Great British Menu 2022: North East and Yorkshire recap

by Howard Middleton 11 March 2022

Howard Middleton keeps track of a particularly eventful week in the Great British Menu kitchen, where the best chefs of the north east of England test their culinary mettle.

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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. 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.

Fasten your seat belts for the bumpiest ride of the series so far, which Andi Oliver described as ‘a rollercoaster week’. It’s been high on drama, relatively low on scores and presumably inspired by a theme park with horrendous queues because there were frustratingly long waits for food to be served.

An offscreen drama must have preceded the heat as we learned that Kerala-born Bobby Geetha, chef patron of Fleur Café in Leeds, had only a week’s notice to prepare for the competition. He stepped in bravely to cover for an absent chef but dropped out after fish. Liz Cottam looked on track to make it through to the judging chamber but then suffered a dessert disaster, which played out painfully on screen for all to see. She returned home to the comfort of her restaurant Home in Leeds.

Left to face the judges are Mark Aisthorpe, chef patron of The Bull’s Head in Holymoorside and Luke French who runs his Nordic/Japanese influenced restaurant Jöro in Sheffield. Luke fuses his cuisines like he mixes his metaphors – ‘I think I’ve got what it takes to wipe them under the floor,’ he claims of the competition.

Appropriate for such a ‘hairy’ week, veteran chef Michael O’Hare made a very welcome return and this week’s guest judge is one half of the Hairy Bikers, Si King. He treats the regulars Ed Gamble, Nisha Katona and Tom Kerridge to tales of his travels whilst Andi Oliver desperately chivvies the chefs to get plates on the pass.

Mark’s canapé is a tomato salad tartlet with basil and courgette puree and toasted pine nuts. The judges agree it’s delicious, but Nisha adds ‘in a slightly one-dimensional way’. However, they’re all wowed by Luke’s ‘multi-dimensional’ mackerel croustade with yuzu and dashi hot sauce, caviar, crispy white kombu and nori. Ed likes its ‘face-punching flavour’, and Si admires its ‘poomf’.

You may wonder if any chef will succeed with the competition’s now ubiquitous chawanmushi. Luke tries again with ‘Maybe Eggs are Supposed to be Like This’ - an ouef-fectionate tribute to Wendy Craig’s character from the 1970s sitcom Butterflies. On his set custard goes a confit egg yolk, along with cheese and ham dashi, chopped ham, chives and a layer of hollandaise espuma. Toast soldiers are topped with truffle puree and pickled truffle slices. Tom says it’s ‘accomplished’ but ‘busy’. Despite being ‘left with a salty mouth’, Ed confesses that he’s eaten the whole thing. ‘That’s no endorsement, Ed’ laughs Nisha ‘… you do it every time’.

For his starter, Mark draws inspiration from the fictional North Yorkshire village of Aidensfield – setting of the TV series ‘Heartbeat’. He serves pigeon breast in a rowan and sloe berry glaze with a buckwheat crumb, accompanied by pigeon black pudding, sauteed hen-of-the-woods mushroom, pickled salsify and dots of black garlic puree. ‘Tasty’ is the consensus and Nisha says, ‘it’s like a very small main course’. ‘Very, very, very good’ is Tom’s verdict on the gravy but he adds, ‘it’s not a complete dish yet’.

Nisha says she’s expecting ‘opulent luxury’ as she waits for Luke’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’ lobster dish. However, despite scoring well with Michael O’Hare, the judges are disappointed with their lobster tail with red pepper flowers, chiffonaded makrut lime leaves, bronze fennel, caviar and habanero sauce. It’s mainly the sauce – Si says he’s getting ‘mango chutney’ and Tom complains that it’s ‘so, so sweet… like a cheap cooking sauce’. ‘I don’t mind the sauce,’ admits Ed.

Channelling the Chuckle Brothers, Mark presents his fish course on a board that moves the plate from side to side in a humorous nod to their ‘to me, to you’ catchphrase. On a swirl of spinach puree, he serves smoked salt-cured trout with charred pickled shallots, smoked pike roe, salty fingers, seaweed-flecked new potatoes, and a langoustine and onion tartlet on the side. The presentation props have the judges beaming, and most are happy with the food, but Tom is less impressed. ‘It’s lovely…’ he says ‘but is it good enough for a Great British Menu banquet? No’.

Si teases Nisha and Tom that they’re being ‘proper negheads today’ and although Nisha thoroughly enjoys tucking into Mark’s main course, Tom evidently doesn’t. Inspired by ‘Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway’ it’s shepherd’s pie two ways, with a little pan of the more traditional potato-topped version served alongside a deconstructed plate of mustard-crusted lamb canon, pea puree, roasted onions, carrots, truffled cauliflower cheese and Henderson’s Relish gel. ‘This dish is upsetting me, it’s depressing me – it’s a poor Saturday night in,’ Tom bemoans. Nisha tries to defend it by saying she’d be thrilled to have this at ‘someone’s nan’s house’ but it’s evidently ‘not banquet worthy’.

Scoring the only ten of the week from Michael O’Hare, Luke’s take on a festive dinner commemorates King George V – the first monarch to broadcast a Christmas speech. The judges tuck in to slices of duck glazed with Sheffield heather honey, braised boozy red cabbage, celeriac fondant, roast potatoes and duck leg sausage. Condiments come in the form of blackcurrant ketchup, parsley and pine emulsion and duck gravy. There’s even a carrot doily. Tom says it’s ‘very clever cooking’ but it’s Si’s turn to be a neghead. ‘This is all beautifully done… but there’s just no personality to it’ he decides. ‘I liked the taste of it,’ says Ed, cheerfully.

‘It takes me back to Varanasi’ says Nisha of Luke’s pre-dessert – a coconut parfait with finger lime under a lemongrass and ginger cloud. Tom agrees it’s ‘very nice’. He also likes the flavour of Mark’s little jar of rhubarb soup, topped with ginger fromage frais, but Ed’s not a fan of the texture and Tom agrees it’s ‘loose and floppy’.

Inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Mark’s dessert is a gold medal of rum-laced chocolate delice with a sour blueberry compote core and lemon sponge base. It’s served with a maple vinegar ice cream, which Ed disappointedly says, ‘just tastes like a normal ice cream’. Crestfallen Nisha concludes it’s ‘slightly lacklustre’.

Luke finishes off with ‘Ma Larkin’s Perfick Sundae’. On a new base of hazelnut praline sponge, he piles on strawberry sorbet, fresh strawberries, a chocolate tuile, cubes of berry jelly, hazelnut and white chocolate custard and soft set milk ice cream, before squirting over strawberry and yuzu sauce and scattering homemade hundreds and thousands, apple marigold leaves and alyssum flowers. Finally, there’s a smile on everyone’s face. ‘It’s joyous and joyful,’ says Si.

‘You must be exhausted’ says Andi to the two chefs, after announcing that Luke is victorious. I suspect that she feels fit to drop too (along with most of the production team). Si says, ‘let’s get drunk’. Nisha’s off to have tea at someone’s nan’s.