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So what if Tom Kerridge charges £87 for steak and chips? He should be applauded

It is important to stand up to those trying to embarrass a successful business for the crime of charging top whack for excellent food

Rupert Hawksley
Wednesday 08 September 2021 10:01 BST
Tom Kerridge, owner of The Hand and Flowers pub
Tom Kerridge, owner of The Hand and Flowers pub (Jonathan Hordle/PA)

We can’t seem to agree on much these days, can we? But let me try and find some common ground. Here goes: can we all agree that a pub with two Michelin stars, run by a celebrity chef, is not your average pub? That was easy, wasn’t it? Have a great day, everyone.

Hang on, we have a dissenter. Wine expert Guy Woodward is cross. Yes, Guy Woodward is surprised that The Hand and Flowers, owned by Tom Kerridge, is described on the website as “unpretentious” and a “proper pub”, yet also offers an £87 steak and chips.

And because it’s 2021 and Twitter exists, Guy Woodward has made his feelings about The Hand and Flowers public. So now Tom Kerridge is cross. “Unpretentious does not mean cheap,” he replied. “Also, why is profit a bad word?” Reader, you won’t believe this, but there are, at the time of writing, 124 replies to Guy Woodward’s original tweet. Which is making me cross. What a mess.

Perhaps we need to go back to basics. There are good pubs and bad pubs; drinking pubs and eating pubs; proper locals and wanky gastros. If there is one thing you can’t criticise this country for it is a shortage of pubs. So the fact that one of these pubs, The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, is more expensive than most really shouldn’t be a problem. There are other options.

But some people still aren’t happy. Guy Woodward’s argument appears to be that the prices at The Hand and Flowers don’t match the “everybody’s welcome” marketing. But this wilfully misses the point. My hunch is that when people book a table at the country’s only two Michelin-starred pub, they are not expecting a beer and a burger for five quid. Imagine our surprise when an £87 sirloin steak arrived! It should also be pointed out that there is a bar at The Hand and Flowers where the stools are “first come first served”, so those who just want a pint are indeed “welcome”.

To be clear, I don’t know Tom Kerridge or any of his staff and have never set foot in The Hand and Flowers. This is not a defence of his pub, exactly. But it is important to stand up to those trying to embarrass a successful business for the crime of charging top whack for what I assume to be excellent food. As Kerridge points out, he pays his staff a decent wage (not the norm in the hospitality industry) and the quality of the ingredients is exceptionally high. These things cost money. Another chef added: “If the notion of cheap labour is coming to an end, so will ‘cheap’ food. We can’t have it both ways.”

Most importantly, the prices for food and drink at The Hand and Flowers are all on the website; no one is being misled here, except perhaps those who have been whipped up by some tweets.

We live in a market-driven society. I’m not here to tell you whether or not that is a good thing. It’s just a fact. So if the demand for the sort of food (and prices) offered at The Hand and Flowers is there, it seems a great shame to begrudge those who are providing it.

Likewise, it is abhorrent to sneer at those pubs offering a different service: cheap pints, easy food. Both can exist within the market. You treat customers like fools if you suggest we are so thick that we are unable to differentiate between one pub and another.

I probably won’t ever eat at The Hand and Flowers; far too expensive. But that’s OK. And I certainly don’t feel angry at those who do want to cook/eat an £87 steak and chips. I hope they have a jolly good time. All I really want now is a pint. Twitter will do that to a man.

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