Great British Menu 2022: North West heat recap

by Howard Middleton 11 February 2022

Four chefs representing the north west of England battle it out for the top spot – but who reigned supreme? Howard Middleton fills us in on what went down in the GBM 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.

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.

‘The smoke and mirrors of British broadcasting’ quipped returning chef Dave Critchley as he lifted the lid on his starter earlier in the week. It revealed a lot about cheery Dave’s cheeky approach to the competition. As executive chef of fine dining Chinese restaurant Lu Ban in Liverpool, Dave spent his week in the GBM kitchen clearly playing to his strengths – mirroring the best of his restaurant menu and blowing a little smoke over the brief.

Facing Dave is fresh-faced Sam Lomas – the youngest chef in this year’s competition. Originally from Macclesfield, he’s now head chef at Glebe House in Devon.

Joining the new regulars of Tom Kerridge, Nisha Katona and Ed Gamble in the judging chamber is Coronation Street star Sue Cleaver. Having played Glenda in the classic comedy Dinnerladies, Sue would doubtless have loved the apple crumble dessert of charming newcomer Stevie Lamb – head chef at The Orangery in Darlington. His impression of Victoria Wood’s character Bren was a highlight of the week.

Another highlight was the powerhouse personality of fellow newbie Caroline Martins who lives in Manchester and runs Brazilian-British fusion pop ups. She also left the competition early but her quirky dish of little fish mousses in a blue consommé lives on in the series’ intro.

Onto canapés and Sam’s is a mushroom, artichoke and crispy kale tartlet. Dave offers a huge shot of Chinese hot and sour soup. Sam’s goes down well with the judges, but all agree Dave’s is the one they’d order again.

For his starter, Dave serves pork three ways, plating a cube of crispy belly, a glazed cheek and a little cutlet on a swirl of Shaoxing caramel. Slices of black radish provide proof (if any were needed) that it’s Dave’s tribute to Liverpool legend Cilla Black. Nisha judges the pork skin to be ‘eye-rollingly beautiful’. Tom praises the cooking but says the dish isn’t quite ‘in tune’. Perhaps Cilla missed a note or two in her time too.

BAFTA award-winning crime series Happy Valley is the inspiration for Sam’s starter. Juicy slices of perfectly pink mutton rest on onion puree and charcoal-infused mayonnaise, topped with toasted hazelnuts, seared spring onions and wild garlic capers, then splashed with lamb broth. Served on a grassy mound with police tape, Ed says ‘the presentation is hilarious’ and he’s thoroughly wowed by the ‘banging gravy’. ‘Well executed’ declares Tom but ‘it doesn’t feel like a starter’.

On Tuesday, this week’s veteran Lisa Goodwin-Allen invited back the champion of the 2020 series Niall Keating to help her mark the fish course. Whilst Niall absolutely nailed his serious judge face, the competing chefs failed to net any high scores.

Hoping to raise a smile with Thursday’s judges, Dave invites them to splash around three colourful sauces with artistic abandon. His fish course includes a crispy fillet of trout on stir-fried choi sum, alongside a bowl of deep-fried fish scales and bottles of squid ink, spring onion and ginger oil and toban djan sauce. The fish scales are a winner for Tom and Sue. ‘That’s been my favourite so far,’ she adds.

The soothing sounds of the radio shipping forecast accompany Sam’s fish dish, ‘Moderate or Good’. Accompanying his pan-fried pollock, a generous spoonful of crushed celeriac and dulse is topped with pickled kohlrabi. It’s served with a wedge of salt-baked celeriac and mugs of creamy fish stock sauce. Ed says, ‘it’s more exciting than the shipping forecast’ but the judges agree it’s all a little ‘humble’.

Sam’s main course, ‘Wake Up to Wogan’ is a breakfast-style dish of spiced and sliced pork sausage, served with braised borlotti beans, roasted cherry tomatoes and a fried quail’s egg. On the side is a toasted sourdough crumpet, ready for spreading with yeast butter and plum ketchup. Sadly, the judges are underwhelmed. ‘This is what you want the morning after going to a banquet,’ says Sue.

For his main course, Dave imagines a family gathering around to watch the Royal Variety Performance and enjoying… a Chinese takeaway. He’s on a roll. It’s probably a spring roll. With duck egg fried rice, deep-fried enoki mushrooms, pak choi, seared beef, marrowbone crumb, black pepper sauce and truffle, there’s a lot going on. Tom reflects ‘it’s a great Chinese takeaway, but it’s not a great banquet dish’.

Just like that, we’re onto the pre-dessert as Sam serves damson and chocolate fez cakes in honour of comedian Tommy Cooper. Meanwhile, Dave celebrates TV’s first pre-watershed female same-sex kiss with cherry lip sweets and a complementary cocktail. ‘It really reminds me of Pepto-Bismol’ Ed says of the cocktail. ‘I’m all for Tommy Cooper’s fez’ decides Tom.

‘Bring Me Sunshine’ is Sam’s sunny honey-flavoured homage to Morecambe and Wise. He partners a slice of honey custard tart with whisky mousse, crème fraiche and compressed apple and serves a honey and whisky sour cocktail on the side. ‘One of the best desserts I’ve had in this competition so far’ says Nisha, which, for week two, strongly hints that the episodes aren’t always shown in the order they’re filmed. Tom judges the tart to be ‘exceptional’.

Hoping to tickle the judges’ tastebuds with his tribute to Ken Dodd, Dave’s dessert is a jam butty themed bento box. Little brioche loaves are served with raspberry, lychee and rose jam, treacle ice cream and white chocolate and biscuit rocks. Oh, and candy floss ‘tickling sticks’ arranged inexplicably in panda vases. ‘This isn’t a dessert’ decides Tom ‘it’s a selection of things that aren’t great… in a box’. Ouch!

The dessert scores clinch the competition in Sam’s favour as it’s revealed he has thirty-one points to Dave’s thirteen. Tom sensibly advises Sam to swap his starter and main and he’s all set to bring a little sunshine to the final. As for poor Dave… well, he probably summed it up best himself on Wednesday. ‘Are desserts your forté?’ asked Lisa Goodwin Allen. ‘No, not at all’ he replied, ‘that’s why I chose Chinese cooking’.