Great British Menu 2018: North East recap

Great British Menu 2018: North East recap

by Howard Middleton 18 August 2018

Want to catch up on all the action in the first week of Great British Menu 2018? Howard Middleton recalls all the awkward banter, wacky presentation and accomplished cooking of the North East heats.

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Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

Hoping to dish up the best hospital food ever, Great British Menu is back to celebrate seventy years of the NHS. Eight weeks of regional heats will whittle the competing chefs down to a handful who’ll cook for a banquet at St Bart’s Hospital.

Starting with the North East region, judges Andi Oliver, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton are joined this week by Dr Anne Weaver, the UK’s first female consultant in emergency medicine. Anne explains how the air ambulance crew sometimes open a patient’s chest at the side of the road. The judges decide it’s probably inappropriate to compete with tales of opening an al fresco bottle without a corkscrew.

All week the chefs have had their creations scored and their confidence scarred by veteran chef Angela Hartnett. On Monday, a chef told her ‘the only thing that makes me nervous is you’. Angela nodded unsmilingly – she’d heard this before.

Before we meet our regional finalists, let’s give a big warm Geordie shout out to David Coulson, chef patron of Newcastle’s Peace & Loaf restaurant. Poor David got pipped at the post after four days of creative cooking and some very literal interpretations of the NHS brief. His starter – a celebration of organ donation – included sweetbreads, black pudding and a bloody squirt of elderberry sauce. Angela tackled the potentially awful offal factor: ‘It’s not like he’s suddenly got a liver, a heart and you’re literally seeing the skeleton on the plate… well I hope not; the last thing you want to see is the skeleton and everything!’ David served his starter on a plate with an anatomical illustration of a dissected body. It was quite a nice plate really.

Trotting on to David’s fish course, he paid tribute to his mum’s twenty-five year stint as an NHS chiropodist, with the aptly titled ‘My cod, I bet me mam has seen some trotters’. You can probably guess the main ingredients but the corn garnish could have been a painful step too far.

Back to the final duo and Dan Fletcher has ventured south from his native North East to become head chef at Fenchurch in the City of London. His starter is called ‘Can I get you a cup of tea, luv?’ consisting of a duck tea consommé, which he serves in a teapot of extra spices (with a practical tea strainer), along with Earl Grey tea-smoked duck wrapped with celeriac and pear and a crispy smoked duck and tapioca cracker. For those of us who use ‘duck’ as a term of endearment there was an obvious missed opportunity – ‘Can I get you a cup of tea, duck?’ However, Matthew deftly picks up the baton of bad puns and calls it ‘a quacking good dish’.

Danny Parker is from the Michelin-starred House of Tides restaurant in Newcastle (although he’s recently moved to Jesmond Dene House). Last year he just missed out on a place in the North East final. We know this because we’ve been repeatedly reminded of it every day this week.

Danny affectionately puns his local NHS trust with the name of his starter, ‘My NHS North Teas’ and the teapot consommé is back. This time it’s a chicken version with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, accompanied by baby turnips. Danny pours his consommé from an impressive teapot decorated with pictures of local NHS staff. Heeding Angela’s advice he ditches the turnip puree he’d dotted around earlier this week. However Anne dislikes the greasiness of the consommé, Andi thinks the turnips are overcooked and Oliver is underwhelmed by the chicken wings, adding ‘the back story is good – unfortunately the food didn’t deliver’.

For his fish course, called ‘For all the sleepless nights’, Dan serves lobster coated in bonito butter. I’d never heard of a bonito (I’ve a feeling this series will be highly educational for me) but apparently it’s a member of the tuna and mackerel family. Quite how you go about milking it to make butter remains a mystery but the Indo-Pacific ‘leaping bonito’ is probably a sign that you’re doing it with cold hands. Anyway, back to Dan, who’s busy adding carrots puréed, pickled and roasted, a garnish of dill and a dollop of caviar. Oliver sums up the judges’ opinion: ‘I’m liking it, not loving it’.


