Nothing like a little healthy competition to test a friendship. Great British Menu saw long time friends Daniel Clifford and Richard Bainbridge become temporary rivals as they battled it out in the Central finals. The tension was palpable: Daniel’s been at the banquet two years in a row while Richard’s never made it through the finals. “I wish you good luck, but I don’t mean it,” said Daniel to Richard as they got started in the kitchen. Meanwhile, judges Oliver Peyton, Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and guest judge comedian Jim Moir (aka Vic Reeves) took their places in the judging chamber.
The meal began with Daniel’s “Trip to the chippy” starter: potato cannelloni “chips” with cod and parsley filling, pea puree, pickled quails egg and ketchup sprinkle, served in a take-away bag. The judges were lukewarm on this dish, and the laughs were weak at best. ”The fish and chips are too salty, but I like the peas - no comedy value,” said Jim, but did admit it’s fun: “I’d love to have a sprinkle-able vinegar on my table at home every day.”
Richard’s “Banana split”, a savoury version with plantain, smoked duck breast and duck mousse, didn’t do much better. ”That foamy stuff is truly disgusting,” said Prue. “I find it deeply unfunny,” said Jim. The duck “cherry” too was a missed opportunity: “That would have been a brilliant red nose,” said Matthew, adding: “Rarely in the history of human gastronomy has so much effort gone to so little effect.” (At least that raised a laugh with the other judges.)
Things improved dramatically during the fish course, starting with Daniel’s “Today’s catch”: turbot in playful potato nets served by waiters dressed up as fisherman, which earned a perfect 10 during the heats. ”A for ingenuity,” said Matthew. ”It almost tastes like you’re licking the sea bed…in a good way,” said Jim, adding: ”This is probably one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had - I think it’s fantastic. It made me smile, and then to be surprised by the superbly cooked fish..this has everything going for it.”
Richard’s “Tongue in cheek” - caviar and lemon puree, slices of long beetroot, deep fried cod tongues, tongue ballotines, horseradish and beetroot puree - also proved a hit, particularly for beetroot lover Jim, who shushed Oliver’s mention that the beetroot might be too much. “I give him extra marks for using parts of the fish that are often ignored,” said Matthew. Jim argued for its comic value: ”It looks like a circus of fun - let’s call the beetroot the ringmaster.”