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Great British Menu 2018: Northern Ireland recap

Great British Menu 2018: Northern Ireland recap

by Howard Middleton 05 October 2018

The final heat of Great British Menu 2018 saw three Northern Irish chefs enter the kitchen with the hopes of getting through to the banquet. Howard Middleton lets us know what happened.

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It’s awful to go last. How heart sinking to see that your ‘original’ interpretation of the brief turned out not to be unique and that the chefs who went before you had annoyingly similar ideas. Ah well, with only the banquet itself ahead, this is the contestants’ final chance to give us: something dedicated to Nye Bevan involving coal, an overseas cuisine or fusion dish that celebrates the rich heritage of the NHS workforce, a ready meal homage to shift workers and… soup in a teapot. Fortunately the Northern Ireland contingent doesn’t disappoint and manages to tick off all of the above.

Last year’s regional winner, Tommy Heaney is about to open his own restaurant in Cardiff. He starts with an all-day-breakfast-inspired dish called ‘Eat, Sleep, Nightshift, Repeat’. Confit tomatoes, pickled mushrooms and Coco de Paimpol beans are cosily tucked up under a blanket of bacon foam, then topped with a crumb-coated, deep-fried poached duck egg, pancetta crisps and slivers of toasted sourdough for extra crunch. His toast consommé is served in a teapot, ready to pour and Andi thinks the flavour is lovely – ‘it’s got real depth to it’. Guest judge Shehan Hettiaratchy, lead trauma surgeon at St Mary’s Hospital, London says ‘I’m loving the egg’. Matthew adds ‘the pickled mushroom is an Oscar-winning supporting act’, though Oliver says ‘I don’t think this is a meal of a lifetime dish’.

Tommy’s rival is newcomer Shauna Froydenland, a protégée of Marcus Wareing who is now chef patron at his Michelin-starred restaurant in Knightsbridge. ‘Importing from Overseas’ is a celebration of spicy flavours and of the invaluable contribution of NHS staff from overseas. Shauna serves coriander yogurt and tomato chutney in Indian thali bowls. Coated in butter chicken sauce, a slab of spiced and barbecued potato terrine sits on cauliflower and cumin puree, garnished with pickled cauliflower, red onion, crispy potato glass, chicken skin and dots of coriander yogurt. Shehan politely comments it’s ‘not too spicy’, though Matthew and Andi agree the chutney is too sweet. Uncharacteristically quiet at first, Oliver eventually confesses ‘I’m trying to find a reason to like it – that’s the problem’. Andi says ‘I’m getting a lot of mediocre impact from an enormous amount of ingredients’ and Shehan admits ‘it’s not got that lifetime memory flavour that we’re looking for’.

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Tommy’s fish course, ‘Franklin’s Find: DNA’ pays tribute to scientist Rosalind Franklin, pioneer of the study of DNA, who many argue should have been awarded a Nobel Prize. Tommy aims to go some way to correcting this injustice by presenting diners with a noble prize of a recipe. Using the rationale that his ingredients spell out DNA – dill, nuts, nasturtium, asparagus and apple, his logic falters with the main components of hake and shrimps, not to mention his decision to swap artichoke for cauliflower. Indeed, veering so far off piste it probably turns up late at its ski chalet, gagging for a glühwein, the dish was, nevertheless, judged by this week’s veteran chef, the gloriously theatrical Jeremy Lee, to be ‘faultless’.

The judges lift the lids of their boxes to reveal plates of cauliflower puree, asparagus, spiced potted shrimp and apple butter, topped with hake fillet, crispy capers, nasturtium leaves, roasted hazelnuts and dill oil. Andi says it’s ‘very delicate’ and Oliver adds it’s ‘really beautiful’. Shehan concludes ‘the dish lives up to the drama of the delivery’.

Dedicated to the mental health hospital in her home city of Londonderry, ‘Grangewood’s Unlocking the Stigma: Fish for Thought’ is Shauna’s next course. On her main plate, Shauna serves a blow-torched fillet of cured and turf-smoked trout, glazed with warm mussel and dulse butter and strewn with charred spring onions and seaweed powder. In a side dish, she spoons a quenelle of chilled mussel and dulse butter and adds Irish oats, crispy fried mussels and fresh wood sorrel. Delicate crackers made from sourdough starter, seaweed and vinegar virtually float on top. Oliver thinks the trout is over-smoked but Matthew disagrees, ‘the turf-smoking actually has a material contribution to the dish’, by which he probably means ‘I like it’. Shehan thinks it’s ‘trying to tell a story’ but isn’t sure what that is, and Andi adds ‘it’s a bit confusing, isn’t it’.

