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Great British Menu 2018: North West recap

Great British Menu 2018: North West recap

by Howard Middleton 29 September 2018

The best of the North West entered the Great British Menu kitchen this week, but who managed to impress the judges the most? Howard Middleton shares all.

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Though the programme-makers like to tease viewers by not identifying the veteran judge until they walk through the kitchen doors, this week’s virtually gave it away on the corridor with his leather-clad swagger and studded boots. The shock of platinum hair (with streaks of unicorn lilac) may have taken our three North West hopefuls aback, but it was no surprise for us to see the unmistakable presence of Michael O’Hare.

Last year’s regional champion, Ellis Barry, returns to defend his title. Chef patron of The Marram Grass in Anglesey and a new dad too, he says he’s ‘in it to win it for baby Albert’.

Ellis slightly confused Michael O’Hare on Monday by calling his starter ‘Wyau Ynys Mon’, which he translated as ‘Anglesey Eggs’, then added to our confusion by renaming the dish ‘From the Coal Came a Good Egg’. Dedicated to Nye Bevan and ‘reimagining a traditional Welsh breakfast’, Ellis serves cylindrical potato tuiles of potato and leek ragout, leek and Hafod cheese Welsh cakes, smoked potato mousse and a poached egg. With a generous grating of white truffle and shards of sharp Cheddar and charcoal, Ellis presents his dish in a vintage first aid box filled with coal. Guest judge, Dr Jake Dunning MBE likes the nostalgic presentation and is soon a big fan of the food too. Oliver calls it ‘delicious’ and Matthew says it’s ‘as satisfying as it is sexy’.

Which reminds me, the pectorally-blessed blond waiter (he who confuses viewers by often being at the front of the line in the corridor, then the last to enter the room), well, he’s sporting a new pair of specs. (There’s a limerick in there somewhere – ‘There was a blond waiter with pecs…’) As for the specs? Hmm… the jury’s still out.

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Newcomer Craig Sherrington is from Craig’s Kitchen at Virginia House, Ulverston. He starts with a dish that’s inspired by his wife Louise’s twelve-year service as an NHS worker. Having relied on ready meals and the microwave, ‘There Goes the Bleep Again’ is a fusion of chicken curry and risotto, served with a welcome cuppa of chicken and lemongrass consommé. Maple syrup glazed chicken wings, fermented carrots, apple, preserved lemon and coconut make for an interesting combination that didn’t quite win over the veteran judge. Noting the clever, specially designed packaging, Michael O’Hare said, ‘I wanted to love this dish… but I didn’t’ and Craig suffered the lowest score of the week. Craig fares better in the judging chamber – Oliver says the consommé is ‘just a knockout thing altogether' and Andi agrees it’s ‘delicious’. However Jake isn’t convinced – ‘I’m not sure it comes together as an entire dish’.

Dedicated to son Albert and the NHS midwives who delivered him, Ellis’s fish course is called ‘Fifty-Third Millionth Baby’. Arranged on a specially designed placemat to mimic the style of vintage illustrations, Ellis provides a little Victoriana for baby Albert. Pots of smoked mackerel mousse are capped with beetroot jelly, decorated with candy beet and housed under glass domes. Ellis fills bowls with kohlrabi tagliatelle, cubes of mackerel tartare and a little wood sorrel. Dispensing with the novelty syringe of dressing he used on Tuesday, he now serves jugs of buttermilk and dill oil. He spoons fermented radish onto a petri dish and pipes on watercress puree as a bed for his charred, rum-cured mackerel fillet. Andi thinks the fish is ‘overcooked’ and Oliver adds it’s ‘over-smoked’ too. Matthew says Ellis’s new addition of beetroot bread is so heavy ‘you could use that to anchor a small cruiser in the Thames’. Jake is tetchy about the fermented radish – ‘What am I eating here? What is this pink stuff?’ He’s not a fan.

