Great British Menu 2021: London and South East heat recap

Great British Menu 2021: London and South East heat recap

by Howard Middleton 11 April 2021

The chefs representing London and the South East battle it out for a place in the final of Great British Menu 2021 – Howard Middleton reports.

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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.

In case you don’t know by now, Paul Ainsworth loves to give a ten. The veteran chef for this week’s heat has perfected his scoring announcement. The pause after ‘I’m giving you…’ is expertly judged. ‘A ten!’ projects with such unbridled joy, it even warrants a little lurch forward. Fortunately, chefs from London and the South East have provided ample opportunity for Paul to overstep the marks.

Four fresh-faced newcomers from the region entered the competition on Wednesday – Kim Ratcharoen from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Oli Marlow from Roganic and Aulis, Ben Murphy from Launceston Place and Tony Parkin from The Tudor Room in Surrey.

Like Mr Men or the Spice Girls, Andi chose to attribute personality traits to her descriptions of this week’s chefs, so we had Focused Kim, Confident Tony, Creative Ben and Modest Oli. Young Ben had creativity literally inked all over his body; so supercool, the BBC’s subtitles tried to copy his MLE accent. ‘Nah’ they said. Sadly, Paul also said ‘nah’ to Ben after the fish course and, despite scoring a ten for his dish, Tony left after dessert. He did it confidently though.

And so, we’re left with Kim and Oli to try to impress judges Oliver Peyton, Rachel Khoo and Matthew Fort; joined this week by geologist Professor Chris Ainsworth, who has one of the best ever Twitter handles - @seis_matters.

Great minds often think alike and both Oli and Kim are combining beef and oysters in their canapés. Oli’s is an oyster custard with beef tendon and Kim’s is a fillet beef and oyster tartare. Rachel judges both dishes ‘an excellent start’ and Chris adds, ‘I’m totally spoiled already’.

Inspired by the pioneering underground farmers of Clapham, Oli serves what could well be a ground-breaking salad. Onto a swirl of syrupy stout reduction, he pipes Jerusalem artichoke puree and creamed Ragstone cheese, adding texture with a malted chestnut ‘soil’ and Jerusalem artichoke crisps. Little larva-looking roasted crosnes are next, followed by charred pickled onions and a selection of subterranean herbs. It turns out to be an underground classic – ‘That is a completely faultless piece of cooking’ says Oliver.

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Kim’s seed-feast starter applauds the agricultural precision of seed-drill creator, Jethro Tull. Meticulously plating pretty pickled veg with a blob of carrot puree, she adds chickweed and nasturtium leaves and tops with a confit quail leg, crisply coated in buckwheat and amaranth seeds. Juicy quail breast is brushed with tamarind and the dish is completed with jugs of sunflower seed satay sauce. Both Paul and Andi raved about Kim’s sauce, but the judges are less enamoured. ‘It’s just lacking that real burst of flavour I expect of satay’ says Rachel. Oliver complains that the quail breast is undercooked too.

Oli’s fish dish presents a unique way of celebrating the work of mathematician and algorithm pioneer, Ada Lovelace. On specially designed consoles, diners are directed to combine four algorithmically compatible ingredients – barbecued lobster, fermented black garlic, kale and butter. Matthew is overjoyed by the lobster and both Rachel and Chris appreciate the crispy kale’s contrast in flavour and texture. Oliver is unconvinced by the interactive assembly – ‘Where’s the escape button?’ he asks.

‘Get the Kettle On’ is Kim’s creative tribute to the thirst-quenching inventiveness of William Russell and Peter Hobbs. On a ring of blanched celery, cauliflower mushroom, shimeji, radish, spring onion and pickled chilli, she serves poached and pan-fried Dover sole and langoustine wontons. Spicy Tom Yum consommé is poured from the kettle. Oliver says the consommé is ‘very, very, very nice’ and Rachel praises its flavoursome lightness. However, Chris questions a lack of innovation, asking ‘is there something forward looking in this dish?’ Oh dear, the consommé may be clear, but it’s lacking in clairvoyance.

Onto the mains and Kim has unearthed the fascinating story of the Thames Tunnel banquet, organised as an early PR exercise by young Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Fittingly, she presents her dish with top hats and crimson jackets. More importantly, it features crispy sweetbreads in a tamarind glaze, som tam salad, bone marrow sticky rice and nam jim maitake mushrooms. Generous slices of pink sirloin are served with Kim’s ‘pimped up’ beef sauce. Matthew grumbles that his beef hasn’t been properly trimmed but Chris loves the feel of ‘a modern Sunday roast’. Oliver grimaces at what he calls ‘a combination of ingredients that don’t make a dish’.

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Oli’s main course is a very upmarket take on the takeaway. It celebrates both the creation of the world wide web and the ingenuity and tenacity of chefs and restaurateurs who’ve risen to the challenge of pandemic restrictions. Fried chicken legs stuffed with guinea fowl mousse are boxed up with guinea fowl breasts, barbecued maitake mushrooms and potato nests with a confit egg yolk. Little jars are filled with mushroom and miso ketchup and garlic and chilli mayonnaise. ‘Bloody hell, that gravy’s good!’ says Oliver. A more restrained Rachel calls the dish ‘technically faultless’. ‘Are you looking at my box?’ Chris asks Oliver, who admits he is. ‘I want to see if you’ve any left so I can steal it’.

Andi and Paul were mightily impressed with this week’s pre-desserts – Kim’s refreshing lychee cocktail and Oli’s unusual cheese ice cream with pickled trompette mushrooms and cherry syrup. Matthew votes for the cocktail but the other three opt for Oli’s.

Kim’s dessert, ‘It’s my DNA’ combines mango and coconut parfaits with lime gel, tiny balls of macerated mango, toasted coconut shavings and a sprinkling of coriander and lemon balm cress. It’s served with test tubes of mango sauce. Rachel loves the flavour combinations and its ‘tropical notes’. Matthew says, ‘It would make a very satisfying end to the banquet’.

Rounding off one of the competition’s highest-ever scoring menus, Oli honours the invention of the humble tin can by carefully cramming layers of flavour into one. On a base of chamomile cream, condensed milk cake is topped with caramel, Earl Grey ice cream, cranberry gel and tightly coiled ribbons of toffee apple. Matthew calls it ‘so warming and comforting’. Oliver confesses ‘I want to be canned with that!’

Finally, Andi, sparkling in silver sequins, announces the winner of what has been a scintillating week. Focused Kim focuses her attention on a commiseratory glass of champagne. Modest Oli accepts his triumph. Modestly.