 3 West Street, Marllow, Bucks SL7 2LS.
There’s no point in giving a phone number because there’s no booking.
Open for breakfast, too.