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Great British Menu 2017: Central recap

Great British Menu 2017: Central recap

by Kate Doran 19 June 2017

Kate Doran reviews the penultimate heat of this year’s Great British Menu, which sees the best chefs in or from the Midlands competing.

More from this series:

Great British Menu is nothing if not informative. Did you know that Wimbledon have employed a Harris Hawk named Rufus for the last fifteen years (replacing predecessor Hamish) for the sole purpose of scaring pigeons off the courts? Every week we’ve seen dishes inspired by Wimbledon traditions, but Pip Lacey’s Game Set & Match Rufus – consisting of barbecued pigeon and a pigeon pork pie – has to be my favourite yet.

Week seven of the cook offs saw retuning chef Pip battle it out against newcomer Ryan Simpson. Ryan is one of the youngest chefs in the country to hold a Michelin star, while Pip is head chef at Angela Hartnett’s Michelin-starred Murano, so it was always going to be a close run competition. Historically the central region has always been one of the most successful in the contest, and this week didn’t disappoint.

Bar a couple of dishes, that is. Ryan kicked things off with Summer Fruit & Veg, a stunning looking dish served in a polytunnel which unfortunately fell into the ‘style over substance’ category. The plate consisted of tomato salad, goat’s cheese cannelloni in a cylinder made from feuille de bric rather than pasta, tomato gel, a deep fried courgette flower and tomato and squid ink ‘soil’. Guest judge Jordanne Whiley even commented that the soil tasted ‘like chocolate cookies’ – delicious, but perhaps best omitted from a cheese and tomato dish. Pip’s fish course take on strawberries (roasted until dark) and cream (a lobster bisque) met with equal disapproval with Matthew uttering John McEnroe’s famous ‘you cannot be serious’ in response to the combination of lobster, lovage and fruit.

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But beyond these two little slip ups, the central region flew. Pip’s starter Whatever the Weather was served inside a giant tennis ball, a nod to her previous life as a competitive tennis player. Inside a take on minestrone included perfect summer vegetables and tiny green and purple ravioli filled with goat’s cheese to reflect the Wimbledon colours. All served with a watering can full of tomato water, it looks and smelled the part. A very sophisticated piece of cooking.

Ryan’s Come Rain or Shine continued something of a theme this series of barbecue dishes done without a flame in sight, but his technical cooking presentation, complete with dry ice, wowed the judges enough for it not to matter. What’s not to love about lobster, chips and mayo (even if the chips were more akin to a giant – albeit delicious – spring roll)?

Pip’s Game, Set & Match Rufus, as mentioned above, was bang on brief with perfectly cooked pigeon, a simple slaw and the most incredible looking pigeon pork pie with summer cup jelly served inside a picnic basket. Despite increasing the size of her pie from the weekly cook-off, Matthew still wanted it three times bigger and although her raw blackberries were criticized for being a little too sharp, overall it was a winning dish.

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After removing reference to beer in the title of his dish – this week’s guest chef felt the beer glaze element wasn’t obvious enough – Ryan must have been gutted to see Matthew lament the lack of a pint on his plate. His Ploughman’s hit the summer brief, reminiscent of a picnic on Henman Hill, but the judges didn’t feel it could be a celebratory main. The slow-cooked ham hock simply melted off the bone, but in contrast his homemade piccalilli was marked down for being too crunchy and too sharp.

We’ve seen a lot of pineapple in this competition, in reference to the tiny pineapple on top of the men’s trophy (another fun fact for you), but Pip’s dessert really took things up a notch. Why the Pineapple? was a dish of pineapple sorbet and coriander and pineapple semifreddo inside a gold leaf pineapple shell with chargrilled pineapple, coriander and pineapple crisps. Served in a ‘royal box’ with a bottle of rum and pineapple punch to pour over dry ice, it certainly ended proceedings with a sense of fun and theatre.

Ryan’s Reap the Rewards was made using his own honey, a nod to the endangered British honey bee, with ice cream, sponge and homemade honeycomb. The ice cream came in a quenelle and as soft serve, swirled into a chocolate bottomed cone with a squirty tube of strawberry sauce. Served in a mini ice cream van, the whole thing gave the judges a real buzz, but was it enough to win him the competition?

As they discussed the two contestants, the judges commented that Ryan was the most consistent, but that Pip had wowed with a couple of dishes. And this competition is, after all, about getting a single dish to the banquet, so in the end Pip was crowned queen of the kitchen. Let’s see if she can follow in the footsteps of this week’s guest chef and get more than one course to the banquet.

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