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Great British Menu 2019: the banquet

Great British Menu 2019: the banquet

by Howard Middleton 18 May 2019

The heats are over and the eight finalists have served their dishes – but only four can get a place at the final banquet. Howard Middleton keeps us updated on who made it through and how they fared during the grand occasion.

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You can’t have a banquet at Abbey Road Studios featuring a fab four of Britain’s best chefs without that shot. Striding across the famous zebra crossing, Adam Reid, Tom Anglesea, Luke Selby and Lorna McNee march towards a hard day’s night of banquet preparation.

Andi Oliver is there to welcome the chefs and to gently break the news that they’re going to be cooking in the café kitchen. Well, once the chairs and tables are moved out and the catering equipment arrives… some time later that afternoon. If this is a programme producer’s idea of adding drama to the event, it’s one our chefs could well do without.

Taking a break to discover some ‘unsung heroes’ of the music world, the chefs are introduced to the delightful Doreen Dunkley, who has run the Abbey Road kitchen for thirty years. Doreen accepts her banquet invitation, before disclosing ‘you can’t steam in both ovens at the same time’. With Luke’s steamed custard and Tom’s steamed scallops on the menu, Doreen nods with the worldly wisdom of a woman who has known Rod Stewart and impending disaster in equal measure.

We pause briefly to give some much-need credit to Ivory Tickler, the unseen, unsung and unfairly unbilled pianist who throughout the series has entertained us to her instrumental renditions of Beatles hits when, presumably because of some obscure copyright reason or public performance restrictions, the original was unavailable.

Ms Tickler took a break on Monday whilst her colleague, good old Stringer Strum treated us to a melancholic guitar rendition of ‘Till There Was You’; technically a Beatles cover, not an original, but I fear I’m being too picky for my own good. It accompanied Luke’s dramatically dry-iced starter of meadowsweet-infused cheese custard, confit egg, hazelnuts, sweetcorn, truffle and charred cabbage.

Ranked eighth in the starter course, Tom Anglesea went ‘from zero to hero’ with his poignant fish course ‘Lost Souls in a Fish Bowl’, dedicated to those we have loved and lost, both in and out of the music world. It brought tears to the judges’ eyes, not just because of the olfactory oomph of wasabi. Tom’s late friend, Graham was a special source of inspiration and he invites Graham’s sister and mother to the banquet.

Having just missed out with his crowd-pleasing starter, Adam Reid’s ‘Comfort Food Sounds Good’ was a surprising choice for the main course. Oliver had argued that the menu needed something that carried on the ‘delicacy’ of the first two courses, Matthew was sniffy about ‘beige’ food and all were still looking for ‘rock and roll’ but they ate their words and settled for a hearty plate of perfectly cooked chicken, ignoring the duplication of sweetcorn and truffle in both starter and main course.

It was a bittersweet decision for Chris McClurg, who had completely reworked his guinea fowl dish to produce a picnic of melodious mouthfuls. Chris and Adam achieved identical full marks but the judges plumped for the safer bet of a dish ‘more achievable’ in banquet numbers.

In an attempt to pin identifiable personas on the eight chefs of the final week, narrator Wendy Lloyd bestowed a selection of adjectives upon them. So Chris became ‘ambitious’ and Andy Sheridan ‘inventive’. Poor Lee Smith was ‘a relaxed presence in the kitchen’. ‘Maverick’ Kray Treadwell had rock and roll literally inked all over him. Cool, witty and tremendously creative, I found myself ‘investing emotionally’ in the young chef and willing him to get a dish to the banquet. It was a pointless exercise, given that the banquet took place back in February but that late discovery does nothing to fill the little Kray-shaped hole in my life.

New for 2019 was an additional challenge for the chefs to create vegetarian alternatives to their dishes, which makes one think there must have been some pretty frustrated (and hungry) vegetarians in the previous thirteen series. Anyway Luke changes his cheese, Tom offers kohlrabi instead of scallops, Adam swaps chicken for salt-baked celeriac and Lorna explains that she’d binned the gelatine in favour of ‘an alternative…‘, Lorna struggles to find the right word. Andi suggests ‘setting agent’ and Lorna nods. Lorna is very, very tired.

Lorna’s story arc made much of the point that she ‘just missed out on getting her dessert to the final last year’. By Thursday, the legend was elaborated to such an extent that Oliver told guest judge Peter Hook ‘she’s been so close’ and Andi added ‘she keeps coming just within a hair’s breadth’, which is patently untrue given this is only her second attempt at the competition. Well, never let the facts get in the way of a good story, Lorna is thrilled to ‘finally’ have the opportunity to serve her Club Tropicana-inspired ‘Lime and Sunshine – There’s Enough for Everyone’.

Supergrass band member, Danny Goffey pops in to help with the preparation. ‘I’ve got quite a few kids so I’m trying to get them to cook and help me do bits and bobs’ he says. Lorna asks him to prepare a hundred discs of pineapple. ‘A hundred?’ he asks. The man with ‘quite a few kids’ does seem a little flaky with numbers.

Tom is losing count of his ravioli, Lorna’s freezer isn’t cold enough and Luke’s barbecue isn’t hot enough. Luke kicks his barbecue and says something that sounds like an update on Tom’s latest task – ‘shucking scallops’.

Only ‘confident’ Adam has enough time to take a nostalgic trip with Peter Hook and Bez from the Happy Mondays, driving around a wet Manchester. As Adam is dropped off on double yellow lines outside the Midland Hotel a car horn toots. ‘Eh shut up’ says Peter ‘dropping a chef off, aren’t we’.

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Finally, it’s time for the guests to take their seats and some food to come out. Compared to previous banquets, this is a pretty relaxed affair – no dress code and plenty of entertainment, though I can’t help thinking how wearing it must be for guests to endure listening to the same piece of music on a loop until all tables are served.

The final menu may not have been everyone’s choice… well clearly it wasn’t, but, on reflection, the judges put together a good compilation of courses – theatrical, emotional, comforting and kitsch.

Diners vote on their favourite dish and Lorna is revealed as this year’s champion of champions. She gratefully grasps her glass trophy and says she doesn’t ever want to see another coconut.

As we think ahead to potential themes for Great British Menu 2020, there’s just time for one more glass of fizz before the dishwashers are stacked. And perhaps one more piece of Great British music. Take it away Ivory Tickler!

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