Great British Menu 2023: North West recap

by Howard Middleton24 February 2023

Howard Middleton fills us in on what happened this week on Great British Menu, as four chefs became one in the North West heats.

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.

‘You’ve always got to watch out for the quiet ones.’ Wise words from Andi Oliver to this week’s veteran, Lisa Goodwin-Allen as one newcomer chef took an early lead in this week’s heat. By contrast, we saw (and heard) the exuberant return of Caroline Martins, head chef at the Sao Paulo Project in Manchester and the promising debut of cheerful Sam Grainger, chef patron of Belzan in Liverpool. And then the cooking started. Caroline suffered a low-scoring starter and although she pulled ahead of Sam with her fish course, it was sad to see her joy and energy slipping away. Stepping in for a second week (this time to judge fish as Lisa has a seafood allergy), Spencer Metzger maintained his steely composure through slightly surreal critiques.

‘Do you think there’s enough truffle on the postcard?’ he asked Caroline of her Postman Pat fish dish. He didn’t like it, though Andi disagreed, insisting ‘I’ve never had such a delicious postcard’. ‘You promised me a caterpillar’ said a disappointed Spencer to Sam, ensuring his metamorphosis will have to wait for another year.

So, it’s left to Danielle Heron, head chef at Osma in Manchester, and Laszlo Nagy, head chef at The Nag’s Head in Haughton, Cheshire to cook again for Tom Kerridge, Nisha Katona, Ed Gamble and guest judge, Jane Horrocks.

Danielle’s canapé is a beetroot meringue topped with whipped blue cheese, compressed apple and dill. Laszlo’s is a scrambled egg, bacon and onion jam tartlet, minus the bacon for vegetarian Jane. Tom thinks the blue cheese one is a bit ‘blue cheesy’, Jane says the egg one’s ‘a bit too eggy’ and the scores are split two-all.

Encouraging diners to ‘Eat Like a Womble’, Danielle plates pan-fried oyster mushrooms with dots of roasted almond puree, lemon thyme gel and black garlic puree, adding pickled ramson capers, artichoke crisps, grated truffle and yarrow leaves. On the side are little trompette powder cookies topped with roasted sunflower seed hummus and mini teapots of mushroom broth. Tom loves the ‘autumnal’ flavours and says it’s ‘a great dish’. Jane finds the broth a little ‘acidic’, but Nisha stays true to the Womble work ethic and cleans her plate completely.

A superhero with green credentials is the inspiration for Laszlo’s starter, which, despite being based on The Astounding Broccoli Boy, is confusingly titled ‘Sea and Farm’. Torched broccoli florets and miso and broccoli puree team up with salsify, pickled cabbage, sea herbs and sea kelp foam to encircle a marinated king oyster mushroom stem that’s trimmed to look like a scallop. The judges love the look of the dish but soon decide it’s not to their tastes. Nisha admits she’s struggling with it, Ed says the foam ‘tastes like wood’ and Tom thinks it’s like someone has tried to be creative with fridge leftovers.

Danielle’s fish course pays tribute to Chervelle Fryer’s illustrations for a children’s book made completely from recycled ocean plastic. Sustainable plaice fillets are sandwiched to create a thicker portion before being pan fried in butter, then served with blanched sea cabbage, sea beet, cavolo nero, dill pickle gel, oyster emulsion, cucumber balls and little jugs of creamy fish bone sauce. ‘Fabulous’ says Nisha, as she waxes lyrical about the cooking of the plaice and Jane is equally wowed by her cabbage alternative. ‘It tastes as clean as we want the sea to be’, is Ed’s on-theme summary.

For a playful take on the poetry of Roger McGough, Laszlo serves ‘Not So Fish Pie’, which includes fancy versions of those childhood favourites – fish fingers and smiley potato faces. Halibut fillets are glazed with chicken jus, then topped with crispy fish scales and the plate is garnished with poached mussels, celery leaves and dill. With opinions divided about saltiness, Ed decides it’s simply ‘the best fish finger I’ve ever had’.

By now, Jane is more than a little concerned about the abundance of cabbage on her version of today’s menus. It’s back again in the form of both savoy and sauerkraut as Laszlo aims to capture the flavours (if not the smells) of Buttercup Farm, home to the children’s comic characters Jack and Jill. For the other judges there’s herb-crusted lamb cannon with potato dauphinoise, shepherd’s pie of braised shoulder, lovage espuma and lamb jus. Nisha says the dauphinoise is ‘as salty as the sea’ and Ed bemoans its lack of creaminess. Jane says she ‘wouldn’t be jumping up and down’ if she had her dish in a restaurant. After so much cabbage, it’s probably wise to stay seated.

Exuberance returns aplenty with ‘Paddington’s First Chinese New Year’, as Danielle creates a celebratory feast of Chinese-style boiled chicken, gilded spring rolls, homemade noodles in chilli and peanut sauce, charred baby leeks, glazed mushrooms and a hot spring onion and ginger sauce. ‘Fantastic’ says Jane of her oyster mushroom replacement, and the other judges barely lift their heads from the satisfying plates. ‘I honestly do not want this to end’ says Tom.

For pre-desserts, the chefs reimagine two towering characters in miniature – Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan and the BFG. Laszlo’s lolly of bright blue Curacao is deemed to be ‘too aggressive’ but Danielle’s cucumber and goat’s yogurt mousse wins friends all round.

First up for dessert is Laszlo’s Paddington-themed suitcase of Peruvian-style delights, in honour of the little bear’s homeland. He packs his rolled pionono with rum-infused crème pâtissière, adds pretty chocolate petals and serves alongside a fiery little mango salsa and a pot of marmalade ice cream. The pionono is popular but the judges have mixed views on the salsa. Tom says the ice cream tastes ‘grainy’ and the marmalade ‘shop bought’.

Finally, there’s Danielle’s homage to Bob the Builder – a condensed milk sponge cake served with poached pears, Earl Grey custard, salted caramel and a mug of builder’s tea ice cream. Nisha loves the tannin taste of the ice cream but… Tom thinks it’s ‘grainy’ again. Nevertheless, all agree it has great potential. As does Danielle, who quietly and convincingly secures her place in finals week

Back to Lisa and Andi’s conversation on Tuesday, as Lisa reflected on her competition debut thirteen years ago. ‘I was a quiet one’ she said. ‘You were!’ replied Andi. ‘They didn’t see that coming, did they?’ At least three chefs from north west England may well think the same about Danielle.

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