Vanilla Pod

Modern European·
Bronze Award

SquareMeal Review of Vanilla Pod

Bronze Award

Marlow and its environs aren’t exactly short of destination restaurants, so chef-owner Michael Macdonald and his small kitchen brigade have to try just that bit harder to attract diners to this cosy, characterful dining room in what was once the poet TS Eliot’s out-of-town bolthole. But attract diners they do, and the Vanilla Pod is fully booked most nights of the week, as well as attracting locals with its “excellent-value” lunch menu. On offer is “exceptional” Anglo-French cooking, with subtle twists favoured over showy modernisms: gravlax cured with vodka and coffee; lamb fillet accompanied by white cabbage infused with juniper and orange; stone bass poached in red wine; duck breast with lentils and Madeira sauce. Thankfully, they don’t overplay the vanilla theme, preferring to round things off with desserts such as apple streusel or lime leaf pannacotta. The atmosphere is “smart without being stuffy”, staff are on the ball, and the Francophile wine list includes plenty of bottles for that special occasion.

Good to know

Average Price
££££ - £50 - £79
Modern European
Food Hygiene Rating

Vanilla Pod is featured in


31 West Street, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 2LS

01628 898101 01628 898101


Opening Times

Tues-Sat 12N-2pm 7-10pm


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6 Reviews 

Gregory T

28 December 2022  
Food & Drink 4.5
Service 4.5
Atmosphere 4.5
Value 4.5

Always excellent food and attentive service.

Gregory T

23 November 2022  
Food & Drink 5
Service 5
Atmosphere 5
Value 5

Outstanding food. Cannot understand why it has not so far obtained a Michelin star.

Gary S

22 March 2018  
Sri Lankan sharing plates, always at the top of my list to reccomend.

David H

25 November 2015  
Food & Drink 3.5
Service 3.5
Atmosphere 3
Value 4
They cook well here but not particularly imaginatively
A second visit here and in a , which is smart enough but somewhat devoid of character. first review I remarked that maybe I should try the a la carte menu just to see whether the remarkably priced set lunch was representative of what this kitchen could deliver. So today I ordered a starter of scallops and a main of loin of venison from the a la carte menu at £40/2 courses. Both these dishes were pleasant, nicely flavoured and well cooked. But the biggest difference between this meal and the set lunch which my dining companions selected seemed to be the cost of ingredients rather than more imaginative dishes or better cooking. There doesn't seem to be a different level here and indeed the scores I've awarded are pretty much as they were last time. So you have a choice between a set lunch offering three courses for £19.50 from a menu offering a choice from three alternatives for each course, or to pay rather more than double to enjoy a wider choice which will include more expensive ingredients. Most people on this busy lunchtime seemed to decide in favour of the set lunch and why not- the cooking seems just as good and to be fair I don't think any of us would say that we've eaten anything here that's been less than decent. Service is competent and timely, though I think some people might consider it a little distant- its not chatty and certainly no-one calls you "guys" here. The tone is picked up by the style of the fairly small restaurant - certainly sufficiently smart but without a great deal of character. Best restaurant in Marlow? Well maybe the nearby Hand & Flower on a good day might debate that, but certainly for what you get , quality and choice-wise, its going to be hard to beat the set lunch at the Vanilla Pod.