Craig’s ‘In it for the Long Trawl’ is a seafood feast dedicated to a head chef friend who works for Morecambe Bay NHS. In a moment of pre-plate panic the narrator informs us, ‘Today Craig is struggling with his cockle emulsion’. Poor man. Anyway, on a spiral of oyster leaf and fresh seawater gel, he plates his mackerel fillet and a wave-shaped brown bread tuile supporting a ball of brown shrimp butter. Pickled cockles, shrimps, parched peas, dots of lemon gel and the pesky cockle emulsion are garnished with sea rosemary and samphire. Oliver thinks the mackerel is ‘dry’ but Jake insists it’s ‘delicious’. Matthew decides it’s a potential banquet dish.

Missing out on a trip to the judging chamber by just one point, this week’s third contender was Liverpool-born Liam Simpson-Trotman from Orwells near Henley on Thames. Liam’s cured and perfectly pan-fried cod with glazed puy lentils, caramelised cauliflower, cubes of Alsace bacon and dots of anchovy mayonnaise was a highlight of the week but he dropped points from Michael for being a little conservative with his spicing and presentation. Liam’s partner Ryan also lost out when he competed for the Central region, so thankfully that’s an end to any domestic rivalry. Though Ryan could argue that at least he made it to the judging chamber. Now, now boys.

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In recognition of the NHS’s ‘head to toe’ care, Craig creates a sensory main course designed to excite all five senses. ‘A Sense of Occasion’ begins with an arty swoosh of caramelised cauliflower puree and a little pile of cabbage. (Well that’s the sense of smell taken care of… if not now, then perhaps later?) A thick slice of Dexter beef fillet is joined by a beef shin and mustard pithivier, scorched Roscoff onions and thinly sliced truffle with jugs of beef jus. The judges don blindfolds and listen to the voice of Nye Bevan. Matthew tells his fellow judges they’re listening to the voice of Nye Bevan (just in case they thought it was Dylan Thomas or Tom Jones). Andi praises the food’s ‘amazing balance of being really rich and really light’. Oliver adds it’s ‘as good a mouthful as you’re ever likely to have’.

‘The Pig Investment 1948’ is Ellis’s take on pork four-ways – a platter of pork neck wrapped in water pastry, shoulder, belly and roasted rack, served with quince and walnut jelly, caramelised apple, roasted beetroot, radishes cooked in Chardonnay vinegar, a celeriac and yeast puree and pork crackling. On Wednesday, he tried to melt his ‘coins’ of gilded solidified jus in the residual warmth of little copper pans but had to resort to a quick blast on the hob. Now there’s a little burner for every judge. Andi admits ‘I liked the theatre of it, then it went a bit… meh-meh’. Jake agrees, ‘It doesn’t matter how much gold you put on top… it’s still a fairly bland pork chop’.

Craig’s bittersweet dessert, ‘The Missed Celebration’ is intended to compensate NHS staff for the many family occasions they’ve forfeited for their work. Painting the plate with a stroke of crème anglaise, Craig adds a slab of steamed brandy sponge with a caramel flambé topping. Steeped fruit with flecks of gold leaf, flaked almonds and a quenelle of Christmas pudding ice cream bring a distinctly festive flavour. Andi thinks ‘a sponge pudding is never going to be very exciting’ but Jake says it’s ‘delicious’.

A tribute to the staff and volunteers of Alder Hey Hospital, ‘Worth Their Weight in Gold’ is Ellis’s glittering dessert. Achieving a perfect ten from Michael O’Hare, Ellis is hoping the judging panel will also be wowed by his golden balls. Filled with saffron custard and yuzu gel, the white chocolate shells are served with tea-soaked raisins, fresh honeycomb, compressed mango, blow-torched yellow grapes and puffed wild rice. A quenelle of nectarine ice cream rests on a white chocolate crumb. Andi is not keen on the ‘savoury note’ of the saffron custard, Jake agrees there’s ‘a strange mixture of flavours and textures’ and Oliver sums up it’s ‘unusual… not my cup of tea’.

So all week we’ve been told how close the contest is – ‘neck and neck’, but going through to the finals is… Craig. Craig’s delighted but before Ellis has the chance to congratulate him he’s told he’s made it too. It’s a draw. As the pair pop their corks and celebrate, mine-of-information Matthew explains it’s only the second time this has happened in Great British Menu history. And then he returns to his knowledge of Nye Bevan speeches… and tugboats of the Thames. This could be a long night.

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