Great British Menu 2012, North West Heat Final

Great British Menu 2012, North West Heat Final

by Monica Shaw 12 May 2012

During a week of high drama chefs from the North West competed to impress veteran judge Marcus Wareing. Monica Shaw guest blogger at Great British Chefs watched the finals.

View more from this series:

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.

If you've been keeping up with Great British Menu, then you know this has been a week of high drama for the North West region, with contenders Johnnie Mountain, Simon Rogan and Aiden Byrne competing for Marcus Wareing's approval. Or should we say, Simon and Aiden? Because after last Tuesday, they were the only two left when Johnnie stormed off the show in response to Marcus's dismal two point score on his fish course.

Whether you agree with Marcus's judging and Johnnie's decision is beside the point (you can add your comments to our preview post). However, the fact is, the show must go on, and go on it did.

Johnnie's departure guaranteed Simon's and Aiden's place in Friday's judging round, which may sound like boring television, but in fact it was quite the opposite: Johnnie's departure allowed us to witness two of Britain's most talented chefs cook side by side amidst, not so much competition, but rather mutual respect for each other's skills (I'm pretty sure I heard both contestants regard the other as a "genius").

Simon and Aiden seemed to care as much about each other's opinions as they did that of the judges. It was a great thing to watch, and made the judging round even more interesting, because both chefs were consistently high performers from start to finish, producing knock-out dishes that seemed only to get better with each course.

It started with Aiden's black cherry and foie gras terrine with palm sugar mousse, "a very confident piece of cooking" according to Matthew Fort. The main problem the judges had was its sweetness. "I love it," said Prue, "but I could easily have it for dessert."

Simon's starter was most definitely not a pudding: grilled salad, truffle custard cheese foam and cobnut crisp. Yes, vegetables. "Burnt vegetables," said Matthew Fort, but in the best way possible. "The more it unfolds the more you realise it's a very sophisticated dish", said Oliver. "The contrast between acrid burnt flavour and moussey texture is extraordinary,” said Matthew.

Aiden's fish course - beetroot poached salmon, caviar, razor clam, citrus and fennel salad - didn't quite hold up to the starters, with rave reviews for presentation but mixed reviews on taste. "A complete waste of a razor clam," said Oliver, whom Matthew Fort then accused of having a "taste bud bypass": "this is a very assured piece of cooking".

Aiden Byrne's GMB fish dish
Aiden Byrne's Beetroot poached salmon
Aiden Byrne and Simon Rogan
Aiden and Simon await judgement

Simon's lobster with pickled beetroot, sweet apple and cuckoo flower prompted less disagreement. Everyone agreed that the combination of lobster and apple was both new and delicious. They also agreed that the green cuckoo flower puree had to go. "The green stuff is seriously disgusting," said Prue.

On to the mains, Simon's suckling pig with northern mead, vintage vegetables and artichoke made all of the judges swoon, particularly around what Matthew called the "perfume of pork". The "vintage vegetables", so called because they were stored using an old-fashioned preserving technique that involved burying them in sand - caused some contention. Matthew asked whether "techniques of the past belong on the menu of the future". Said Oliver: "I would love to see this piggy trotting onto the Olympic menu - it's an Olympian piece of piggy."

Aiden's veal fillet with ham and spring peas also pleased the judges who were impressed with his molecular spherification technique which used gelification to form spherical globs of pea-like morsels to the plate. Add to that little cubes of fat and you have a "revelation", according to Matthew.

This left the puddings. Aiden's orange and olive oil cake with candied celery exuded an "air of Zen-like tranquility", said Matthew. All of the judges were smitten with this dish, which Prue called "a little bit of genius".

Simon, too, impressed the judges with his poached pears, anise hyssop snow, sweet cheese ice cream and rosehip syrup. All of the judges commented on how "clean" the dish tasted and that they'd never had anything like it. "I don't know what I'm eating - it's wonderful," said Prue.

When it came to deciding who should go on to the final, you got a sense that none of the judges wanted to make the call - "The brief was written for your style of cooking" said Matthew. But in this "battle royale", there could be only one winner. And you really had to feel for Aiden when they announced Simon as the winner. This was Aiden's third time on Great British Menu, and once again he was going home.

Well done Simon Rogan for winning the North West heat - this was not an easy round and you've proved that newcomers are forces to be reckoned with.

Next week, it's the battle of the South-East and London chefs with contenders Graham Garrett (who recently joined Great British Chefs website), Marcus McGuinness and Phil Howard.