Great British Menu 2020: London and South East heat recap

Great British Menu 2020: London and South East heat recap

by Howard Middleton 28 March 2020

Howard Middleton keeps us up to date with how the chefs representing the capital and the rest of the South East on Great British Menu.

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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.

Two things we’ve learnt this week – firstly, this year’s banquet will have children attending (an interesting discovery when you consider the copious amounts of alcohol that have been sloshing around the kitchen – not to mention the food-colouring) and secondly… you can make a lasagne with sheets of celeriac. But more of that later. One thing we still haven’t discovered as yet is the banquet venue. Lordy, I hope it was all filmed months ago or we could be in for a very disappointing end to the series.

Anyway, this week’s chefs are celebrating children’s authors from their region of London and the South East, which we discover can be loosely interpreted to cover any author that was born in the region, lived there at any period or once spent a weekend with their Auntie Kitty in Margate.

Head chef at Ormer Mayfair, Kerth Gumbs is originally from Anguilla and he carefully packs his Caribbean heritage into his amuse-bouche of a johnny cake – a bread bun filled with hickory-smoked mayonnaise, fresh crab and roe. Guest judge, writer and presenter Konnie Huq describes it as ‘ample’.

Steve Groves is head chef at Roux at Parliament Square in London’s Westminster.

His crab appetiser is dressed with chilli oil and served with compressed kohlrabi and apple dashi. Matthew thinks it’s ‘extremely sweet’ and Oliver adds ‘it’s not very dashi’.

Steve’s starter takes inspiration from The Gruffalo with ‘The Mouse Found a Nut and the Nut Was Good’. He presents giant wooden nuts containing cob nut broth, fresh curds with tarragon and celeriac slices topped with grated truffle alongside fried feuille de brick cigars of hazelnut and buckwheat butter and raisin puree. Oliver judges it to be ‘quite interesting’ but Matthew says ‘it tastes more like a pudding’.

Inspired by Beatrix Potter’s most famous character, Peter Rabbit, Kerth’s starter, ‘The Walled Garden’ serves up carrots and more carrots – spiced and baked, pureed and crushed, in a sorbet and a cocktail. Goats cheese foam, walnuts and edible flowers provide a little contrast. Andi says the cocktail is ‘delicious’ and though everyone likes elements of the starter Matthew decides ‘this is an arrangement, not a dish’.

Two starters the judges missed out on this week were those of Karl O’Dell, head chef at the one-Michelin-starred Texture in Marylebone and Ivan Tisdall-Downes from Native in the Borough Market area. Karl argued to this week’s veteran, Tommy Banks that though there were no pigeons in Winnie the Pooh, if the little bear had discovered that pigeons were smeared with honey, he may well have eaten them. Honey-coated piglet had a lucky escape. Scoring highest with his starter ‘Orange Twiglets from Jupiter’, Ivan tantalisingly missed out on a place at Friday’s judging by just one point.

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Inspired by Roald Dahl’s BFG, Steve’s fish course, ’Frobscottle, Snozzcumbers and Whizzpoppers’ serves up turbot topped with mussel mousse, pickled and poached ‘snozzcumbers’ and sea lettuce and a frobscottle cocktail of amaretto, Calvados, bitters and dry cider. Oliver has surprisingly strong views about the decorative qualities of fish, saying ‘turbot needs to be displayed very well’ and adding ‘I think it’s been marginalised here’. Andi simply says it’s ‘a bit bland for me’.

For his fish dish, ‘Commotion in the Ocean’, based on the book by Giles Andreae, Kerth presents bowls of charred lobster brushed with ginger gel on a bed of cauliflower couscous, garnished with micro herbs and slivers of purple cauliflower. Dry ice adds drama and there’s colour from the fresh green sauce of lobster brains, blanched parsley and baby spinach. It’s a huge hit with the judges – Oliver says ‘it looks great and it tastes fantastic’.

Kerth’s main course ‘Three Little Pigs’ serves pork three ways – roast loin with crackling, pig’s cheek and bacon-topped caramelised shallot. On the side is a slab of celeriac lasagne and Kerth completes the dish with a baby artichoke, a garnish of nasturtium leaves and a puddle of truffle puree. Ah, but then there’s the small matter of Konnie who doesn’t eat pork. Not to worry, Kerth’s solution is to serve the guest judge… more celeriac. The regular judges are generally positive – the celeriac lasagne is particularly well received and Andi likes the shallot ‘a lot’. Konnie talks about celebrating diversity without any reference to the lack of it on her plate.

Housed beneath three wooden barns to represent farmers Boggins, Bunce and Bean from Roald Dahl’s ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, Steve serves water-bathed chicken topped with spiralised crispy potato, glazed carrots with bacon and crackly chicken skin and pans of cider sauce. On the plates go roast onion and caramelised onion puree. Konnie thinks it’s ‘comforting, warm and nice’ but adds ‘the chicken’s a bit rubbery’.

Returning to the judging chamber to present her favourite course, the ‘pre-pudding pudding’, Susan Calman dishes out Kerth’s gin and tonic granita and Steve’s lemon posset and Mirabelle plums. Tommy Banks was not a fan of the granita but the judges seem to love it, praising it as ‘zingy’ and ‘refreshing’. Matthew says the posset has a ‘beautiful texture and mellow flavour’.

Onto the puddings proper and Kerth serves ‘The Faraway Tree’ from the books by Enid Blyton. It’s a gorgeous platter of macerated blackberries, white chocolate cremeux, buckwheat, blackberry gel and strawberry and sea buckthorn sorbet, topped off with a beautiful twisting tree of modelled chocolate. Matthew says ‘I really like that – it’s fun’ and Oliver agrees it’s ‘a feast for the eyes’.

Pooh’s back for Steve’s mouthful of a dessert called ‘Condensed Milk or Hunny With Your Bread? Both’. Bowls of whisky-soaked baba and poached blackberries sit alongside ‘hunny’ pots of crushed honeycomb, condensed milk ice cream and honeycomb tuiles. With red balloons floating above, Andi says it’s ‘pretty’ but goes on to decide the wallop of whisky is too strong. Though ‘super cute’, Oliver concludes it ‘just needs a pudding to match the paraphernalia’.

At the final count, it’s Kerth who triumphs and is clearly delighted by the news. Konnie, who missed out on a truly satisfying main course, is still feeling just a little peckish. On her way home, she stops off for celeriac chips.