Great British Menu 2024: London and South East England recap

Great British Menu 2024: London and South East England recap

Great British Menu 2024: London and South East England recap

by Howard Middleton9 February 2024

Howard Middleton looks back over the latest week of Great British Menu heats, featuring four chefs from London and the South East.

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Great British Menu 2024: London and South East England recap

Howard Middleton looks back over the latest week of Great British Menu heats, featuring four chefs from London and the South East.

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Great British Menu 2024

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.

A wealth of gold medals was on display again this week, unlike that other treasure noted for its golden properties – silence. No, there was little evidence of the latter and though we weren’t reaching anywhere near the levels of The Apprentice’s elevated egos, it looked like GBM’s producers had been encouraging chefs to ‘talk the talk’, producing some bold and ballsy statements from our four newcomers to the competition.

‘My main goal is to win,’ said Vince Smith, a development chef working on bespoke events across London. Sadly, this week’s veteran, Simon Rogan saved Vince’s goal for another day and sent him home after fish. Joe Hill, chef patron at The Table, Broadstairs, then said, ‘Someone’s going to go home… it’s not going to be me.’ Unfortunately, it was.

So, left to face the judges are Kate Austen, a London-based private chef, and Ashok Kumar, executive chef at Kanishka by Atul Kochhar. Andi Oliver describes Kate as ‘composed’ with a ‘steely determination’, whilst Ashok is ‘humble’ and ‘modest’. Kate says, ‘I want the main course… and I want two courses.’ Ashok says, ‘Hope for the best’ and ‘there’s always room for improvement.’

Confidently kicking his way into the famed ‘room for improvement’, aka the judging chamber, is medal-winning taekwondo athlete, Lutalo Muhammad, who eventually sits down to canapés with Ed Gamble, Nisha Katona and Tom Kerridge. Kate’s cheese croustade is topped with veal tartare, white sardine and mushroom powder. ‘Nice enough – it’s not blown me away,’ says Nisha, but Lutalo disagrees and thinks it’s delicious. However, he too prefers Ashok’s canapé of cured and smoked duck dumpling with blue poppy seed and apricot raita, whilst Ed and Tom favour Kate’s.

Inspired by the diet of a medal-winning horse, ‘Valegro’ is Kate’s innovative starter of barbecued carrot, apple, wild carrot seed risotto, oat granola, blueberries, crispy stinging nettle and hay-flavoured vegan cream. Tom thinks it lacks a prominent flavour. Lutalo thanks Ed for echoing his thoughts – ‘I feel like I’m eating breakfast.’

Ashok’s starter is a gold medal of raj kachori stuffed with puffed quinoa, soya yoghurt and chickpeas and served with mung bean sprouts, pomegranate seeds and tomato. Five colourful chutneys accompany, each representing one of the Olympic rings – mango and ginger, tamarind and raspberry, blackberry, blueberry and mint. ‘I love it… and then it’s quite confusing,’ admits Tom. Ed thinks it’s simply ‘banquet worthy.’

Honouring LGBTQ+ swimmers, Kate’s fish course flies the rainbow flag, appropriately using rainbow trout, which she serves with pomme soufflé, gooseberry gel and oxalis. A mussel-stock sauce is flavoured with caviar, ramson capers, elderberry capers and chives and split with dill oil. Tom and Lutalo are treated to a mussel-free sauce of roasted fish bone, which proves to be equally satisfying. Ed and Nisha are disappointed with a tenuous link to the brief. Tom confesses, ‘At this point, I absolutely do not care, because it tastes delicious.’

‘Ooh, you’ve the voice of a high-end advert!’ swoons Nisha, as Lutalo describes the contents of Ashok’s ‘Aquatic Delight’ of halibut marinated in tamarind, tomato and curry leaves, cooked in a banana leaf wrap and served with sorghum grains, green coconut chutney and Malabar sauce. ‘Another banging sauce,’ says Ed, and Tom agrees it’s ‘outstanding’. Nisha and Tom disagree about whether the fish is overcooked or not. Ed lightens the mood but lowers the tone by pointing out that the Malabar sauce on the swimming pool platter ‘looks like someone’s had an accident in the deep end.’

On to something a little more classical (and classier) and ‘Symposium’ is Kate’s tribute to Ancient Greece, fused with dishes from other cuisines. Little plinths display her deboned stuffed quail, alongside a quail Scotch egg on a crispy potato podium, truffled French toast, hispi cabbage, white turnip purée, marinated fig, coriander and buttery vin jaune sauce. ‘Fabulous’ is Nisha’s view of the French toast. Ed loves both the Scotch egg and its podium. Tom is enchanted by a melodious fig – ‘It really sings for me,’ he says. However, he judges the quail – the main element of the dish – ‘the most underwhelming in flavour.’

Ashok’s main course, ‘Determination and Resilience’ is spiced and barbecued lamb cannon on a bed of Jerusalem artichoke masala, served with watercress purée, roasted heritage carrots, smoked lamb sauce and a little running man of puff pastry. ‘It’s a super cool plate,’ smiles Lutalo, admiring the bespoke running track platter. Sadly, the judges are less impressed with what’s on it. ‘Chewy’ is the general assessment of the lamb and though the pastry athlete is judged to be ‘tasty,’ it’s viewed as a last-minute addition to fit the brief.

‘I love that!’ says Nisha, tasting Kate’s pre-dessert of champagne jelly, melon sorbet, fresh raspberries and champagne foam. Its final sprinkling of espelette pepper is judged to be ‘magical’ by Tom. Meanwhile, inside Ashok’s flash paper Olympic flame is a rhubarb and rose lolly. Tom likes its ‘simplicity… and also the fire,’ producing another split decision.

Having ditched the controversial tapioca noodles that featured earlier in the week, Ashok’s Paralympic rowing-themed dessert still includes mini white chocolate boats on a blue-coloured cardamom cream cheese, rings of pistachio and honey kulfi parfait, raspberry purée, fresh raspberries and edible flowers. ‘Very colourful,’ is Lutalo’s immediate reaction, but Nisha says she’s having to squint to find the ‘teaspoon-sized boat.’ Tom thinks ‘the flavour profiles are wonderful,’ but all agree it’s not ‘unforgettable.’ Ouch. Maybe it did need tapioca noodles.

It's a final push for Kate as she prepares her clever dessert celebrating the moment at the Tokyo Olympics when two high jumpers shared the gold medal. Praised by Andi for her calmness, focus and composure, Kate now sends the bleep machine into overdrive as she battles to unmould the semi-circular medals. Finally, she frees her f-f-feuilletine base, topped with coconut mousse and mango and mint gel, neatly encased in gilded white chocolate. Coconut ice cream, a splash of plum oil and little bottles of vanilla brandy syrup accompany. ‘Absolutely delicious,’ says Ed, admiring how ‘on brief’ and ‘on theme’ it all is. Nisha says the ice cream is ‘exceptional’ and Tom concludes ‘it’s a gold-medal-winning dish.’

Fittingly, the gold medal of the week does indeed go to Kate, who’s clearly surprised and delighted. The judges plead for disappointed Ashok to try again next year. As for Kate, still seeking a banquet dish… or two… it proves that sometimes what you say is what you get.