Great British Menu 2022: Central heat recap

by Howard Middleton 4 February 2022

Howard Middleton is back to take us through the highs, lows, triumphs and missteps of the Great British Menu kitchen. Catch up on how the chefs representing the Central region got on.

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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.

Where would TV be without its classic moments of embarrassing awkwardness? Blue Peter’s Lulu the incontinent elephant, for example, or Basil Fawlty’s rant at a guest’s request for Waldorf salad? Both programmes get a cautiously respectful nod this week as Great British Menu celebrates one hundred years of British broadcasting.

Chefs from the Central region go first. Nottinghamshire’s Sally Abé returns to the competition, fresh from her new London restaurant, The Pem. She is up against newcomer Ben Orpwood, originally from Cambridge, who is executive head chef of Gordon Ramsay’s Lucky Cat in London.

For the second year running, poor Liam Dillon from The Boat Inn in Lichfield missed out again on a trip to the judging chamber by just one point. His ‘Phantom Flan Flinger’ dessert could have been the perfect antidote to thwarted ambitions.

Pass a consolatory custard pie too to Harvey Perttola, head chef at Restaurant Six in Trent Bridge, who left on Tuesday, understandably disappointed.

Michelin-star-winning chef Tom Kerridge is the newly appointed ‘head judge’. We’ve yet to see what this means in any picky pecking order but fellow judges, restaurateur Nisha Katona and comedian Ed Gamble wait patiently (if a little awkwardly) to find out.

Canapés are up first (no, they’ve not changed things too much) – Ben’s mandarin-dressed oyster and Sally’s chicken liver and elderberry tartlet. The judges agree the oyster is overpowered by orange, but the tartlet is spot on.

Taking inspiration from the gameshow Blockbusters, ‘Can I Have a ‘P’ Please Bob?’ is Ben’s pea and ham starter. Pork and pea-laden dashi is ladled over chawanmushi custard, infused with kombu and smoked bacon, then garnished with torched lardo, pea puree and crispy chunks of crackling.

Guest judge, broadcaster Cat Deeley, who’s already admitted a dislike of food with little texture, such as panna cotta, grimaces as Ed points out that the chawanmushi is very like panna cotta. Nisha loves the lardo but there’s general agreement that the dish has ‘issues’.

Inspired by a classic episode of Dad’s Army, Sally serves wedges of crispy bubble and squeak, topped with dots of black garlic puree, pickled onions, mushrooms, slithers of chicken skin and truffle and a scattering of pickled mustard seeds. Little chicken sausages are parcelled up for the diners. On Tuesday, Sally and Andi’s conversation about hiding sausages led to smirks all round. With its accompanying sauce of sherry vinegar and madeira, Tom says, ‘this dish tastes incredible’. Nisha says she’d like more ‘unctuousness’ in her bubble and squeak but happily downs a bottle of sauce.

Half bottles of Bollinger come next on the menu as Sally cracks open her Ab Fab fish dish, ‘Scolli Bolli Sweetie Darling’. Serving seared scallops in creamy champagne and saffron sauce, alongside braised celery, compressed grapes and puff pastry fleurons, the judges agree the dish looks stunning. ‘The scallops are fabulous’ says Nisha. Tom thinks it went ‘slightly downhill’ after the ‘amazing’ sauce.

‘Fanny’s Haddock’ is Ben’s tribute to the formidable grande dame of early TV cookery. Thick fillets of kombu-cured fish are poached, then perched on impressively lofty soufflés, drenched in Lincolnshire Poacher sauce and topped with truffle shavings. The judges scoff at the ‘token gesture’ of an accompanying bitter leaf salad, then eat their words, accepting it cuts through the dish’s richness. Cat explains that she’s mesmerised by the sound of her fork breaking the fluffy soufflé. Nisha praises the flavours and Tom calls it ‘magical… an exceptional dish’.

Ben’s homage to Fawlty Towers (and to 1970s style in general) sees two huge, charred tomahawk steaks served with Waldorf salad, walnut ketchup and bone marrow sauce. Wednesday’s unseasonal asparagus comes off the menu in favour of seared broccoli and kale leaves. As he carves, Tom explains the ideal proportion of fat to meat. ‘In the politest way possible, do hurry up’ urges Ed. ‘It’s incredible’ says Cat. Tom agrees, ‘This couldn’t be further away from a disastrous hotel in Torquay’.

Sally’s main course reworks a dish eaten by astronauts of the 1969 moon landing. Recreating the era of black and white TV, she presents a monochrome masterpiece of pork and potato, which this week’s veteran judge, Aktar Islam gave a perfect ten. A lunar footprint of celeriac and turnip puree goes first on the plate, followed by slices of juicy pork chop, crispy jowls and black pudding. Diners open little tins of potato dauphinoise and pour gravy from a pouch. ‘The complexities of this dish are vast’ says Tom in admiration.

Time for a little palate-cleansing as the pre-desserts come out. Tom is wowed by Ben’s Toblerone-themed tribute to Alan Partridge, but the others favour Sally’s rainbow lolly inspired by ‘It’s a Sin’.

Onto desserts, where Ben’s ‘Top of the Pops’ features a mini Pavlova on a bed of passionfruit curd. He adds chocolate popping candy, a layer of white chocolate and passionfruit crémeux and tops with crème fraiche sorbet and marigold petals. With rotating disco ball domes and dance floor platters it looks fun, but the judges aren’t keen on the rapidly softening meringue. Nisha calls it ‘an amalgam in the bowl’ and says, ‘the presentation doesn’t do the flavours justice’. Ed concludes, ‘you can have too much fun’.

For her dessert, Sally opts for a Blue Peter theme, producing a tempered chocolate ‘time capsule’ of raspberry sorbet, malt mousse, brownie chunks, salted caramel and chocolate soil. Waiting to be served, Nisha attempts to recall the Blue Peter theme tune. Nobody tells her she’s humming ‘Dixie’ instead. Tom judges it ‘a great dessert’, Nisha says ‘it’s a cylinder with some nice flavours in it’. Ed says he’s ‘happy to sit on the fence and eat everything’.

Newly extended by thirty minutes, the judging show now includes a little more insight into the judges’ scores (and an opportunity to repeat the classic TV clips). It’s close but Andi announces that Sally’s done it. Congratulating Sally, Ben offers to be her commis. She may yet accept. That could be… awkward.