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Great British Menu 2018: Central recap

Great British Menu 2018: Central recap

by Howard Middleton 08 September 2018

Three chefs from the centre of England entered the Great British Menu kitchen, but only one made it through to the final. Howard Middleton looks at what went on and the dishes that made it to the pass.

More from this series:

Competing to cook the NHS celebratory banquet this week are three chefs from the central region. Charmingly cheerful consultant paramedic, Dan Smith; one of the first responders on the scene at the Manchester Arena bombing, takes a well-deserved seat alongside Andi, Matthew and Oliver in the judging chamber.

Newcomer to the competition, Marianne Lumb is chef patron of London’s smallest fine dining restaurant. With only fourteen covers, there’ll need to be some serious scaling-up to meet the demands of the dozens of diners that will take their seats in the great hall at St Bart’s.

Ryan Simpson-Trotman is having another go at the competition, having missed out on making it to the final last year. He and his husband, chef Liam Simpson-Trotman own Orwells in Henley-on-Thames. Liam will be taking part in the North West regional heats, making them the first married couple to compete. Well, I mean they’re the first married couple to compete in Great British Menu… I know for a fact they’re not the first competitive married couple.

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Ryan’s first course, called ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ has the intriguing premise of dishing up a starter that looks like a dessert. Pork cheek doughnuts are served with a celeriac and apple remoulade, droplets of apple gel, micro sheep sorrel and apple matchsticks. Ryan’s brown sauce ice cream was over-frozen on Monday but it now looks perfectly set and Oliver thinks it’s ‘beautiful’. However, Dan, Oliver and Andi aren’t keen on the doughnut, which they decide is ‘a bit soft’.

Marianne kicks off with a starter called ‘Potato Pete and Tracy Truffle’. Drawing inspiration from post-war Britain, when cartoon character Potato Pete encouraged the public to eat more vegetables, Marianne aims to transform a trio of humble ingredients – a rich thick confit of Roscoff onions (or, as Matthew says ‘sweet onion sludge’), potato skins aerated into a creamy foam and truffle. Not that truffle could really be classed as ‘humble’ but I suppose if you call it Tracy it gives it a tad more street cred. The judges agree that Tracy is a bit overpowering. Tracy the truffle scowls.

Currently working as the head chef at Allbright, Sabrina Gidda failed to make it through to the judging chamber but her fish course was probably the dish of the week. Professional chef, Daniel Clifford, who’s been mentoring (and menacing) the contestants all week certainly thought so, awarding her a perfect ten. Masala roasted trout with Cornish crab and coconut curry, poha rice, mooli slices and a baby coriander garnish paid homage to Sabrina’s aunt who worked as a nurse and often shared the cooking of her heritage with her work colleagues.

Called ‘St Mary, St Pierre and St Jacques’, Marianne’s fish dish is dedicated to the ‘angels’ of St Mary’s Hospital Paddington, where she recently received treatment. Slices of fennel are fanned out to look like angel wings, St Pierre is represented by John Dory poached in celeriac milk and St Jacques is a scallop. A dollop of caviar joins the holy trio. Earlier in the week, Marianne cooked her scallop sous-vide but she’s taken Daniel Clifford’s advice on board and is now pan-frying it. She’s also included a little card to explain the story behind the dish. Provoking some extremely dramatic reactions from the judges, Oliver claims he wants to take the scallop and John Dory to his grave, whilst Andi calls out ‘Hello buttery goodness!’ Matthew maintains an air of cynicism, claiming the fennel is ‘oddly clumsy’. Fenella the Fennel immediately enrols in a fortnightly ballet class.

Ryan’s fish dish is called ‘Goodbye brain fog’ and is a nod to the health benefits of diet rich in Omega 3. Barbecued salmon is served with hemp oil, miso-fermented soy dressing on seaweed, honey from his own hives, avocado purée, Cornish caviar and a new one to me, ‘salty fingers’ – a type of sea vegetable. Andi asks Dan what he thinks of the salmon. Dan replies, ‘It tastes of salmon, I guess’.

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Marianne’s main course is a tribute to the inventor of the MRI scan, called 'Assiette of game: Sir Peter Mansfield’. Muntjac pan-fried in butter and thyme, braised wild rabbit forequarters and sous-vide grouse are served with a parsley root purée, girolle mushrooms, cavolo nero and cannelloni stuffed with chicken and rabbit mousseline. The pasta tube was served ‘au naturel’ on Wednesday but is now ‘sauced up’. Matthew seems to be in a perpetually argumentative mood, somewhat pompously claiming there’s ‘nothing to be gained’ by having muntjac, rabbit and grouse on one plate. The others disagree.

For his main course, Ryan presents ‘Just what the doctor ordered’; a celebration of great British produce. Welsh sea kale and girolles from Scotland provide the perfect accompaniments to more muntjac from the Chilterns. Skilfully cooked muntjac loin pairs up with hearty muntjac sausages. Elderberry sauce keeps it fresh and fruity. Daniel Clifford awarded this dish full marks, and it seems to be winning praise from Matthew too. Andi is relieved to see a smile on his face, saying, ‘You’re more excited? Well, thank heavens for that!’

Marianne’s dessert is called ‘Carry on doctor Bakewell’, a potentially cheeky pud that consists of a sharing-sized soufflé, served with semifreddo ‘pills’ and a syringe of raspberry coulis. In the week, Marianne ripped off her chef’s whites to reveal she was wearing hospital scrubs. Her fellow chefs laughed. Now a waiter in scrubs presents the dessert. Frankly, I still don’t get the joke. Anyway the judges like it and guest judge Dan thinks it’s fun, though the enjoyment starts to dwindle as the semifreddo melts and the coulis begins to overpower everything else. Matthew complains he didn’t get the best bit of the soufflé (is this man for real?) though I’d probably agree when he says it’s ‘still a dish which is well short of perfect’.

Ryan’s chocoholic offering is called ‘A spoonful of sugar’. It’s served with mini medicine bottles of hazelnut liqueur that smoke impressively when poured over ice. Candied hazelnuts, aerated chocolate, honeycomb and pulled chocolate tuiles provide an impressive platter. Andi likes the salted caramel ice cream and Oliver thinks the chocolate and olive oil ganache is ‘top drawer’. Even Matthew says it’s a ‘fabulous note to end on’.

Despite three of the judges awarding full marks to this dish, it’s Marianne who carries on to the next round. Marianne finally contemplates putting a cherry on top of her Bakewells. Ryan sips his solacing bubbly and thinks ‘Oooh, Matron!’

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