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Great British Menu 2014, Central Heat Final

Great British Menu 2014, Central Heat Final

by Monica Shaw 03 May 2014

Week four of Great British Menu 2014 finished with the Central England finals. On Thursday we said a sad goodbye to Jason Hodnett, leaving three-time returning contender (and once champion) Aktar Islam and new boy Mark Poynton to compete for a chance to serve veterans at a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day,

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This week, our usual cast of judges - Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton - were joined by military historian Max Hastings, whose father reported from the frontline during the Normandy campaign.

Aktar has been to the banquet before, so he knows the taste of glory, and his want for victory was palpable in his stress levels. Mark, on the other hand, seemed far more relaxed but just as determined to make a lasting first impression.

Up first was Mark’s “Packed Lunch”, a dish of pickled onion jam, malt loaf, spicy brown sauce, sausage roll, chicken butter and crispy chicken and beef tea served in a specially made box featuring a map of the Normandy coastline. It didn't do well during the heats so Mark had everything to prove. If first impressions count, then his presentation certainly hit the mark, with Prue calling it a “classy little picnic”. However, the sausage roll let Oliver down “on all levels”. Max said he would have been excited in 1944, but in 2014? Not so much. Said Oliver: “The presentation is wonderful...unfortunately it sunk after that.”

Aktar’s “Run Rabbit Run", inspired by off the ration meat also didn’t score well during the heats. This time his dish, consisting of pickled veg, dots of beetroot yogurt, rabbit cutlets, rabbit pie, fell short when his liver parfait didn’t set in time, forcing him to skip it. Still, the judges enjoyed it, with only Matthew noting the missing liver parfait. Oliver was particularly impressed by the “delicious” curry pie.

Onto the fish course, it was Mark’s turn with his dish, “At The Harbour”: fried langoustine with pickled cucumber, plaice, seaweed butter sauce, fennel and cress. The dish received rave reviews from the judges, from presentation to flavour. Said Matthew Fort: “I like the look of this, the sweetness of the langoustine, the crunchiness of the fennel, the seaweed butter… I'm really pleased he pulled this off.” Oliver added that the dish only tangentially hit the brief, but that was OK: "There's a narrative - you have food from the seafront and though the connection isn't obvious, it's so good that he gets away with it.”

Aktar would have much to live up to with his fish course, “Allied Courses”, a nod to the international war front and his own heritage with mackerel fillet, rice balls and crayfish with gumbo sauce: "a melting pot of ingredients”. Unfortunately it missed the mark. “I'm a little disappointed with it,” said Oliver, “It sounds intriguing and looks good but it doesn't smell nice.” "I don't mind waiting for a dish if the results justify it,” said Matthew. Max added: "the mackerel would have worked better on its own without the allies."

Mark's 'At the harbour'
Mark's 'At the harbour'
Aktar's 'Dream ration box'
Aktar's 'Dream ration box'

Onto the main course, Aktar's “Dream Ration Box” was up first: cottage pie with spiced ox cheek, vegetables for the dig for victory garden, Yorkshire puddings and smoked sirloin fillet, all encased in a wartime ration box. On first impressions, Matthew said, “He knows how to wow.” “My only complaint is the smoking of the meat,” said Prue. Matthew argued - and Max agreed - that this wasn’t really a complete dish: “Is this a series of sensations or is it a dish - I'm not sure it's a dish."

This gave Mark a chance to really overtake Aktar with his main course, “Operation Overlord”, using a forgotten cut of meat - Glasgow fillet - popular during the war. Along with the fillet was potato and bacon terrine, carrot, a quinelle of beef ragout and tarragon powder. "That looks really boring,” said Prue. But Matthew didn’t mind: "I'm glad to see a dish in one plate.” None of the judges were keen on the tarragon powder, or the dish in general. Oliver admired the dish but noted “it’s not a celebratory dish."

So the puddings. Aktar’s “Victory is Sweet” proved sweet indeed for the judges. This take on the queen of puddings featured a Winston Churchill cigar filled with ganache, plus crumble, meringue, a quinelle of raspberry sorbet and spun sugar crowns. The judges were in ecstasy with this pudding. “I really like these melting meringues which are so indulgent,” said Matthew. “This pushes all of my buttons,” said Oliver. “I think I love everything about this dish,” said Prue, “it's the perfect pudding."

Mark would have much to live up to with his “Duke Pudding with Tastes of Normandy”, consisting of carrot cake, carrot cannelloni and brown butter ice cream. Alas, with Aktar’s spectacular pudding to compare it to, there was no contest. “I confess after the joy of the Queen of Puddings, the Duke is undoubtedly inferior in terms of visual appeal,” said Matthew. Max pointed out, however, “How much more original can you get than have your pudding on the sand?” Still, the dish, though thoughtful, failed to wow the judges.

Even so, it still seemed up in the air who would win the Central final. Aktar had an obvious hit with his pudding, but his starter was a total miss and the fish course not exactly a runaway hit. Still, the pudding proved enough, scoring a perfect 10 by all four judges, who named him winner of the Central Heat, thus justifying the age old adage that the proof is in the pudding. Congratulations, Aktar! See you at the National Final!

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Great British Menu 2014, Central Heat Final


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