Great British Menu 2022: Scotland recap

by Howard Middleton 4 March 2022

Howard Middleton recounts the goings-on of the Great British Menu kitchen as Scotland's best and brightest culinary talents battled it out for a place at the 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. 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.

Richard Corrigan has new reading glasses. I know it’s probably not the most relevant observation of the week, but I say it just in case you’d like an update on that unusual choice of eyewear from last year’s competition. The veteran chef remains unpredictable – his mischievously twinkling eyes never quite revealing what he’s going to say next. On Tuesday, he confessed he’d never eaten a stuffed potato. On Wednesday, he suddenly decided to finish his shift early and left dessert to be judged by 2019 champion of champions, Lorna McNee.

Perhaps appropriately for the Scottish heat, score wise, it was clearly a case of two chefs taking the high road and two the low road. The newcomers, Fraser Smith, head chef at Angels with Bagpipes on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, and Calum Montgomery, chef patron of the historic Edinbane Lodge on the Isle of Skye, sadly never managed anything higher than a six or seven. Returners fared better with nines and a ten.

And so, it’s left to these two to face the judges – Stuart Ralston, chef patron of Aizle and Noto in Edinburgh, and Dundee-born Adam Handling, owner of a restaurant group that includes Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden.

Adam has a zero-waste policy of reusing leftover ingredients from one dish to incorporate in another and he starts as he means to go on. His canapé is a feuille de brick tube of retired dairy cow with a kimchi made of lobster brain and cauliflower stalks. Stuart’s is a little celeriac cracker of trout tartare, topped with sour cream, yuzu kosho, herbs and sea buckthorn. Guest judge Rory Bremner jokes that kimchi is a local ingredient. ‘Oh, you’ll have had your kimchi,’ he says with a strong Scottish accent. He also treats the regular judges to an impression of Tom Kerridge, who laughs along politely with Ed and Nisha. They’re all very happy with both canapés. However, after Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Boris Johnson come in quick succession whilst waiting for the starters, you get the impression this is going to feel like a long meal.

Chawanmushi is definitely one of the trends of this year’s competition and it’s there in Stuart’s woodland-style starter, inspired by the TV series ‘Monarch of the Glen’. He serves his set custard with cep puree, caramelised mushrooms, cubes of sherry vinegar jelly, truffle slices, crispy leaves of sweet potato skin and Berkswell cheese foam. Chawanmushi champions are thin on the ground – Ed says the texture is ‘interesting’ and Tom isn’t sure he’s a fan. He and Nisha agree that the acidity of the jelly is fighting against the ‘savoury, salty, earthy, mushroomy flavour’ they’re looking for.

Adam’s ‘Tattie Planting Time’ is his spud-centred homage to BBC Scotland’s ‘The Beechgrove Garden’. On a bed of Jerusalem artichoke puree he plants confit potatoes, crispy potato discs and cream cheese and chive-filled gnocchi. It’s served with a rich sauce of whey butter, sparkling wine and caviar, and topped with roast potato foam. Arranged on potato sacks with little watering cans of sauce, the judges are wowed by the presentation and the dish delivers too. ‘Why is it called ‘whey butter’?’ jokes Rory, ‘… because it’s way butter than the other one’.

The TV programme ‘Coast’ provides Stuart with an opportunity to showcase the best of Scotland’s shores and it’s Rory’s chance to air his Neil Oliver (and Sean Connery). Razor clams, dill, crème fraiche and lemon juice are combined to make a tartare that’s piped into edible shells. Turbot topped with cucumber, clam and caviar is plated with dill emulsion and artichoke puree and served with a vin blanc sauce infused with katsuobushi, button mushrooms and shallots. ‘I love it,’ exclaims Ed. Tom agrees ‘it’s very, very clever cookery’.

Whilst Stuart adapted his fish course for Tom’s shellfish allergy, Adam has decided to serve him a completely different dish. Inspired by his young son’s love of ‘Balamory’, Adam prepares beef fat-brushed lobster tail and tempura battered claws for most diners, along with carrot puree, barbecued pak choi, sea herbs and lobster sauce. Tom’s getting crispy cod, lemongrass sauce and a battered cheek. It sounds a little violent and… just at the point of service, Adam literally loses his temper over the tempura. ‘I’m not serving,’ he barks, and the bleep machine goes into overdrive. Andi remains magnificently calm and focused and eventually all the food is in the judging chamber. Ed burns his finger on a hot skewer but it’s nothing compared with the drama they’ve had in the kitchen.

With just an occasional bleep, Adam’s back on track to deliver his main course. It commemorates a moment in broadcasting history when, in 1923, Scottish miners were able to tune in to listen to the radio. The retired dairy cow is on the menu again – this time given a charcoal mustard glaze to look like coal. It’s served with truffle brioche brushed in beef fat, charred cauliflower, leek and black garlic puree, radicchio dressed in bone marrow fat and a flask of beef gravy. ‘Your soul smiles when you eat food like this,’ says Nisha, and Tom calls it ‘one of the most intense, incredible bits of cooking I’ve had in a long, long time’.

Putting the game into ‘Game of Thrones’, Stuart presents a medieval banquet of venison. Parsley root puree and a squeeze of foraged berry gel go on the plate, joined by ragù-stuffed Roscoff onion, crispy potato and slices of venison loin cooked in foaming butter. Skewers of liver and heart, topped with lardo and glazed with tamari, are served alongside, accompanied with goblets of Bull Shot cocktail. Tom praises the showcasing of Scottish produce, but Rory’s put off by the flavour of something on his plate, Ed doesn’t think the cocktail works and Nisha regretfully admits she was expecting more ‘abundance and generosity’.

For his pre-dessert, Adam had planned a witty take on the Tunnock’s teacake, but switches instead to a caramelised honey and sea buckthorn sorbet. It proves to be a canny move as Tom praises its ‘cleansing’ properties and Nisha says the honey is ‘divine’. Stuart’s blueberry sorbet, topped with blue and white Swiss meringue and a scattering of cornflower petals is less successful. ‘There’s something weird here,’ grimaces Rory and Ed calls the texture ‘creepy’.

TV gameshow ‘The Crystal Maze’ provides the theme for Adam’s dessert. Onto slices of millet cake go miso mousse, shards of milk crisp, poached and pickled pears and dots of apple gel. Andi invites Ed to solve a puzzle and, once successful, crystals of meadowsweet parfait rise dramatically to the delight of the judges. ‘They’ve wheeled in the link to brief – now I’m happy’ smiles Nisha. She, Ed and Rory all love the combination of flavours too but Tom wonders if ‘it just feels a little chaotic’.

Taking inspiration from Sir Billy Connolly and his banana-shaped boots, Stuart reworks the classic banana split into a layered square of banana semifreddo, black sesame craquelin, cherry gel, tempered dark chocolate and cherry sorbet. ‘Will you be eating the whole dessert as Billy Connolly?’ asks Ed of Rory. Thankfully not, but there’s still a weary look on Tom’s face. ‘If you had it in a restaurant, you’d go ‘yes – it’s a lovely pudding’, but this is most definitely not a Great British Menu banquet-winning pudding’, he says.

‘Consistency across the menu’ is Tom’s explanation for Adam’s victory. Andi nods knowingly, never revealing the fish course fiasco. Stuart and Adam celebrate and commiserate with a glass of Champagne, then, free of the bleep machine, Stuart retreats to a storeroom to swear to his heart’s content. Meanwhile, Ed, Tom and Nisha look at the banquet table plan and reconsider where to seat Rory.