This week our usual cast of judges - Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton - were joined by war veteran George Batts who offered his special perspective on the dishes. Both chefs were under pressure to improve key aspects of their menus which didn’t do well during the heats; there was no saying who’d come out on top.
The meal kicked off with with James’ starter, "S-P-A-M", a spin on army ration meals, with spiced pork, molluscs, leeks, pickled onions, pork vinaigrette and a poem. The judges enjoyed it, but didn’t seem overly amazed. Matthew was perhaps most impressed, saying “the pig’s head is just soft and fibrous and vibrant and mellow”. But Oliver was uncertain about the role of the scallops. Still, “it tastes a lot better than the original SPAM,” said George.
Mary Ellen’s "Dig for Victory Salad" followed. The dish, inspired by the grow-your-own movement, featured a controversial “National Loaf”, sour milk cheese, beetroot, braised snails and salad cream. Initial impressions: “both very pretty and very unusual,” said Prue, who felt the dish did a good job of evoking the national spirit but “it’s not so much a pleasure to eat as James’ first course.” George added, “I’m being facetious with the snails - let’s face it, that’s every gardener’s hate."
The fish course saw both James and Mary Ellen offer their take on fish and chips, a favourite wartime treat.
James’ "Ultimate Fish & Chips" with cod cheeks, celeriac chips, mushy peas, curried monkfish and tartare sauce was unanimously booed. “Gosh I really don’t like this,” said Oliver, “The curry is competing with the monkfish.” And as to the celeriac chips: “Why not use a potato chip?!” asked George.
Mary Ellen’s "Vera’s Friday Night Fish Supper", inspired by her husband’s grandmother’s favourite meal, was much more well received despite scoring just a 4 during the heats. Clearly her improvements paid off: Megram sole, black pea puree, twice cooked chips and pickled egg puree with iced white tea on the side saw Matthew exclaim, “proper chips!” “Funny enough I like the black peas,” said Briggs. The judges, however, agreed that the dish, though tasty, was too plain. “I appreciate [the research],” said Oliver,”but that alone doesn’t make a winning dish."
Half-way through the meal, the judges agreed both chefs were neck and neck.
Mary Ellen was first up with her main course, “Bill’s Pot Mess”, named after her husband’s grandfather Bill who took part in the D-Day landings. It scored an 8 during the heats, and indeed impressed the judges, too. “Nice corned beef… it takes me back to when I landed,” said George, “I adore it.” Following corned beef came kale, beef sirloin, turnip, mushrooms and dumplings, finished with jus which Oliver called “absolutely delicious”: “what sets it off is the little jus that combines the flavours really well together.” “If this is what they had in the Navy mess, next time I’m joining the Navy,” said George.