Great British Menu 2021: North East and Yorkshire recap

by Howard Middleton24 April 2021

The North East's finest battle it out in the Great British Menu kitchen this week – join Howard Middleton as he reports on all the highs and lows.

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. He now demonstrates his creative approach to gluten-free baking at numerous food festivals and shows and by teaching baking classes around the country, including at corporate events, commercial promotions and private parties. Howard continues to entertain audiences as a public speaker, compere and broadcaster.

‘It just wasn’t your day today’. So said veteran chef Simon Rogan to the first of this week’s chefs to be sent home, and they weren’t alone in feeling fortune’s disfavour. It may sound like a firm of solicitors, but Dropping, Popping and Spillage proved to be a general theme of events in and around the GBM kitchen.

First to fall was returning chef Ruth Hansom from the Princess of Shoreditch, whose menu-delivering drone for her bee-themed starter failed to take flight. She resorted to throwing it across the room to a fellow chef with waiting net. He missed of course.

However, perhaps the biggest clanger dropped this week was by the BBC. Without so much as a spoiler alert, it described two of the dishes facing Friday’s judges at the start of the week – an egg dish honouring a pioneer of IVF and a lifeboat-themed fish dish. On Wednesday, chef patron of Nottingham’s Alchemilla, Alex Bond served up the former and newcomer Tom Spenceley from Kitchen Table in London landed the latter. Victims in the process of elimination thus became painfully obvious. Ruth left after the fish course and though fresh-faced chef Gareth Bartram from Winteringham Fields in North Lincolnshire clung on until Thursday, we already knew his fate.

In the judging chamber, designer Sophie Conran joins regulars Oliver, Rachel and Matthew in time for canapés, which come in the form of Alex’s speared spiced langoustine and Tom’s chicken liver and clementine cracker. The judges admire the ‘technical tour de force’ of the cracker but generally favour the langoustine.

On to the starters and, with a nod to the makeshift skillet of early rail workers, Tom serves his very classy fry-up on a coal shovel. He pipes on burnt onion puree and truffle emulsion and carefully sets a soft fried duck egg on top. Pickled girolles and Yorkshire coppa nestle beneath a crisp thatch of bacon-fat-fried potato. Rachel says ‘it’s very hard to fault this’ and Oliver agrees it’s ‘perfect’.

The judges are in for their second helping of eggs as Alex coddles his in delicate shell-like ramekins, tops with cubes of sherry vinegar jelly, roast ceps, cep caramel and a hollandaise foam, and serves alongside shards of chicken skin piped with truffle curd. Oliver praises its creativity, but Rachel finds the portion too large. To be fair, she has just polished off a shovel load of full English.

Lifeboat inventor William Wouldhave is the inspiration behind Tom’s fish course, which Simon Rogan judged to be perfect and Andi Oliver called ‘one of the highlights of my year so far’. Onto a buttery pool of elder caper, chive and skirt sauce, he spoons a quenelle of seaweed puree, then tops with seared chunks of juicy turbot. Bowls of pickled cockles and mussels complete the dish.

Frankly, it’s as if the wrong order has been delivered to the judging chamber. Rachel thinks it’s ‘slightly off’ and Oliver complains ‘the saucing is just too giddy’. Matthew brutally concludes it’s ‘pretty classic food, not very well carried out’.

Alex takes the bold step of presenting a fishless fish-course. Its prospects for success are touch and go, much like the barnacle-resistant paint he cites as inspiration. He tops chunky wedges of barbecued confit celeriac with a paste of mussels, shallots and salted lemon, then serves with celeriac puree and a seeded potato cracker dotted with lovage emulsion and micro herbs. Matthew points out it ‘contains the barest amount of fish needed to qualify for a fish course’ but… there is no but! Oliver says it’s ‘a but-less dish’ and Rachel confirms it’s delicious. Sophie even likes the plate.

‘Pasty Black’ is Alex’s mining-themed main course, which shocks diners with a sparking cloche. However, on Thursday, the disaster of spillage struck as Alex absentmindedly forgot to put a bowl under his sieve. Andi’s narration calmly announced, ‘The flavour packed stock for his sauce is now mostly on the kitchen floor’.

With renewed concentration, Alex ensures that his pickled onion ketchup goes first, followed by barbecued onion, ash-rolled leek and hash brown. A canary yellow dot of swede puree ensures mutton belly and loin safely find their way to the coal black plate. Matthew decides it’s ‘conventional’ but ‘done with immense polish’.

Tom hits the (main) road with a celebration of Percy Shaw’s invention of cat’s eyes. Double mellow lines of black garlic ketchup and baked apple puree are joined first by Tom’s innovative caramelised cream sauce, then a golden slab of potato and artichoke terrine, garnished with pickled Jerusalem artichoke and leaf-shaped tuiles. Sophie questions if the dish’s centrepiece of juniper-smoked deer is roadkill, but nobody seems overly concerned. The caramelised cream is a huge hit and Matthew praises some ‘serious, solid, sensational cooking’.

Pre-desserts come in the form of Tom’s cloud of white chocolate mousse, encasing rhubarb puree and Alex’s frozen blackcurrant cheesecake. Sadly, neither wow the judges. Matthew finds his serving of Tom’s is frozen solid and Alex’s is similarly dismissed as ‘looking like someone has heaped something into a bowl’.

Housed in a computer monitor, Alex serves his edible interpretation of the iconic Apple logo, in honour of iPod designer Sir Jony Ive. The crisp chocolate shell contains artichoke puree, candied hazelnuts, coffee namelaka and chocolate ganache. Rachel admires the contrast in textures. Oliver is wowed and calls it ‘a bad boy’. In a good way.

On Thursday, Tom’s honey dessert stung him with his lowest score of the week as his bee-shaped moulds popped and he battled to salvage a solitary serving. Now resorting to a simpler hexagonal mould for his parfait, he serves it with a baked chocolate stout sabayon. Matthew likes it and Sophie thinks it’s ‘interesting’ but Oliver says it’s ‘bad’. In a bad way.

As the winner is announced, victorious Alex breathes a huge sigh of relief. Poor Tom scratches his head and wonders why the judges didn’t go overboard with his fish course. Perhaps it’s just not been his day. Or perhaps, there’s just a chance that somewhere in the UK, someone called Jud Chambers has received an unexpected delivery of life-enhancing turbot.

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