Great British Menu 2021: Scotland heat recap

Great British Menu 2021: Scotland heat recap

by Howard Middleton 3 April 2021

The very best of Scotland's culinary talent pit their skills against one another in the second regional heat of Great British Menu 2021 – Howard Middleton charts the highs and lows.

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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. 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.

Forget your butcher’s blocks and multi-storey vegetable racks, apparently what every modern kitchen needs is… a highland unit.

Great British Menu’s kitchen proves to be no exception, as four of Scotland’s bravest chefs enter the fray to win the coveted prize of an evening of intense stress, mass catering and televised scrutiny, otherwise known as a banquet celebrating British innovation and invention.

At the start of the week, returner to the competition Amy Elles from The Harbour Café in Fife faced off against three Edinburgh chefs – last year’s heat winner, Roberta Hall from The Little Chartroom and newcomers Stuart Ralston from Aizle and Fhior’s Scott Smith.

Amy doubtless thought she’d hit on a brilliantly original concept for her canapé – a witty reinterpretation of chicken soup, aka ‘Jewish Penicillin’, complete with medicine bottle and spoon. Well, she undoubtedly got there first in terms of the menu, but Alexander Fleming’s discovery soon emerged as the most consistent source of inspiration, sprouting up again in

Stuart’s starter, Scott’s fish course and Roberta’s dessert.

Sadly, Amy also appeared to have more than one problem with continuity, as her headband was on, then off, then back on again in the first five minutes – a distracting omen perhaps.

She was forced to bid farewell after the fish course and Scott, who battled with the show’s demon equipment (pressure cooker and ice cream maker), followed after desserts.

This week’s veteran chef, Tom Brown was ‘not bowled over’ by any of the canapés. Onto the judging chamber, and they’re sampling Roberta’s little Dunlop cheddar and onion tart and Stuart’s offering of duck liver parfait sandwiched between beetroot tuiles.

Guest judge, author and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez OBE argues Roberta’s tartlet is bigger than one mouthful. Matthew Fort disagrees but says it’s ‘dull’. However, any exacting bite-size standards are soon disregarded in Stuart’s favour. Oliver Peyton munches in relatively silent appreciation, Rachel Khoo praises its rich combination of flavours and absolutely nobody complains that it’s the size of a coaster.

Roberta’s starter is inspired by the Edinburgh Seven, a group of women who were pioneers in the study of medicine. She plates creamed sweetcorn and adds singed baby onions and hazelnuts. Wild mushrooms in lamb sauce go next, followed by pickled sweetcorn, sheep’s curd, wood sorrel and crispy lamb sweetbreads. Matthew says it’s a ‘wonderfully mellow dish’, but Rachel notes they’re missing the promise of black garlic puree. The bottle of puree remains in the kitchen, mercilessly taunting poor Roberta.

For his starter, Stuart takes the supermarket phrase ‘perfectly ripe’ to its limits (and beyond) with a bacterial celebration of long life and whiffiness. Stuart smears cherry mustard on an oversized petri dish, spoons on a tartare of aged rump beef, confit fennel and lemon juice, then tops with horseradish gel, crispy beef, cress and a little snowfall of frozen Lanark Blue cheese. Despite Caroline’s praise for the cherry mustard, Rachel feels the cheese dominates, Matthew calls it ‘an odd combination’ and Oliver decides ‘no likey’.


Onto the fish course as Roberta celebrates Scottish innovation in colour photography. ‘Maxwell’s Colour Wheel’ lives up to its name as pan-fried turbot is topped with the bright yellow of a quail’s egg yolk, nestling in a crispy potato tart. Pickled red onion and viola flowers go on top, whilst jugs of complementary Cullen Skink soup, split with chive oil, complete the picture. Caroline quickly deems it her favourite so far, Rachel says it’s ‘luxurious and comforting’, Oliver judges the smokiness to be ‘top drawer’ and Matthew adds it’s ‘the culinary equivalent to cashmere’.

Stuart’s fish dish, ‘Star Chasing’ consists of chunky slices of barbecued lobster on kohlrabi puree, served with mussels, pickled kohlrabi and dots of fermented tomato gel. It’s garnished with garlic flowers, pickled watermelon radish and fennel pollen and served with jugs of shellfish bisque. The lights go down and diners are treated to the lilting sound of an extract from the memoirs of Mary Somerville – one of the first female members of the Royal Astronomical Society and Stuart’s inspiration.

It’s all very soothing… that is until Rachel clutches her throat, and it looks like Stuart has gone overboard with the chilli. ‘I’m getting a burning sensation’ she exclaims. Caroline agrees and adds that ‘the pickle is very, very… pickley’.

In recognition of Dolly, the first cloned sheep, Stuart’s main is lamb, of course. Buttery chunks of loin are fragranced with rosemary, dotted with herb emulsion and served with a little charcoal pastry tartlet filled with nori-dressed peas and sheep’s curd. All agree it’s very tasty, but Oliver says it’s a missed opportunity to show innovation and ‘go wild and crazy’. Matthew concludes, ‘It’s a perfectly acceptable piece of lamb, cooked perfectly acceptably, with a perfectly acceptable gravy’.

Scoring the first ten of the series on Thursday, Roberta’s multi-layered main course is a beautiful Bovril-themed beast of a banqueting pie. Served with a little Thermos flask of beef consommé, red wine gravy and a bright scattering of roasted root vegetables, it looks pretty much perfect (and not just ‘perfectly acceptable’). Rachel praises its beautiful construction and Matthew calls it ‘a wonderful piece of cooking’. Caroline claims that it’s ‘too rich’ and leaves much of her plate untouched. Oliver awards it ‘dish of the day for me’.

Pre-desserts come in the form of Roberta’s lollipop tribute to Keiller’s Dundee marmalade and Stuart’s multi-coloured sorbet that honours the Scottish inventor of the kaleidoscope. Despite reminding them of a poached egg, Stuart’s is generally popular with the judges and Caroline shows her appreciation of Roberta’s with a clean stick.

Stuart’s dessert is a dark, glossy chocolate, caramel and whisky delice, dotted with osmanthus tea gel and served with salted milk ice cream. Kataifa pastry strands imitate barley straw, and the dish is presented in individual barrels in honour of Sir Geoff Palmer, Scotland’s first black professor whose work revolutionised whisky and beer making. Oliver smiles and says it’s ‘damn fine’.

Finally, Roberta prescribes her take on the penicillin theme – a chocolate, lemon and ginger cake shaped to look like a giant pill. With whisky mousse and ginger ice cream, it’s dispensed with a healthy tumbler of Penicillin cocktail. Rachel likes the presentation (and the cocktail’s kick) but Oliver decides the strong flavours offer ‘no relief’.

Nevertheless, as the scores are totted up, it’s Roberta who triumphs. I’m immediately reminded of Tom Brown’s glowing assessment of her main course – ‘For me a pie has always got to have a nice soggy bit on the bottom and those doughy corners… they were perfect. That was my favourite bit.’

And so, I take this moment to reflect on the concept of pastry softened by rich, meaty juices and glorious gravy and have to concede that he has a point. Soggy bottoms are underrated. I’m off to dream of Roberta’s pie.