The London and South East finals of Great British Menu brought with it an exciting clash of the generations. Having said goodbye to Graham Garrett on Thursday evening, this left the very confident - and very classical - chef Phil Howard to face off with young chef Marcus McGuinness who was out to wow the judges with his ultra modern approach.
But would judges Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton appreciate Marcus's newfangled techniques, or would they be more comfortable with Phil's classical precision?
Marcus' menu began with a starter of ice lamb's liver parfait, malt loaf, fingerling limes and rose germanium, a beautiful dish, but one which the judges felt offered "style over content", according to a visibly annoyed Oliver: "there's a lack of love." And Prue only seemed to keep eating it because it was interesting, though not necessarily tasty: "I'm not really enjoying it, I'm just interested in eating it because it's so extraordinary."
Phil's starter - a spring salad with goat's milk puree, pickled asparagus and quail's eggs - went the judges sans watercress bavarois (Phil forgot to add it at the last minute). Would that have changed the judges' opinions? All agreed it was enjoyable, but "nothing special" according to Oliver, who added that the gimmicky gold leaf around the celeriac was "absolutely awful - like bling on the salad". "I'm enjoying it but it isn't rocking my world," said Prue.
It was during the fish course that Phil proved his precise execution of classical techniques could elevate ordinary British ingredients. Enter his tasting of Cornish mackerel with oysters, mussels, winkles & samphire. "A beautiful balance between richness and intensity," said Mathew. "The soup is a triumph, the tartar is absolutely fabulous...the dish of the day so far," said Oliver.
Marcus fared much better with his fish course: pollock, peas, coconut and elderflower. "This is just a beautiful thing," said Oliver. In fact, all agreed that the presentation was awe-inspiring, but not everyone enjoyed the flavour. "This is like someone running out for the pole vault and spectacularly soaring below the bar," said Matthew: "potentially delicious but completely ruined by inattention to detail."
The main course did not going as swimmingly for Phil, whose roast loin of lamb with pie and mash, carrots, nettles and mint was "almost perfection" according to Oliver. The problem, according to Matthew, was that it was boring: "conventional stuff given a bit of a makeover with a few blobs on the plate - that is not enough."