Great British Menu 2023: London and South East recap

by Howard Middleton10 March 2023

This week on Great British Menu, it was time for four chefs from London and the South East to compete for a place in finals week. Howard Middleton catches us up on what went on.

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.

Paddington Bear, Indiana Jones, my sister… some people look good in a hat, and some, like me, just don’t. Veteran chef, Tommy Banks, however, looks absolutely fabulous in a hat. Three times this week, he modelled the millinery, maintaining composure whilst working whatever look was thrown his way by the four London-based chefs. Newcomer Brian Danclair of Danclair’s Kitchen in Brixton headed home after the fish course and beanie-wearing Budgie Montoya, founder of Sarap, followed after treating Tommy to another accessorised dessert.

Left to cook for Ed Gamble, Nisha Katona, Tom Kerridge and guest judge, acclaimed illustrator Dapo Adeola are newcomer Avi Shashidhara, chef patron of Pahli Hill Bandra Bhai restaurant in Fitzrovia and returner Robbie Lorraine, founder of Brixton’s Only Food and Courses pop up concept and now head chef at the Cheshire Cheese pub on the Strand.

Avi’s canapé is a Mangalore bun with spiced crab sukka, Robbie’s is a scallop, truffle, apple and lovage mille-feuille. Tom is unfortunately in for a double helping of celeriac as it’s grated to mimic crab meat and confited to stand-in for scallop. Whilst the judges like the delicacy of Robbie’s, it’s a unanimous thumbs up for Avi’s spicy bite.

Winnie the Pooh’s friend, Rabbit is Robbie’s muse for his starter, ‘Fancy a Little Smackerel?’. With a hay-baked carrot at its centre, it also features a spiced carrot samosa and a crisp cornetto of carrot sorbet. Glazed with star anise and cinnamon, the central carrot is garnished with carrot puree, chive oil, puffed barley, pickled beetroot and baby onion petals. Nisha doesn’t mind the samosa but feels the carrot is ‘a little one-dimensional’ and nearly breaks a tooth on the puffed barley. Despite sporting a snuggly Aran cardigan, Tom says he feels ‘cold’ and thinks the dish lacks ‘a warming start’.

Inspired by the Gruffalo’s favourite meal of scrambled snake, Avi reworks a classic of Indian street food called papdi chaat. The ‘snake’ is actually made of deep-fried powdered chickpea paste, which diners scramble (or rather crumble) over crushed carom seed crackers, soy yogurt, tamarind and mint chutneys, pink beetroot, tomato and pomegranate. Eagle-eyed Dapo spots that the dish is a perfect match to the colour palette of the book’s illustrations. ‘Amazing,’ declares Tom, equally wowed by a ‘rainbow of flavours’.

Captain Pugwash is Robbie’s fish course inspiration, as he serves a treasure chest of pan-fried wild sea bass, cuttlefish ravioli, fermented fennel, sea purslane, apple pearls, caviar and a jug of apple dashi. Tom winces at the fennel and judges it ‘overpoweringly offensive’. All like the dashi but the fish is deemed ‘OK’ and Dapo decides the ravioli is ‘just kind of plain’.

Avi’s take on fish and chips comes with a side order of Mr Bean. It provided Tommy Banks with his first hat of the week – a triangular paper one, accessorised with an oversized red tie and little teddy companion. Jerusalem artichoke and potato fries are spritzed with coconut vinegar and dished up on a banana leaf parcel of steamed sea bass, marinated in lemon juice, coconut, chilli, coriander and ginger. Beans come in the form of a black chickpea and fennel salad and a glass of solkhadi is served alongside. Dapo and Ed are not fans of the solkhadi but agree ‘the dish itself is fantastic’. Tom fears he may have over-seasoned his fish by using the lemon wedge provided. ‘Maybe that’s the Mr Bean mistake,’ teases Ed.

‘What’s a Squab?’ is Avi’s tasty tribute to the animated film, Fantastic Mr Fox. For it, he stuffs pigeon with thyme and sage before roasting with a splash of marsala, then serves with a fine forest feast of chestnuts, crispy pancetta, roasted Delica pumpkin, girolles, quince paste and marsala sauce. All agree the cooking is truly delicious, but Ed says the dish lacks a ‘wow factor’ and Tom agrees ‘it’s just not right for a banquet’.

Robbie packs a pan-fried short rib beef and marmalade sandwich into his Paddington origin story dish, ‘Darkest Peru’. Thick slices of spiced and barbecued beef sirloin are plated with golden beetroot spirals, Amarillo pepper crisps and aji verde sauce. Mini suitcases hold crispy quinoa and beetroot croquettes. ‘Less Paddington, more festival when you wear it,’ is Ed’s sartorial critique of Tom’s bright red bucket hat. Nisha’s more appreciative of the ‘fabulous’ sandwich and Dapo agrees the ‘zing’ of marmalade with beef is a revelation.

For pre-dessert, Avi presents a shaved ice palate cleanser based on Raymond Briggs’s ‘The Snowman’, where diners drizzle bottles of colourful pomegranate, passion fruit and chervil syrups over the ice. ‘What a great idea. Really, really clever,’ smiles Tom. He’s less happy with Robbie’s floral tribute to ‘Fifi and the Flowertots’, resulting in what Ed describes as an unwarranted ‘screwed-up little baby face’. The combination of fennel meringue and gooseberry curd, topped with a poppy seed tuile and edible petals is judged far from ‘harmonious’ but Avi’s hits the right note for all.

On to desserts and Dapo is already dreading the prospect of Avi’s rice pudding planet in ‘Planet of the Clangers’. ‘Childhood trauma things,’ he says, grimacing at the thought. He needn’t have worried. ‘Awesome’ is his verdict on the creamy, coconut flavoured globes, which are served with slabs of mousse-like chocolate cake, pistachio praline and chocolate shards. Tom admires the skill and says it’s ‘amazing’ but questions if it’s really two separate desserts. Nisha vehemently disagrees and tries to declare it ‘banquet-worthy’ before Tom can drown her out with his slide whistle.

Poor Robbie. There now follows one of those car crash moments that supposedly makes great TV but is both fascinating and agonising to watch. His Alice in Wonderland dessert of heart-shaped cherry and chocolate layered gateau, cherry gel, a white chocolate playing card and a cherry sour cocktail does not turn out as planned. It scored a very respectable eight from Tommy Banks but the version he tries to serve to the judging chamber is falling down like… a house of cards. With cakes that won’t set, then won’t come out of their moulds, he resorts to desperately shaping them with a cookie cutter and his white chocolate playing card is a flaccid vision of its former self. Andi Oliver admits she’s ‘a little bit heartbroken’ and in the judging chamber Tom says, ‘someone’s had a nightmare here’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s Avi who heads off to finals week but, when it comes to sheer herculean perseverance, it’s definitely hats off to Robbie.

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