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Great British Menu 2017: North West recap

Great British Menu 2017: North West recap

by Kate Doran 20 May 2017

Kate Doran takes a look back at the third heat of this year’s Great British Menu.


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It’s well documented that Northerners tend to be friendlier than Southerners. My Yorkshire-born husband is nodding as I write this, and whilst many jolly London-dwelling folk may be silently railing against my presumptuousness, this week’s episode of Great British Menu reinforced this observation in spades. Aside from a spattering of the usual banter about wanting to beat each other, we saw hugs, tears and what seemed like a genuine wish for their competitors to do well from all three chefs. And the end of episode Champagne toast was replaced with bottles of beer. Friendly and humble, how could we not root for the North West?

However humble the chefs’ taste in beverages may be, the food this week was anything but. With Tom Parker – the youngest chef to enter the competition at just twenty-six years old – knocked out in the weekly heats after a succession of safe scores of seven, we were left with classically trained Paul Askew and newcomer Ellis Barry. Where Paul’s cooking sits firmly in the classic cooking camp, with stunning ingredients like truffle and caviar, Ellis was this week’s wild card – a self-taught chef who started his own restaurant at the tender age of nineteen and who, as Matthew Fort put it, ‘has come like a meteor out of nowhere’. Heading into Friday’s final just one point apart, this looked set to be an epic match.

As is often the case with Great British Menu, we saw a game of two halves, with Ellis delivering knock out dishes for starter and main, while Paul played it a little safer. Paul’s The Little Wonder was – in theory – a lovely nod to the brief, taking inspiration from Lottie Dodd, the youngest woman to win Wimbledon. However, in practice, it failed to excite both guest chef Daniel Clifford – who scored it a five in the weekly cook-off – and the panel of judges, who criticized the lack of skill and creativity in what felt like little more than a good gastropub starter.

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Ellis’ Summer Is Icumen In, by contrast, came complete with compressed cucumber, an oyster, pork lardo, soda bread and homemade oyster butter, carried into the room as the Medieval round for which it was named played in the background. The judges couldn’t get enough of this refreshing first course, their enthusiasm possibly fuelled by the generously-sized gin and cucumber cocktail which accompanied it.

During the weekly cook off, Ellis’ You Cannot Be Sea-rious stopped two Michelin-starred chef Daniel Clifford in his tracks with its brilliance, scoring him a perfect ten. Beautifully presented and a clever take on childhood memories of barbecues by the sea, this dish of confit line-caught sea bass and chargrilled cauliflower looked ‘like a rockpool’ and tasted of both summer and the sea. Mission accomplished. Paul, in contrast, failed to wow with the king of fish, turbot, his dish criticized for lack of seasoning and messy presentation.

Cooking is so tied up in family and memories, and this couldn’t have been more apparent than in Paul’s stunning main course Summer Memories with Marjorie. Scoring a perfect ten from Daniel, this main course of hogget served four ways was dedicated to Paul’s mum and a beautiful interpretation of the brief. If Northerners are known for being friendly, they’re also known for being stoic, but it was rather charming to see Paul shed a tear as he ‘left a lot of my heart on that plate’ and even Ellis welled up a little. Paul’s dish continued to elicit strong emotions as the judging panel tasted, oohing and ahhing over the treatment of the meat and sensational layers of flavour.

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Fred Perry’s Pork Tie was Ellis’ homage to the three-time Wimbledon champion and household name: stuffed pork loin, pig’s head bonbon and perry sauce all served on a legless chair slung with a Wimbledon tie (Perry’s winning tie was left on the back of the chair rather than being presented to him after his victory, a reflection of his ‘common’ status at the start of the championships. With his multi-million pound legacy, who has had the last laugh?). Unlike Perry, Ellis’ dish was not a success, and Matthew Fort admitted to feeling a sense of relief that the newcomer could sometimes get things wrong.

Strawberries – surprise surprise – featured in both desserts: as the star of the show in Ellis’ Strawberry Fields and, perhaps more an obligatory afterthought to fit the Wimbledon brief, in Paul’s Captain’s Trophy. Taking inspiration from the Wimbledon trophy, which features – bizarrely – a pineapple on top, Paul’s pineapple baked Alaska was inspired, but failed to deliver the substance to accompany its style. A milky oolong tea accompaniment was criticized as bitter and simply ‘not nice’ and Matthew summed up feelings by describing it as a ‘half baked Alaska’. Boom boom.

Whilst the judges felt that Ellis’ dessert of compressed strawberries, candied strawberry tops, chocolate soil, panna cotta, tea jelly and gel and strawberry meringue was too safe (it looked pretty technical and on brief to me…), his stunning starter and fish dish were enough to secure him the top points of the week and a place in the final. A newcomer with a lot of ambition who was absolutely thrilled with his win, it feels like Ellis is taking Wimbledon’s motto ‘in pursuit of greatness’ to heart. A young chef to watch.

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