If you've been keeping up with Great British Menu, then you know this has been a week of high drama for the North West region, with contenders Johnnie Mountain, Simon Rogan and Aiden Byrne competing for Marcus Wareing's approval. Or should we say, Simon and Aiden? Because after last Tuesday, they were the only two left when Johnnie stormed off the show in response to Marcus's dismal two point score on his fish course.
Whether you agree with Marcus's judging and Johnnie's decision is beside the point (you can add your comments to our preview post). However, the fact is, the show must go on, and go on it did.
Johnnie's departure guaranteed Simon's and Aiden's place in Friday's judging round, which may sound like boring television, but in fact it was quite the opposite: Johnnie's departure allowed us to witness two of Britain's most talented chefs cook side by side amidst, not so much competition, but rather mutual respect for each other's skills (I'm pretty sure I heard both contestants regard the other as a "genius").
Simon and Aiden seemed to care as much about each other's opinions as they did that of the judges. It was a great thing to watch, and made the judging round even more interesting, because both chefs were consistently high performers from start to finish, producing knock-out dishes that seemed only to get better with each course.
It started with Aiden's black cherry and foie gras terrine with palm sugar mousse, "a very confident piece of cooking" according to Matthew Fort. The main problem the judges had was its sweetness. "I love it," said Prue, "but I could easily have it for dessert."
Simon's starter was most definitely not a pudding: grilled salad, truffle custard cheese foam and cobnut crisp. Yes, vegetables. "Burnt vegetables," said Matthew Fort, but in the best way possible. "The more it unfolds the more you realise it's a very sophisticated dish", said Oliver. "The contrast between acrid burnt flavour and moussey texture is extraordinary,” said Matthew.
Aiden's fish course - beetroot poached salmon, caviar, razor clam, citrus and fennel salad - didn't quite hold up to the starters, with rave reviews for presentation but mixed reviews on taste. "A complete waste of a razor clam," said Oliver, whom Matthew Fort then accused of having a "taste bud bypass": "this is a very assured piece of cooking".