Great British Menu 2016: Wales heat recap

Great British Menu 2016: Wales heat recap

by Food Urchin 28 September 2016

As the cream of Wales’ culinary talent enters the GBM kitchen, Danny Kingston keeps us up-to-date with who excelled, who surprised and who fell short of the mark throughout the five days of cooking.

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Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

Two old foes returned to the kitchen for the Welsh heats last week, namely Phil ‘The Cowbridge Bruiser’ Carmichael of Berners Tavern and Adam ‘I Fight Ovens’ Bannister, who likes to chop and dice at his restaurant Slice in Swansea. And from the start, in his fight to get to the banquet this time around, it looked like bespectacled Phil was not going to take any prisoners. ‘I am determined not be beaten!’ he roared to the camera, like a dragon named Penfold. But then Andrew Birch, Welsh Chef of the Year, walked in. In a white t-shirt. And then there was silence, as the two foes focused their attention on Andrew; sizing him up and probably wondering how long his t-shirt would stay clean.

It was a tense start then (well, not really, I just did all that for dramatic effect) but things certainly got a bit nerve wracking when Michael Smith, chef-proprietor of Loch Bay turned up. Tall, handsome, stern and most definitely Scottish; you got a sense that this man would really put them through their paces.

Hitting the ground with his starters came Adam with his NHS-inspired ‘On Cawl’ (geddit?), a nod to that famous Welsh soup-like broth-type dish. Filled with textures of lamb, pressed breast, poached loin sprinkled with mint and crispy wisps of belly, his intro was commended but he overdid it with the cheese. Likewise, Phil’s ‘Indian Love Affair’, a plate representing the diversity of Britain, sang ‘Winner Winner, Quail Dinner’ but alas his little bird was underdone and too pink as a result. As for Andrew, he made a ‘21st Century Cauliflower Cheese’, which Michael said was underwhelming, despite all the additional bells and whistles with chive oil and a raisin and caper purée.

Phil's panna cotta didn't rely on theatrics, letting his flavours speak for themselves
Andrew and Adam
Andrew and Adam both played with British nostalgia in their menus

For the next round it was down to fishy business and again Adam was up first, with that classic 70s favourite method of cooking, the mighty boil in the bag. ‘Captain Bannister’s’ box of delight used turbot instead of cod in a beautiful crab and caper sauce. He would have done well, had he banished the idea of a pea fondant. Michael was not impressed by the floury, green globule one bit. He did like Phil’s 70s take on a prawn cocktail though, or ‘The 70s Called and They Want Their Cocktail Back’ as he called it. Bursting with flavour and innovation and with a scant offering of juicy langoustines, the only thing that let it down was a lack of theatrics. This is for a banquet Phil! Come on! Put a sparkler on it or something.

Andrew also showed that he could also up his game with his ‘Ladies of Penclawwd’, a celebration of plaice and cockles and that popular Welsh ingredient, laverbread. His vinegar gel proved a hit with Michael too and as such, Andrew’s eyes began to twinkle.

However, for the mains round, Andrew suddenly seemed to go safe with his ‘Welsh Wagyu Wasbi.’ This testament to the great Sunday roast again put a strong case forward for championing local produce, but it was his vegetables that shined over the expensive and chewy cut of meat. A shame really, given all those months of massaging and drinking of beer in the valleys. Adam hit a duff note with his boar and barbecue-inspired dish also. Having spent more time in the workshop, fiddling with bits of wire and a lathe for making his wooden board, he seemed to forget that he had a sumptuous main to prepare and as a result his ‘Wild Spit Roast’ looked very sparse and tame indeed. No, out of all of them, only Phil seemed to hit the nail on the head in this round, with his dish called ‘The O.B.E’, in recognition of the Order of the British Empire and that flavoursome combination of onion, bacon and eggs. It sounds simple but was anything but, as he poached, fried and boiled just-set quail eggs. His bacon, represented through smoked belly and cheeks, scored highly with Michael too. And I did like Phil’s explanation as how he cooks the onions (‘you just burn them’). An excellent tip!

Still all fairly even, the desserts round would ultimately decide who would be going through to the judge’s round and Michael wanted to see our chefs inject fun and creativity, ending the banquet with a bang. With that in mind, all three chefs rose to the challenge. Andrew, still intent on showcasing British ingredients as the general thrust of his cooking, paired honey and lemon together in a variety of different ways. Calling it (you’ve guessed it) ‘Honey and Lemon’, he also held his cards to his chest for the final presentation, so when Andrew poured his citrus and herb tea over some dry ice, everyone cooed. Phil also stuck to his guns with his simple approach, which in contrast to Andrew’s theatrics, was to simply let the food do the talking. And his ‘A Cup of Tea for Ma’am’, an Earl Grey-infused panna cotta with orange textures, definitely got tongues waggling.

But if anyone was going to smash it during this round, it had to be Adam with his twist on an Eton mess. Encapsulating all the elements of this traditional British pud, Adam turned everything upside down by combining them into a red cricket ball, to be thwacked open with a wooden bat and sprinkled with strawberry sherbet. In the words of Michael, it looked like ‘great fun.’

Given that Andrew scored a couple of sixes throughout, he was sadly shown the door resulting in a bit of bristle between the two remaining chefs. Phil stood out most in this regard, proclaiming that the ‘gloves were off’ and Adam, haunted by deja vu, seemed to be on the back foot throughout.

Phil and Adam
It was Phil and Adam who made it through to the judge's round
The judges thoroughly enjoyed delving into their cricket ball desserts


Not that the judges would have known. Joined this week by food writer Rosie Birkett, who wanted to be licking the plates clean by the end of each course, this regional final seemed to be the most balanced of the series so far. Having taken a risk to swap his courses around, everyone was suitably impressed by Phil’s ‘The O.B.E’, which was pared down a touch and given some newfound delicate elegance. Prue loved it – ‘Who would have ever believed that egg, bacon and onion could be so refined?’

Arguments flared over Adam’s fish course when Rosie took Oliver to task for saying his turbot in a bag was pretty standard. ‘It’s far from standard!’ she sniped. And Matt felt that Phil’s prawn cocktail homage was ‘rich, rolling and rollicking!’ Before going on to say his lettuce was mushy.

So far, so neck and neck. Then came the mains courses, which in all honesty, were not the strongest plates of food from the Welsh chefs. Phil’s curried quail suffered from a lack of razzle dazzle and was still underdone while Adam’s boar looked lost on a massive wooden board. But both of them came firing back with full cylinders for their desserts. Smiles all round and suggestions of 10s made it very tough to call as to who would be going through but on this occasion, it was Phil’s turn to wear the belt.

After giving each other manly man-hugs (upon the request of Oliver Peyton), our pair then toasted each other with a drop of Welsh whisky. A drop, I suspect, that would not qualify as proper dram in the eyes of Michael Smith. But I am sure he would be more than glad to see one of his chefs make it through to the banquet.