‘Not all superheroes wear capes’ is the title of Danny’s fish course. Pan-fried scallops and chunks of lobster are cloaked in his controversial white chocolate sauce, along with tangy pickled cucumber, preserved lemons and fermented strawberries. A generous quenelle of caviar and fronds of chervil and verbena complete the dish. Sadly the sauce is judged to be ‘sweet and cloying’ and Anne adds ‘I don’t think this is going to be the banquet dish’.

Dan tells us that his main course, ‘Life is a splendid gift’ is a tribute to Florence Nightingale. It’s beef topped with a millet and grain crumb, which competitor Danny describes as ‘a hipster granola’. Tokyo turnip rings are filled with creamed horseradish salsify, pickled yellow beetroot, baby turnip and radish and a rich beef sauce on the side. Remembering just in time that this dish is intended to honour ‘the lady with the lamp’, Dan turns out all the lights and serves it with a candle. The judges decide the beef is not a shining example but the accompaniments get glowing reviews.

Danny nods to Nye Bevan for his main course. The Welsh politician’s roots as the son of a miner inspire the chef to channel coal into his dish. Earlier in the week, sous vide beef was caramelised and barbecued to add a smoky flavour. Danny ignores Angela’s advice and continues to sous vide but bins the barbecue in favour of butter and coal oil. The latter is something I’ve never heard of in a culinary context, though it is how my fellow Sheffielders describe a storage place for coal. Charred lettuce provides a bed for oxtail ragu and a generous grating of black winter truffle. Carrots in beef fat and panko crumbs and little peaks of lovage emulsion add colour to the black plate and jugs designed to look like coal hold a rich red wine and beef gravy. Quoting from a powerful speech by the NHS pioneer, Danny names his dish ‘I refused to accept it because I thought it was nonsense’. It’s an interesting choice of words, sounding less like a tempting menu entry and more like a dissatisfied diner.

What appears to be a concocted ‘drama’ about a broken squeezy bottle of lovage emulsion is soon shown to have dire consequences. Delayed in his plating, Danny gets his food out late and the meat is cold. Bevan’s prescient words echo again as the judges ‘refuse to accept it’ and send it back to the kitchen. With no replacement meat, Danny can only apologise and the judges plough on with a cold meat platter.


Angela had been least impressed with the pair’s desserts. Danny’s is dedicated to his aunt who worked as an orthopaedic nurse. Auntie Gwen clearly was a huge fan of chocolate as there’s an awful lot of it on this plate. Layered chocolate mousse is topped with a scoop of chocolate sorbet and finished off with a chocolate tuile. Mint gel and a few gilded mint leaves work hard to clean up the cocoa. Acknowledging Angela’s advice, Danny reduces the size of his dish but he’s disappointed to discover the sorbet isn’t set. Against expectations it gets universal approval from the panel and Matthew calls it ‘a little package of happiness’.

Dan’s dessert is a honey and ewe’s milk sponge sandwiched with bergamot curd, drizzled with honey and topped with a honeycomb biscuit. For the final he adds an extra element of burnt honey ice cream. Ewe’s milk foam, edible violas and a grating of bergamot zest garnish the plate, which he nestles in a wreath of flowers. It’s called ‘a million thank ewes every twenty-four hours’. Matthew thinks the cake tastes like white bread. Anne agrees it all looks amazing but ‘doesn’t taste quite right’. Oliver deems it to be ‘weird’.

As Dan and Danny enter to discover their fates, Oliver says it’s been ‘the most peaks and troughs we’ve ever had’. Matthew regrets that Danny’s dessert won’t make it to the banquet as Dan triumphs with almost full marks for his ‘consummate consommé’. The champion chef looks tearful, discarded Danny reaches for a bottle to drown his sorrows. ‘There’s a fair bit of cold meat left over Danny, if you fancy a sandwich, pet’.