Great British Menu 2012, Central Heat Finals

Great British Menu 2012, Central Heat Finals

by Monica Shaw 21 April 2012

Monica Shaw runs us through the runners and riders of the Central heat finals. Could Daniel complete his excellent scores of the week and take the Central 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. She writes regularly about this topic on her blog She is a member of the Guild of Food Writers with writing credits including The Daily Telegraph, Chef Magazine, Food Mag and her book Smarter Fitter Smoothies. She makes a living as a web and social media consultant, working with chefs, restaurants and food brands to help them make sense of the internet and use it to improve their businesses. Learn more at

This week was the turn of the Central region of Great British Menu, in which contenders Aktar Islam, Great British Chefs' Daniel Clifford and contest newcomer Paul Foster faced off under the discriminating eye of judge Glyn Purnell. On Thursday we said goodbye to Aktar, leaving Daniel and Paul to prepare their four-course menus for judging panel.

Going into the match, things were looking up for Daniel, whose dishes received high praises from Glyn Purnell, including a perfect 10 on his main course. But different judges equal different tastes, leaving the winning menu open to anyone. “Each dish should have us gasping in admiration” said Matthew Fort. Gasp they did, though it wasn’t always with admiration.

Daniel kicked off with his starter of veal tartare, caramelised sweetbread and burnt onion, a dish that scored 9 out of 10 during the heats, but it “lacked that sense of going for gold,” said Matthew Fort. Oliver Peyton too was “expecting something far more rock & roll” and said “It’s a beautiful dish but the imagination is completely lacking”.

Paul didn’t improve matters with his pork neck carpacchio, ribwort plantains and pork scratchings. Paul’s use of wild plantain may be new, but as Matthew Fort said, ribwort plantains are “not often used for very good reasons.”

“You’d be ashamed to put that in front of top athletes – it just isn’t world class,” said Prue. Ouch.

But as Matthew said, “Things can only get better.” And they did – slightly – with Daniel’s fish course of stuffed red mullet, roast artichoke and parmesan puree. Another dish that scored 9 during the heats, and which Prue loved, but Oliver felt it was “clumsy”: “there’s so much going on here it’s a headache.”

The prescription? Paul’s poached ray wing, crispy chicken skin and foraged sea vegetables. “Happiness is here,” said Oliver, “This is in a completely different league…this is the first dish of the competition to me.” And Prue agreed that the dish was “near Olympian food because it’s strange, unusual, looks wonderful and tastes delicious.”

But could Paul follow through with his main dish of Goosenargh duck breast and hearts, potatoes cooked in pine and broccoli. Although Oliver admitted that the duck was one of the finest he’d ever tasted, Prue pointed out that this was essential “meat and two veg.” “It’s too boring for words,” concluded Matthew.

That’s too bad, because Daniel’s money shot was up next: his slow poached chicken, sweetcorn egg and chicken spray scored a perfect 10 during the heats. The judges agreed the sweetcorn egg was proclaimed by Matthew as a “jolly nice mouthful”. Prue was equally impressed: “this guy is incredibly skilled…this could end up at the banquet”. On Daniel’s intriguing crispy chicken skin with popcorn Matthew said “it’s worth having this plate just for that alone”.

In the critical final stage – dessert – Paul took another stumble with his whipped sea buckthorn, meringue, rhubarb and crispy rice. Prue echoed my own impressions of the puffed rice: “this has got little maggots crawling all over it.” Oliver was more direct: “It’s absolutely awful, it’s a tragedy…these dishes are supposed to surprise us; the surprise is how horrible it is.”

But was Daniel’s raspberry and tarragon roulade, cookie dough and tarragon oil any better? It just wasn’t Oliver’s day for puddings: “the roulade thing is really quite horrible…completely style over content.”

Fortunately for Daniel, his other dishes made up for the roulade: the judges voted his Olympic menu the winner over Paul’s, quite an accomplishment given Daniel’s heavy use of chicken, an ingredient that isn’t usually associated with innovation or novelty.

Well done, Daniel, for winning the Central heat! You can find more of Daniel Clifford’s recipes (including his stuffed red mullet dish) on Great British Chefs website.

Next week, it's the battle of the North East chefs with contenders Stephanie Moon, Colin McGurran and Charlie Lakin. During the week they will be judged by Nigel Haworth.