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Great British Menu 2019: South West recap

Great British Menu 2019: South West recap

by Howard Middleton 27 April 2019

The best chefs of the South West stepped up to the plate in this week's Great British Menu – Howard Middleton lets us know how they got on.

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Life jackets at the ready! Famed for its beautiful beaches and wicked waves, this week the South West also tossed up a trio of chefs thrown in at the deep end. Call them fledglings, newbies or just GBM virgins, everyone’s in the same boat as they make their debut appearance in the competition.

Fresh from an idyllic spot on the isle of Jersey (for picky viewers this heat really should probably be renamed ‘The South West and anything remotely off its coast’), principally self-taught chef Joe Baker has his own restaurant, No 10, in St Helier. He’s joined by the second of our ‘Jersey Boys’ (a moniker that’s been mercilessly milked all week), classically trained Lee Smith, head chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Samphire.

This week’s unlucky chef was Emily Scott, proprietor of the St Tudy Inn in Cornwall. Emily turned out (and, in her ice cream dessert, literally churned out) some fairly flawlessly executed dishes but her self-proclaimed ‘fuss-free’ and ‘pared back’ style seemed sadly at odds with the necessary wow factor expected of a banquet.

Joe’s Beatles-inspired starter, ‘My Octopus’s Garden’ is strikingly served on an upturned cymbal. Braised and pan-fried octopus is accompanied by whipped cod’s roe, deep-fried cockle skewers, sea vegetables, fresh grapes and pickled dulse. The cymbal centre acts as a bowl for his sheep’s cheese sauce, split with lovage oil. Guest judge, the Reverend Richard Coles asks about the sauce and Matthew takes typical pleasure in savouring the words ‘Ossau-Iraty’. Andi admires ‘the richness it adds to the dish’ but Oliver finds it ‘problematic’ and adds ‘I don’t like the collaboration of flavours’.

‘Beets of the Sixties’ is Lee’s celebration of a colourful era and the first of his demonstrations of the (flower) power of root vegetables. Lee’s hazelnut allergy left him unable to taste his pesto on Wednesday and it turned out too garlicky for most tastes. Now replaced with a peanut pesto (which he fortunately can sample), Lee pipes the paste on the plate, adds beetroot tartare and pickled beets, then garnishes with viola flowers and a rocher of beetroot sorbet. His ‘soft’ goat’s cheese churros are binned in favour of a scoop of smoked cream cheese.

Oliver is immediately wowed, saying ‘this is more like it – we need more Technicolor!’ However, Richard is less impressed with the smoked cream cheese and Matthew conjures up the remarkably vivid image of a casually star-trekking legume when he says ‘the peanut seems to have wandered in from some completely different universe’.

Moving on from his celebration of beetroot, Lee’s fish course, ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ is a Champagne toast to the humble turnip. He tops his pan-fried turbot with turnip pappardelle, Champagne and turnip sauce, a spoonful of caviar and a froth of Champagne emulsion foam. Worried his pickled turnip could be too acidic he left it out on Wednesday but now includes it for the judges.

‘That looks classy, dunnit’ mocks Matthew but he goes on to proclaim the dish ‘absolutely delicious’. However, Oliver thinks it’s ‘a bit predictable’ and Richard dismisses its relative safeness as ‘a cover version’.

For his fish course, Joe honours the pioneers of pirate radio. ‘Off the Record’ is a stylishly monochrome plate of lardo-draped cod loin in a pool of oyster and squid ink sauce that masks a bed of vegetable tartare, sautéed trompettes, pickled Amalfi lemons and oyster leaves. Andi glumly picks at Joe’s efforts and admits ‘I’m not having a very good time with this dish’. She explains ‘the fish is a bit watery’ and adds ‘it’s a bit like primordial sludge underneath’. However, Richard offers a little hope when he says ‘the more I eat it, the more I like it’. Oliver decides ‘this is rock and roll cooking’ and Matthew judges there to be ‘an interesting cooking mind at work’.

‘Welcome to the Nineties but Why All the Beef’ is certainly a meaty mouthful of a title. Lee says it’s his homage to the musical rivalry between Oasis and Blur. Sous vide sirloin is pan-seared and basted in Jersey butter, then sliced and topped with bone marrow jam, alongside pickled Thai shallots. Griddled hispi cabbage is smeared with yeast extract butter and topped with strands of celeriac remoulade and celeriac crisps. Lee grates truffle on top, scatters on nasturtium leaves and presents his plates on vintage-style record players with beef sauce on the side.

‘Wow!’ says Andi, ‘that cabbage is quite extraordinary – it’s an explosion of beautiful flavour’. Richard asks for opinions on ‘the pink pickled onions’ and Oliver dismisses them as ‘an absolute tragedy’. Which is not a bad thing if you’re a thespian Thai shallot… but these aren’t. It’s not clear if Matthew is describing the meat as ‘mere’ or just making an unimpressed ‘meh’ noise but either way it’s not sounding good. Oliver pithily decides the dish could have fared better as a vegetarian option.

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Joe too is going for beef for his main course, ‘Bless the Weather, Make Hay’ – a celebration of folk music that also forks from the haystacks of his family’s farm. Seared Jersey beef is brushed with black garlic paste, then sliced and topped with bone marrow fritters. Baby turnips bathe in sorrel and turnip juice alongside an aerated squirt of hay-infused Hollandaise sauce dusted with hay ash. This week’s veteran chef, Daniel Clifford scored the dish a meagre five but the judges appear a little more generous. Matthew says the beef is ‘much better – it’s got the most delicious flavour’ and he calls the combination of meat and hollandaise ‘absolutely epic’. However, the sorrel and turnip juice seems less successful and Richard says it ‘makes you feel as if you’ve got a mouthful of cud’.

The only dish this week that garnered a perfect score from Daniel Clifford was Lee’s dessert, ‘Strawberry Fields’. Cylinders of strawberry parfait are rolled in sheets of strawberry jelly, sliced, then added to plates of piped vanilla and lime flavoured yogurt, compressed strawberries, basil gel, strawberry pastilles, white chocolate coated almonds, meringue kisses and basil and lime sorbet. After all this effort, Andi decides ‘it feels decidedly average to me’, whilst Oliver agrees that ‘pudding should be a sensation – this is academic’. Richard is a lone fan – ‘if this is academic, sign me up for a PhD’.

Joe rounds things off with ‘Message in a Bottle’ – a flotsam and jetsam of ingredients presented in a beached half bottle. Onto honey granola he pipes blackberry gel, adds a scoop of chamomile ice cream, then tops with honey and chamomile jelly. A drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of bee pollen and shards of French meringue complete the dish. Matthew decides it’s ‘not a wow and celebratory pudding’ but adds ‘it has some delightful elements’. ‘None of us are very excited are we?’ concludes Andi. Somewhat frustrated, Oliver discusses the opportunity the brief offers to go ‘absolutely bonkers’ with pudding. Richard decides he would have gone ‘glam rock’.

Anxious to discover their fates, the chefs are told that Lee is going on to the finals. The feedback is more generous than the reality of the scores. Matthew calls a dish he scored six ‘absolutely sensational’ whilst Oliver musters an eight for one that’s ‘on the money’. We’ve had blackberries, damsons, grapes and strawberries but no cherries were popped during the making of this week’s programmes. Lee is ‘relieved’ and Joe admits he’ll ‘definitely have another crack’ at the competition. Hopefully it should be a little less painful next time.

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