Great British Menu, 2013 London and South East Heat Finals

Great British Menu, 2013 London and South East Heat Finals

by Monica Shaw 02 February 2013

The first week of Great British Menu 2013 culminated with the London and South East finals. The scene was set for what judges Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton are looking for this year: humour in the spirit of Comic Relief's Red Nose Day, but also delicious food. Could Tom Aikens complete his excellent scores of the week & take the London & South East title?

Monica Shaw's mission is to enable people to feel awesome, through food, life, work and play.

Monica Shaw's mission is to enable people to feel awesome, through food, life, work and play.

Having said goodbye to risk-taker Matt Gillan on Thursday evening, this left newcomer Adam Simmonds to face off against veteran Tom Aikens both of whom are unquestionably skilled chefs. But would they make people smile? That was left to Prue, Matthew, Oliver and guest judge and comedian Arabella Weir to decide.

The laughs kicked off with Tom's chicken egg / egg chicken starter, which included playful bird's nests props with langoustine tails and slow-cooked egg yolks.

The judges seemed to agree that the dish was tasty, but weren't entirely sure where the humour was. "He's having a laugh if he thinks this is a starter size," said Prue. Arabella appreciated the opportunity to ask, "what the cluck is that?"

No such opportunities were found in Adam's starter of squab pigeon, sweetcorn, Douglas fir and granola, which was completely lacking in comedy. "It's hard to see what he thinks is funny here unless he thinks pigeon is inherently funny," said Arabella, "this is absolutely delicious but it's as if he's forgotten the comedy element."

The fish course brought with it some subtle comedy in Tom's complex dish of hand-dived scallops with apple and jasmine juice and more witty props. "I'm not actually laughing," said Arabella, "but I feel I'm laughing - that's good."

Said Oliver: "this is one of the most original dishes we've had in any competition."

Adam's langoustines, oyster and feta served in a heavy stone bowl tied with Tom in the week, but not so much in the finals. Matthew pointed out that not only did it lack laughter, but it could actually bring tears if you dropped the bowl on your foot.

Adam had an opportunity to step up with his main course of veal, tongue, artichokes and hay curd, to which Arabella asked, "How is it in any way a performance?" Matthew's response: "Maybe that's the joke."

The joke was more obvious in Tom's rabbit in a hat with black pudding and caramelized carrots, served under a playful top hat which Oliver dutifully wore throughout the course.

Unfortunately, the hat was the best part of the dish. "But sadly it's indigestible," said Matthew.

Adam at last brought a few smiles to the judges' faces with his frozen white chocolate mousse with lemon granita. The judges loved all the different textures (Arabella and Matthew shared a "granita moment") but the humour wasn't totally apparent. "A glace cherry wouldn't have gone amiss," said Arabella.

Tom's "a nose too far" had comedy built into the presentation: red balloons and a "pull me" string which revealed an ambitious dish of panacotta jelly and two types of sorbet. The judges certainly laughed, but Prue commented that the pudding "looked awful" and the mint oil was "unpleasant".

It was perhaps no surprise when the judges chose Tom as the winner, who really seemed the only chef to make an effort to hit the comedy element of the brief. And you could almost feel the relief oozing out of Tom, who failed to make the cut last year. So congratulations, Tom Aikens! Well done on combining good fun with great food and making us all laugh, judges and viewers alike.