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Great British Menu 2019: Scotland recap

Great British Menu 2019: Scotland recap

by Howard Middleton 20 April 2019

Join Howard Middleton as he takes us through what happened in the Great British Menu kitchen as three of Scotland's top chefs showed off their skills.

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It’s hard to recall a more expressive week in the competition. From his own restaurant in Bath, newcomer Gordon Jones takes the kitchen by storm, fizzing about with infectious enthusiasm for his ingredients. His menu is shamelessly spontaneous but it’s his wonderful facial expressions that make him so watchable; switching from classic silent movie ‘surprise’ to full Frank Spencer in seconds.

Veteran chef Richard Corrigan gives Gordon a run for his money as he guides (and gloriously gurns) throughout the week. Richard takes a more direct approach than other judges – saying up front if he likes or dislikes something and offering a little heartfelt encouragement to a struggling chef. Of course Richard, like all veterans, is contractually obliged to ask unnervingly loaded questions like ‘does the pineapple work for you?’ I long for someone to reply ‘no, it’s self-employed’.

Award-winning chef Lorna McNee returns from Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, the only restaurant in Scotland to hold two Michelin stars. Lorna has an impenetrable look of determination that says she will express vicariously through her food.

Gutted to miss out on the judging chamber for a second time is Ben Reade, owner of the Edinburgh Food Studio. Ben did the full Goldilocks thing of serving a dish that was far too salty, one not salty enough, then one that was just right. Sadly, by the time he’d delivered a high-scoring pudding someone else had nicked his happy ending.

Talking of porridge, Gordon starts with the brilliantly named ‘Fleetwood Mackerel’. Onto paper-thin discs of radish, he spoons porridge oats cooked with lovage, shallots, garlic and chicken stock and adds diced cucumber, lime mayonnaise, celery and raspberries marinated in cloudberry liquor. His mackerel is cured in salt, lime and cardamom, then torched. A crispy shard of linseed biscuit tops the dish, along with a garnish of chervil and fennel fronds. Ooh, and then a last minute drizzle of curry oil. Impromptu and Gordon are very good friends.

Guest judge, Keisha Buchanan of Sugababes fame, thinks it would make a great Instagram picture. Oliver praises the ‘lovely flavours’ and Andi says the porridge is ‘gorgeous’. And then suddenly the judges change their tunes. Matthew decides his ‘taste buds have had an absolute clobbering’, Oliver thinks there’s too much going on and Andi discovers she doesn’t like the mackerel. Keisha is alone in enjoying the ‘chaos’ of the dish.

Lorna says she’s ‘not overly confident’ about her starter, ‘Elton’s Cheese on Toast’, which is inspired by a snack served at the legendary singer’s legendary annual Oscars party. Fruit bread is topped with confit shallots, cheese fondue and mushroom gel and a ring of poached pear is filled with fig chutney and topped with hazelnut cream and sultanas. Onto a crispy bacon and sourdough crumb, Lorna places a cylinder of feuilles de brick pastry filled with Parmesan espuma. On Wednesday the cheese sauce splurged out inelegantly. One Twitter wit likened it to Philadelphia making a break for freedom.

With a nice, thick espuma to squirt for the judges, all looks set for an improvement on Richard’s score of six. Matthew admires Lorna’s technical ‘wizardry’ but Keisha struggles with the toast. Oliver helpfully explains ‘I think the toast is quite one-dimensional’. That would certainly help it pop up nicely from the toaster.

Gordon’s fish course marries langoustine, lamb’s heart and lentils to create ‘It Must Be Love’. Onto a rosette of dhal puree he piles fried mung beans, barbecued langoustine and slivers of lamb’s heart, then drizzles with stock and diced tomatoes before topping with truffle, frisée lettuce and langoustine foam.

Oliver says ‘I’m absolutely desperate to like this dish but he didn’t turn down the volume at any point’. Keisha adds ‘it’s like an overly produced song’.

For her fish dish ‘Spice Up Your Life’, Lorna serves deep-fried cauliflower bhajis and blobs of aubergine puree to accompany a mighty meaty chunk of spiced monkfish on salsa verde and flash-fried carrots. Matthew praises the ‘succulent’ monkfish but Keisha isn’t convinced, claiming ‘it’s spicy but there’s not a lot of flavour’. Matthew becomes a lone voice, crying ‘it’s really good’ somewhere in the wilderness.

Reflecting at the halfway point, the judges are clearly disappointed. ‘I haven’t really had anything on my plate that’s made me go wow’ says Andi woefully.

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Never mind, a little sing song always helps to cheer things up and the judges swing along to ‘Parklife’ as Gordon presents his platter of pigeon, pineapple and peanut butter. And then the glum faces return as Andi is particularly unimpressed by Gordon’s sticky rice balls. Oliver thinks the pigeon and pineapple alone have the makings of a great dish. Matthew is perfectly happy tucking in to the crispy cavolo nero. ‘He has to show a bit of restraint – someone’s got to stop him!’ yells Oliver. Keisha ignores the furore and says ‘if you don’t eat yours, I’ll eat it for you’.

Lorna’s ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ is a sheep-fest of sociable sharing that hosts mustard-brushed and parsley-crumbed roast rack, a pot of lamb stew and dumplings and a dish of sheep’s cheese dauphinoise. Individual plates of celeriac puree, hispi cabbage and crispy lamb flank delight the judges too. ‘This looks and feels like a banquet dish’ smiles Oliver, as Andi judges it ‘joyful’ and ‘elegant’. ‘I think this is amazing’ says Keisha. Bringing a little objectivity to the proceedings, Oliver admits ‘it is quite traditional’ and adds ‘it just needs a bit of magic’.

‘Bhangra Beats and Bhangra Sweets’ is Gordon’s gorgeously gaudy dessert. It’s a dotty dish of mango balls, melon balls, watermelon balls and spots of mango puree circling around a mini jelly mould of pistachio kulfi. Gordon adds a saffron Madeleine, chocolate cremeux and mango sorbet for good measure.

Andi acknowledges that ‘it’s the thing I’ve liked most from Gordon’ but Matthew asks ‘would you go back for a second helping?’ Andi and Oliver agree they wouldn’t. Keisha says she’d definitely entertain more kulfi.

Having just missed out on getting her dessert to last year’s banquet, Lorna is determined to wow with her Wham-inspired ‘Lime and Sunshine – There’s Enough for Everyone’. GBM’s narrator, Wendy Lloyd does her best to speak-sing the title to emphasise its lyrical origins but the judges refer to the dish as ‘Club Tropicana’ and it’s hard to justify Lorna’s decision not to name it so.

The star feature is a dome of coconut mousse, biscuit and lime parfait, dipped in chocolate and scratched to look like half a coconut. It’s served on sandy streusel, filled with fruit salsa and topped with an edible cocktail umbrella of dehydrated pink pineapple and chocolate. A tuile cone of piña colada sorbet chills out in a little deckchair. Lorna had suggested it be dished out by young men in pink shorts. Sadly the memo didn’t reach the waiters who soberly serve in the standard starched shirts. Fortunately the judges aren’t so sober as they relish the boozy kick. ‘So delicious’ murmurs Andi, Matthew purrs it’s ‘pretty tip top’ and Oliver is delighted to announce he’s ‘super happy’. ‘I just love everything about it’ concludes Keisha.

With tens across the board, Lorna triumphs. Safely out of the judging chamber, Lorna releases her tension and leaps for joy. And then she does it again. As a wise woman once advised, ‘don’t go for second best baby… express yourself!’

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