Great British Menu 2022: South West recap

by Howard Middleton 18 March 2022

Howard Middleton fills us in on what went down as the South West's best chefs battled it out in the Great British Menu kitchen.

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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.

‘How’s your week been?’ asks Tom Kerridge of Andi Oliver, as they settle down for their little weekly chat ahead of the judging. ‘Quite eventful,’ she replies, with a knowing look that borders on exhaustion. ‘Paul Ainsworth… he really earned his money this week,’ she says of the heat’s veteran chef.

Indeed, after canapés, Paul predicted, ‘I think we’re in for some phenomenal cooking’, then, following starters, Andi felt the need to give the chefs an uncharacteristic telling off. ‘This was not your finest hour,’ she said. Returning chef Nat Tallents from the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall bravely battled to beat her ‘first out’ status from last year but sadly failed. Newcomer Charlotte Vincent, head chef at the Five Bells Inn in Devon clung on to cook her full menu but lost out eventually to two returners – Elly Wentworth, head chef of The Angel in Dartmouth, and Olivia (Liv) Barry, chef owner of Adelina Yard in Bristol.

In the judging chamber, Tom’s mates Ed Gamble and Nisha Katona are joined by guest judge, actor, writer and director Priyanga Burford, who very honestly admits she’s hungry but doesn’t really know what she’s looking for.

Elly’s canapé is based on fish and chips – a crispy ball of cod brandade in split pea batter with malt vinegar jam. Liv’s is a beef fat waffle with beef tartare, crispy onions and apple jam. Elly’s presentation causes consternation as she’s balanced her canapé on a bed of uncooked split peas. You can literally see them stuck to the spoon as Priyanga puts it in her mouth. ‘I’ve by mistake eaten one of these green and yellow gravelly things’ she says. Deciding their favourite, the judges are, appropriately… split.

‘A very fair reflection of the hospitality industry,’ is Tom’s verdict on ‘Fawlty Towers’ – the starting point for Elly’s duck-stuffed starter. Duck mousse dumplings are served with bitter orange gel and spiced cranberry chutney, strands of crispy duck leg and deep-fried kale, with duck consommé on the side. Ed and Tom aren’t fans of the ‘dense’ dumplings. Priyanga carefully considers how she’d describe them and eventually settles on… ‘dense’.

Inspired by Sir David Attenborough, Liv serves a sustainable starter of celeriac terrine, layered with thyme and garlic, along with tempura enoki and roasted crosnes, pickled chanterelles, mushroom broth and a drizzle of lovage oil. ‘Absolutely delicious,’ says Tom of the terrine and even goes on to enthuse, ‘I could see something like this at the banquet, I really could’.

Up next, it’s Elly’s turn to pay tribute to Sir David with ‘Ocean Greens’ – featuring wild scallops free-dived on a single breath by Jamie Kirkaldy off the Devon coast. She pan-fries the scallops with brill, adds dots of preserved lemon gel and sits the seafood on roasted turnip fondant. Pickled turnip, sea purslane and deep-fried sea lettuce accompany, along with dill oil and a creamy smoked sea lettuce sauce. ‘It’s a really simple, elegant, high-end restaurant dish’ says Nisha. Tom likes it too but decides there’s ‘too much sweetness’ in it. ‘You could do with a little bit of sweetness today, Tom,’ quips Ed.

‘I was a woman whose abdomen exploded,’ recalls Priyanga of her role in ‘Holby City’. It’s not the most appetising topic of conversation as the judges wait for ‘Happy Accident’ – Liv’s medical-themed fish dish of leeks in miso dressing, fried and pickled clams, sea herbs and crispy turbot cheek. Topped with nori flakes, steamed turbot is presented on an x-ray, and there’s an accompanying syringe of seaweed tea. Everyone agrees the turbot is cooked perfectly and the presentation is much admired, but Nisha describes the dish like Saturday night in A&E – ‘a bit chaotic’.

‘Gird your loins’ Andi tells Liv and Elly as they prepare their lamb main courses. In the week, Liv suffered a tearful service of her dish ‘Desert Island Discs’, but she’s happy now with her roast lamb brushed with shio koji, deep-fried sweetbreads, raw artichoke in lemon juice and caper and anchovy jam. ‘Such a treat’ says Ed of the crispy Jerusalem artichoke skins filled with braised lamb and topped with lamb fat panko, and the whole dish is a unanimous hit. Tom even likes the presentation – ‘Does your plate turn like a record player?’ he smiles.

Admittedly, I’m not great on either history or geography, but Elly’s ‘Windsor Banquet’ has me confused. Supposedly celebrating William and Kate’s wedding in 2011, it features lamb loin, buttery champ mash, cabbage and smoked almond salsa, apricot and lemon thyme jam and gilded apricot jelly crowns, alongside braised lamb neck with lemon thyme crumble topping. It all sounds delicious, but… nobody asks, ‘why Windsor?’ – it’s nowhere near the South West and this royal couple were married in London. Anyway, inefficacy overshadows inaccuracy as a disappointed Nisha says, ‘it’s the kind of banquet where you feel like you need to eat before you go, and then possibly go to the chippy on the way home.’ Tom bravely tries to defend the dish, but the others are unconvinced.

Elly fares better with ‘Lovely Jubbly’, her pre-dessert of crème fraiche panna cotta, roasted grapefruit curd, orange blossom sorbet and cocoa granola, served in sweet little yellow three-wheeler vans. Liv’s cube of raspberry parfait and lime custard is deemed ‘too icy’ so the panna cotta Trotter wins.

Liv has saved her best presentation prop until last for ‘A Matter of Loaf and Death’ – a fitting, tipping tribute to the genius of Wallace and Gromit. Bowls of apple terrine on brioche pain perdu with spheres of compressed apple and a quenelle of cider sorbet get treated to the wonders of her (hopefully patented) Tip-O-Matic, which uses an inflating balloon to pour a jug of vanilla custard. Tom’s not keen on the ‘stodgy’ pain perdu and Nisha agrees it’s ‘more fun than finesse’ but Ed’s happy to keep playing with his Tip-O-Matic for the foreseeable future.

Presented on an artist’s palette, Elly’s ‘Try it Yourself’ is a creatively interactive dessert of blackberry parfait, chocolate feuilletine, goat’s yogurt sorbet, blackberry and lime sauce, and lime curd topped with finger lime. Sorbet and curd get the thumbs up, but the parfait is judged to be too cold again. ‘They’ve got all the ingredients there to create a fantastic masterpiece…’ says Tom of Elly’s dessert and it’s a reasonable critique of the chef herself as she loses out to Liv.

Back in the ‘little private chat’ room, Andi and Tom are discussing the impressive potential of both chefs. Someone has cleared away their prop mugs, which never seem to have anything in them anyway. If they’re in search of a drink, they’re probably too late for champagne – Elly and Liv will have polished that off in no time. Syringe of seaweed tea anyone?