Shauna’s main course of a ‘Junior Doctor’s Supper’ features a ‘takeaway leftovers’ cottage pie. This must have been a pretty upmarket takeaway as it includes pulled short rib beef, confit of celery, pickled girolle mushrooms, carrots poached in carrot juice and raw chestnut mushrooms. After blowtorching her mashed potato, cheesy rarebit and crispy shallot topping, Shauna then plates the vegetable elements of her cottage pie with a bone marrow cream, serving the thick fillet of Galloway beef with grated horseradish and jugs of rich beef gravy. Andi is wowed by the cottage pie, saying ‘that’s amazing’, whilst Oliver thinks it’s ‘the best cottage pie I’ve ever eaten… it’s just food of the gods’. Sadly, Shauna’s main plate fares less well – Shehan likes it but Andi says ‘as a plate, it’s just kind of dull’.

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For his main course Tommy presents ‘Bevan’s Heaven – a Miner’s Lunch’. He packs his bespoke miner’s lunchbox with dry ice, rarebit croquettes and a fillet of Welsh black beef rolled in black onion powder. Swede and potato fondants, thyme-infused shallots, baby carrots, veal sweetbreads pan fried in Madeira and baby leeks with deep-fried roots join a quenelle of watercress cracked wheat. Tommy drizzles on a little coal-infused oil and serves a flask of veal jus on the side. Matthew thinks the ‘gravy is not as good as the last one’ and Andi agrees. Oliver says the ‘rarebit croquettes are a shocker’ and Matthew calls them ‘an offensive weapon’. ‘It doesn’t fill me with exuberant joy’ admits Shehan.

If you’re wondering what happened to the flashy dessert with rotating orange beacons that’s featured in the programme’s trailers, sadly it was the work of this week’s casualty, James Devine. Head chef at Ardtara Country House, Londonderry, James won National Chef of the Year 2017 but missed out on the Friday final by the merest whisker of a veteran’s whim. With a tied score, Jeremy Lee decided to ditch James in favour of Tommy on the basis that his fish course was ‘truly banquet-worthy’. Like Wentworth Miller in ‘Prison Break’, I suspect Tommy had the route to the judging chamber mapped out in the detail of his plentiful arm tattoos.

Topped with Earl Grey meringues and blobs of tea gel, Shauna’s bergamot and aerated chocolate cheesecake is the star of her ‘Tea and Toast to say Thank You’. She serves it with a quenelle of toast ice cream on a sweet honey sourdough crumb. A teapot of tea-infused vodka and lime is accompanied by a sugar bowl of frozen tea granita granules. Though the cake and ice cream are generally well received, Andi thinks the cocktail ‘tastes like a cold cup of tea to me’ and Oliver says ‘I don’t like it’. Happily there’s a little more laughter from the judges as the vodka kicks in.

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Tommy’s dessert was one of the lowest scoring dishes this week. Jeremy disliked the edible glitter covering his feuilletine-based chocolate and passion fruit mousse flowers and thought the mousse itself tasted ‘synthetic’. Tommy tries to sweeten up the judging panel with candied cocoa nibs, passion fruit custard and a quenelle of white chocolate and caramel ice cream. A box of passion fruit and salted caramel chocolates ensures there’s no shortage of sugar. It doesn’t quite work – Oliver says ‘white chocolate ice cream – we’re not talking cutting edge here, are we?’ Andi thinks it ‘tastes a bit cheap’ and Shehan says ‘it doesn’t quite overwhelm me’.

With a mixed bag of reviews it’s anybody’s game… except it isn’t and Tommy triumphs. And so we have our nine finalists, girding their beef loins and polishing their teapots ready to battle for a dish at the banquet. Meanwhile, I’m off to channel dear Dame Edith Evans and practise my Jeremy Lee impression; ‘A cacophony of confusion… What, might you venture, be its worth?’ Yes, he really did say that.

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