Great British Menu 2022: the banquet recap

by Howard Middleton 2 April 2022

Howard Middleton fills us in on how 2022's Great British Menu course winners got on at this year's eagerly anticipated banquet.

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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.

Success is often about being in the right place at the right time. Naturally, you need talent and enthusiasm too, hard work and so on, but as the banquet guests gather at Alexandra Palace, the familiar faces of British broadcasting have, between them, surely enjoyed a little luck along the way.

There’s Prue Leith, who’s become even more of a national treasure since leaving Great British Menu. And fellow ex-judge, Oliver Peyton, who hopefully bears no grudge that one of last year’s guests, Ed Gamble, clearly found himself in the right place at the right time and nabbed Oliver’s place at the judging table.

Sometimes luck (like Oliver Peyton) is just sitting there waiting to be pushed. At the start of Finals Week, Tom Kerridge asked if any chef had their eye on the starter course. ‘Yeah, I’d love this one’ said Nathan Davies, his hand shooting up eagerly. The judges and chefs laughed and cheered at his enthusiasm and, as if by magic, his ‘Merlin’-themed dish got it!

‘I’ll try that tomorrow’ grinned the course’s runner up, Spencer Metzger. It worked – he duly netted fish with his ‘Sherlock’-inspired ‘Be Careful What You Fish For’. Proving to be a prophetic title, Spencer soon found himself responsible for the main course too.

Desperate to bag the last slot on the menu, Chris McClurg made sure his hand was up for dessert, even before Ed Gamble had finished asking the question. However, by now the chefs’ lucky ritual was beginning to lose some of its potency and Chris found himself tied on forty points with the practically invincible Spencer. Unable to decide between them, the judges roped in Andi Oliver to break the deadlock and, much to everyone’s relief, surely including Spencer’s, Chris was able to add his name to the menu board.

‘I’m so glad we’ve got another pair of hands’ admitted Nathan, and the chefs were further cheered by the news that Sally Abé, as highest scoring runner up, would be there too for canapé and pre-dessert. It’s a good job she was, as Nathan, still awaiting a Covid test result had to miss the first day of prep and leave his dish in Sally’s capable hands.

Finally able to get on with her canapés, Sally’s added a vegetarian cauliflower gougère to accompany her chicken liver and elderberry tartlet. Both are speedily dispatched by diners, blissfully unaware that the chefs are having to navigate a three-minute trek from cooking kitchen to serving station.

Nathan’s also been forced outside with his trademark barbecue because of the listed building’s fire regulations. However, guests are still allowed to unleash a few pyromaniac tendencies, happily burning the starter’s ‘secret recipe’ on an open flame. Dame Prue nearly sets herself alight but regains her composure in time to tuck into braised and barbecued lamb neck with fermented ancient grains, beer broth and chive oil. The beery, blackened onion, which Tom Kerridge called ‘the star of the show’ is a particular winner with veggie guests, for whom Nathan’s swapped lamb for tofu.

Inevitably, the GBM banquet always has its substitutions and this one is no exception. The gorgeous bespoke illuminated magnifying glass platters that Spencer used previously have been a little downgraded to recyclable card ones. Nevertheless, his roast tronçon of brill still shines bright, perfectly plated with marinated grapes, herb emulsion, sea vegetables and dulse, and little glass pipes of smoked beurre blanc, finger lime and chives. Anita Dobson reassures herself that she made the right choice in the heats by nodding approvingly as she sucks the sauce straight from its container.

Having trained himself to prepare a partridge in record time, Spencer’s ready to move onto his main course of a ‘Pride and Prejudice’ style feast. Pretty pine-cooked pears and perfectly crispy pommes salardaises accompany the partridges, which are stuffed with truffle and chestnut and served with two sauces – a Madeira one and the Regency ‘white soup’, blending cream and ground almonds. ‘Wow!’ says Oliver Peyton.

Coincidentally also called ‘Pride and Prejudice’, Sally’s fruity rainbow lolly inspired by Channel 4’s ‘It’s a Sin’ provides light (but thought provoking) refreshment before diners dive in to Chris’s sumptuous sherry-laced, chocolatey, fruity, nutty ‘Derry Girls’ trifle. Special guest and Derry Girl, Saoirse-Monica Jackson says it’s ‘amazing’.

The diners consider which has been their favourite dish of the evening and I reflect on the series as a whole. Talking of being in the right place at the right time – frankly, this year it’s not been easy. Veteran chefs (and Andi) sometimes referred to ‘Friday’s judging chamber’, unaware it would be switched to Thursdays. Then the 8pm time slot moved to 9pm on Wednesdays, and Finals Week was all over the place. Nevertheless, we scoured the schedules, stuck with the series and were undoubtedly well rewarded.

As is Spencer, who is fittingly named as the champion of champions. The fish course did it, but he’s been a class act across the menu. Give it two or three years, and I confidently predict he’ll be a Great British Menu veteran. Knowing his luck, he could well be there even sooner. Then again, Nathan put his hand up first.