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Great British Menu 2017: Northern Ireland recap

Great British Menu 2017: Northern Ireland recap

by Kate Doran 23 June 2017

Kate Doran lets us know what the chefs got up to in the final heat of the series, which saw the best of Northern Ireland take to the pass.

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Sometimes, watching Great British Menu, it feels like the judges are eating an altogether different menu from the weekly guest chef. Dishes that score nines and tens in the cook-off are dismissed as substandard while disappointing flavours or presentation are conversely praised. Of course, the point of the weekly rounds is that competitors can test and refine their dishes, but sometimes exactly the same plates provoke opposing views. Such is the subjective nature of food. Or is it just that controversy makes better TV?

On Friday we saw the last of the weekly heats, with returning chef Eddie Atwell competing against newcomer Tommy Heaney for the chance to represent Northern Ireland in the final. Having failed to make it through to the judges’ chamber last year, Eddie had redemption on his mind, but that didn’t mean Tommy was going to take the competition lying down.

Proceedings kicked off with Eddie’s Womble Common, a dose of nostalgia for fans of Wimbledon’s pointy nosed, rubbish collecting creatures. Intended to look like the common on which the Wombles live, this earthy dish included mushrooms, salsify, Jerusalem artichoke puree and douglas fir oil over a bed of hazelnut, squid ink and malted beer crumbs and a cheese custard. All very inspired, but not bright enough to fit the judges’ ‘taste of summer’ brief.

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Tommy’s starter, Rufus Beets the Pigeons Away, by contrast left the panel cooing – a plate of beautifully smoked pigeon, pickled, smoked and emulsified beetroot and a confit pigeon leg, all served up in a bird’s nest with a letter from Rufus the Hawk himself (no idea who Rufus is? Check out last week’s round-up). The deep-fried pigeon leg was especially praised, and certainly looked a lot more appetizing than the clawed version Tommy presented to the guest chef during the week.

For the fish dish, Eddie served us his version of Strawberries & Cream, an idea that has been tackled by various chefs throughout the competition with varying degrees of success. Sadly for Eddie his seared scallop and scallop cream with charred, pickled and raw strawberries proved ‘as nasty as it looks’ and not one judge had a nice thing to say about it. Matthew was on a role with the criticism for this course, calling Tommy’s salmon ‘disgusting’, but beyond that the panel praised his Murray Mound dish of confit salmon, tartare wrapped in cucumber, red cabbage caviar and horseradish sorbet. And, as always, the accompanying cocktail went down a treat – a wonderfully refreshing herb granita topped with summer cup foam.

Moving on to the second half of the competition, the opinions of veteran chef Michael Smith and the judges began to diverge. Michael scored Eddie’s homage to his grandfather, Lawn Fayre, a steady seven, feeling that the portion was far too big and inclusion of a quiche didn’t quite constitute a main course. By contrast, the judges hailed Eddie’s return to the competition with abundant praise for the tender water buffalo, potato salad and rye-crusted quiche. And while Michael loved Tommy’s A Summer Holiday, calling the lamb rump and ribs, cockles, jacket potato foam and eucalyptus-infused onions ‘spectacular’, the judges found the whole thing overcomplicated and in need of editing.

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Finally dessert, where Tommy scored the only ten from Michael on Thursday with New Balls Please. This complicated, two-part dish consisted of elderflower and strawberry cream ‘tennis balls’ served in a miniature fridge with dry ice and a plate of strawberry and elderflower Champagne sorbet, hazelnut crumble, popping candy, basil sponge and strawberry cloud. Such was Michael’s praise on Thursday that, had you asked me to put money on the dessert that would make it all the way to the banquet, this would have been it. But the judges had little to say aside from ‘bland’.

Eddie also served up a tennis ball dessert – slightly greener than Tommy’s – and filled with caramelised white chocolate mousse. The judges loved the striking presentation, mousse and cake, but criticised his overcomplicating matters with an oxeye daisy granita, lemon verbena foam and fuchsia cocktail.

Despite the judges rallying round Eddie in the second half, Tommy’s creative flavours and eye for detail won through and secured him a place in the final. Next week we’ll see the return of previous winning chefs as the competition progresses to its next stage. Things are about to get a whole lot hotter.

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