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Great British Menu 2018: London and South East recap

Great British Menu 2018: London and South East recap

by Howard Middleton 25 August 2018

Want to know what happened in the Great British Menu kitchen when this year's trio of chefs from London and the South East stepped up? Howard Middleton takes a look at what went on.

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The competition moves on to London and the South East region and judges Andi, Matthew and Oliver welcome special guest judge Jenny Turner who is Britain’s longest-serving nurse. Jenny is looking for ‘fun’ at the banquet, suggesting ‘a big whipped cream thing with something underneath it’. Oliver baulks like a seasoned restaurateur who has to sit next to a McFlurry fan.

As a banquet chef in 2017, Selin Kiazim is hoping her Turkish-Cypriot fusion flavours will get her through to the final again. Her starter is dedicated to Nye Bevan (the second of the series so far and I suspect not the last), called ‘Humble Beginnings to Gold Standards’.With barbecue-smoked rib-cap of beef (and turnips), it’s another nod to Bevan’s beginnings as the son of a coal miner.Beyond that, the references become a little more obscure as Selin reinterprets a Mediterranean breakfast dish called Cilbir (also known as Turkish eggs).Jerusalem artichoke crisps provide texture and dehydrated kale is dusted with the gold of the dish’s title. Slow-cooked Burford brown eggs nestle in truffle-laced and caramelised Jerusalem artichoke purée, which Andi declares is ‘lovely’ but Jenny thinks ‘a little bland’. Oliver agrees it’s ‘not celebratory enough’.

Selin’s challenger is James Cochran, fresh from his brand new Islington restaurant 1251. He dedicates his starter to the NHS staff who cared for his late mother through cancer. Inspired by her love of foraging, he serves ceps coated in dried mushrooms, truffle and walnuts and cylinders of feuille de brick pastry filled with savoury mushroom custard. Dots of truffle mayonnaise are garnished with wood sorrel and a cep brioche sits alongside. Oliver praises the dish for being ‘really beautifully balanced’ and Jenny judges the warm roll to be ‘absolutely lovely’.

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Just missing out on a place in this week’s regional final is Scott Goss from The Twenty Six in Tunbridge Wells. Poor Scott never quite managed to elevate his simple classics to being banquet worthy. The enthusiastic chef had wanted his fish course to be a fresh twist on a hearty fish pie. Despite a heartfelt dedication to his mum (a pharmacist in the NHS for twent-three years), it remained a shallow shoal of haddock with a scallop in a shell. With no garnish and only the rustic mottle of a rarebit topping, the narrator was left with nothing else to say but ‘he places his fish pies into plain white bowls’.

For her fish dish, Selin plays up the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet with a trio of seafood. Scallops cured with lime zest are served with melon salad, sardines get a spicy rub of chaimen and a juicy citrus splash, and langoustines languish on a kohlrabi and flatbread bed. Selin has provided the diners with labels to indicate the order of eating, which Jenny gleefully ignores, eagerly squeezing the head of her number two langoustine before even acknowledging the number one scallop. Years of refined (and possibly a little pompous) critique enable Oliver to assess ‘the bottarga overpowers the flavour of the langoustine’; down-to-earth Jenny calls it ‘a bit chewy’. Jenny strikes back by correctly pronouncing the aitch in NHS, whereas Holiver goes for the full Eliza Doolittle and says En Haitch Ess. It’s class war and elocution hell in the judging chamber this week.

James’ Caribbean lobster dish is a tribute to the people who came to the UK aboard the Windrush ship in 1948 to work for the NHS. It’s an impressively bold and confident course – juicy lobster, pan-fried in whisky butter sits on seaweed and Douglas fir powder. Pickled blowtorched apples, sea purslane and borage flowers complete the dish. Oliver coos ‘I’ve never had lobster like this’ and Jenny agrees it’s ‘something a bit exotic, isn’t it’.

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On Wednesday, veteran-ish mentor-type judge Tom Aikens told James that the name of his main ‘Under the Knife’ could be lacking in taste, but the flavour of his food is anything but. A fleet of different cuts of goat are expertly spiced, well cooked and cleverly accompanied by a refreshing pineapple, cucumber, carrot and rum salad, creamy black-eyed pea dhal and little jars of fiery Scotch Bonnet jam. However, Andi thinks that once divvied up from its sharing board, the goat has ‘not enough presence’. This relatively throwaway comment encourages goats around the country to consider auditioning for musical theatre. Jazz hoofs abound.

Selin’s main course inspiration is to represent the top six nationalities that work in the NHS. She provides diners with a little game to attribute the ingredients to the country. Aylesbury duck roasted in baharat spices, two hispi cabbage dishes, carrots with a calamansi glaze and jugs of gloriously rich prune and sherry sauce must be matched with Britain, Ireland, Spain, Poland, the Philippines and a mystery country that seems to have escaped identification all week. Andi says she just wants to eat the food.

Last year, Selin’s dessert made it all the way to the celebratory banquet. This time she serves up ‘A moment of peace’, which is a dish inspired by the shift workers’ welcome tea break. Toast ice cream partners an Earl Grey caramel and poached pear terrine. For the final she adds Earl Grey jelly cubes and a gin tea cocktail. Matthew thinks it ‘very nice but it doesn’t send that thrill down my spine’. Future competitors contemplate how to thrill Matthew’s spine.

James finishes his menu by offering up a coconut medley, informing us that coconut is called ‘the tree of life’ in the Caribbean and adding ‘it can heal, protect and feed, just like the NHS’. Clever eh? Coconut parfait gets a peanut crust and bite-sized doughnuts are injected with a puree of what James calls ‘rotten mango’. Jenny loves the plastic plants and paper cocktail umbrellas of James’s presentation. Oliver looks like he needs a stiff drink.

Ignoring the dilemma of what constitutes ‘good taste’, the panel delivers its verdict and James emerges victorious. Watching the programme back, Selin will probably kick herself that she didn’t think of doing ‘a big whipped cream thing with something underneath it’.

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