David H

28 March 2015  
Food & Drink 3.5
Service 4
Atmosphere 3.5
Value 3.5
Enjoyable and competently cooked lunch
Our first visit here, with friends on a busy Friday lunchtime and all of us chose a set lunch menu that at under £20 for three courses, represents almost extraordinary value. The Vanilla Pod had been on our radar for a while and its taken us a while to get around to it. We'd had decent reports- more about the food than the restaurant itself admittedly- and so we arrived with expectations. My button mushroom risotto, bavette of steak served in slices, and cheeseboard were all nicely cooked and presented, and all four of us left the restaurant feeling like we'd had a decent lunch and that we'd probably go back. Personally I felt that flavours overall were a little bit down on what I'd hoped for, and I found myself wondering whether I may have had a stronger positive view had we opted for the more ambitious a la carte meal (£45) rather than the set lunch. In short, between conversations I found myself wondering whether this set lunch was intended to provide an indication of what this kitchen is capable of, or whether it was designed down to a price with ingredients that may not have made it onto the main menu - in that form at least. I have to say that a day later the jury's still out on this one as far as I'm concerned. But what I would say is this:- for me, I'd prefer to pay another tenner for my three courses and get food which I'm convinced was equivalent quality to the a la carte, albeit (of course) with a reduced choice and maybe slightly smaller portions. Its a dilemma for the restaurant, sure, but its also capable of confusing the diner. What's the trade -off that I should expect when I choose a low-price set meal ? I can name a half dozen or so well-rated restaurants which offer a set lunch comparable in quality with their star rating, at a relatively low price. Equally I could name others where a low priced set lunch is a million miles away in quality and complexity terms, from the food you'll get on the "real" menus. As I say I understand the dilemma , and the attractions of a full restaurant against an empty one even if you're not serving up what you're known for. But maybe I should make a point of view clear- I would much rather restaurants set out to serve the best they can do. Even if I have to pay a bit more, and if you want me to look forward to returning, give me food that I'll appreciate and remember. Back to the Vanilla Pod, service was efficient and pleasant, we enjoyed our wines, -with decent mark-ups we thought- and good bread and coffee. It was pretty busy and so maybe a fraction slower than we'd usually expect for 3 courses and coffee, but hey it was a convivial lunch with friends and we had the time, so no issues there. We had a good time.

Wendy M

03 October 2010  
Food & Drink 3.5
Service 4
Atmosphere 3.5
Value 3.5
Update Oct 2010 Truffle scented cep mousseline was sublime and the butternut squash risotto with chorizo proved a treat. When my chicken arrived, the all too familiar waft of vanilla hit the senses like an old acquaintance whose friendship you would not want to develop too far. It can be tricky to incorporate vanilla into savoury dishes, and some parts of the dish were slightly overpowered, but the accompanying blini was just wonderful. Venison with a bitter chocolate oil is now a staple – venison always matches the best quality I have had anywhere. However, the pervasive and consistent use of vanilla ensures that we will only be able to visit once in a while. A good wine will always be recommended and a Puglian red was a rich reward. Pleasingly, they are now steering away from predominantly French listing. I think we will always remain patrons because often food can be outstanding and so carefully put together, even though Mr McDonald will always be a V- pod addict. Aug 09 – Stark Mediterranean tones with tiled floor didn’t quite bond with the formal service, but the cooking has always been reason enough to visit. Now muted tones, a carpeted dining area and comfy chairs have replaced the rustic. The curt French Maitre D’ has mercifully been replaced by the most charming man who now discretely directs; a totally untypical Italian who has the manner more akin to that of a softly spoken English gent who doesn’t miss a trick. However service is a bit old school and so still quite prim. Michelin * has eluded this chef whose standard I think often warrants one. Quality victuals get sourced and treated with skilful care and Mr McD always delivers a good-looking plate. Only very occasionally does his ingredient list meander off course to produce something less than cohesive. Friday night, seriously good scallops were properly seasoned and caramelised – simple but divine with sauce vierge. Venison main with celeriac puree & bitter chocolate oil was better than my ‘nice’ pork which was a little sweet overall from the pear & vanilla – a touch of acidity may have balanced it. I felt that after the pork I didn’t want dessert nor preordained cheeses, so as the venison got the crown we asked for another main to share – they willingly obliged and we were pleased they did. Wine list has expanded as choices venture beyond France, though we still plumped for a Bordeaux. We’d visit more often if we thought we could just drop in for a relaxed meal, but feel the need to don the glad-rags, though not everybody does. Definitely worth a visit if you’re near Marlow, unless of course you have an aversion to vanilla.
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