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Great British Menu 2018: Wales recap

Great British Menu 2019: Wales recap

by Howard Middleton 04 May 2019

See how this year's trio of Welsh chefs fared in the Great British Menu kitchen with Howard Middleton's recap.

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Pity the poor chefs at this stage of the competition. Going into the penultimate week of heats, there’s every chance are that your ‘highly original’ interpretation of the brief will have already been aired in an earlier episode. There’s been a plentiful plundering of the Beatles’ back catalogue and someone else will doubtless have girl-powered a spicy dish long before you.

That said, in Wales week you should be fine to do a Welsh lamb tribute to Sir Tom Jones called ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’. Get it in early, as your starter, just to be on the safe side. What are the chances of anyone else doing that? Well, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, ‘Doh!’ Competing chefs Andy Sheridan and Cindy Challoner soon discover they’ve had precisely the same idea.

Newcomer Cindy is the former head chef at The Classroom, a prestigious teaching restaurant in Cardiff, whilst Andy (back for his second attempt at getting a dish to the banquet) has recently become head chef at Stargazy Inn in Cornwall.

In what has felt like a particularly ‘cheffy’ week (where ‘cuisson’ has definitely been the ‘mot du semaine’) it’s perhaps fitting to have had Phil Howard as the veteran. You can tell Phil wants to smile and he wants to award higher marks… but life inevitably presents just too much scope for disappointment. How Cindy managed to maintain a brave face when awarded a pitiful four for her dessert is anyone’s guess. It was as heart-breaking a TV moment as you’re ever likely to see. I don’t know how Phil sleeps at night. His pillow must have the perfect ‘cuisson’.

With Cindy sent packing, Andy is left to compete with Tom Westerland, also known as ‘Westy’, who is head chef of the Brasserie at Lucknam Park in Wiltshire.

Westy tells us his starter is based on memories of watching Top of the Pops and of his father’s vegetable patch. If Phil Howard were feeling particularly picky he’d probably have pointed out that ‘Top of the Crops’ is actually based on a plate of turnip purée. Westy scatters a ‘soil’ of crispy black pudding crumbs, then plants pickled carrots and beets and adds a bunny ball of rabbit kiev before garnishing with carrot tops. Tiny terracotta plant pots hold sticks of parsnip crisps. Andi wants ‘more bite’ from the beetroot and Oliver thinks the delicate rabbit is overpowered by garlic. Singer-turned-farmer and guest judge JB Gill sadly decides ‘it didn’t knock me off my feet’.

Andy’s bulging biceps suggest he probably pumps a bit of iron. He certainly pumps a lot of purées. He starts with dots of onion mayonnaise and smoked leek purée to punctuate his dish of lamb belly and loin. Piping lemon hung yogurt alongside onion marmalade and caramelised roscoff onions, he finishes with a scattering of onion flowers. Initially concerned this sounds like a main course, Andi and Oliver agree it ‘doesn’t look oversized’. Matthew praises the ‘unusual combination of things’ and Oliver judges it to be a ‘really beautiful, really harmonious bit of cooking’. JB simply licks his lips and says ‘I would demolish this’.

Andy is back with his trusty piping bags and squeezy bottles for ‘Top of the Cods’, beginning with pea purée, then smoked cod’s roe mayonnaise. His triple-cooked chips are perfect cylinders of potato, cleverly infused with salt and vinegar before frying. Caramelised cod loin is topped with caper vinaigrette, then battered cod cheeks and a sliver of crispy skin. The judges murmur approval but Oliver says ‘it is missing rock and roll for me’. Matthew agrees ‘it’s very nicely done but I don’t think wowzer!’

‘Sunny Afternoon’ is Westy’s creative interpretation of childhood coastal holidays. He references the dish’s Welsh connection by emphasising that this is the Stereophonics’ cover version of the song and not the original by The Kinks. It’s tricky to demonstrate this subtle distinction in a plate of mackerel but Westy gives it a go. Fennel and tomato salad is topped with barbecued mackerel but the real seaside treat is a feuille de brick cornet filled with cured mackerel, smoked tomato ketchup and horseradish crème fraiche, which Andi calls ‘a beautiful little thing’. However, Matthew is far from impressed with the salad – ‘raw tomato?’ he scoffs, to which Oliver replies ‘indeed’. Andi forlornly concludes ‘it’s lacking somewhat in gastronomy’.

Westy’s main course, ‘The Cow Shed’, aims to put the gastro in Glasto. On a bed of buttered leeks he sits crispy potato cylinders crammed with braised ox cheeks, carrot purée and wispy strands of crispy leek. Thick slabs of Welsh beef fillet are joined by black trompette mushrooms and a beer bottle of smoked consommé is waiting to be poured. Andi says it’s ‘delicious’, with particular praise for the ‘buttery leeks’. Oliver decides ‘I don’t thinks it needs the broth’. Matthew thinks it makes the dish ‘soggy’ and Andi suggests the description of ‘swampy’.

Inspired by the Oasis song and famous Welsh recording studios, Andy’s ‘Rockfield: Cigarettes & Alcohol’ serves up juicy pink slices of ash-crusted venison and bottles of venison sauce. This time Andy fixes his piping addiction with dots of black pudding purée and spots of rhubarb and beetroot ketchup, then he adds a burst of colour with a pistachio crumb, glazed baby beets, butterfly sorrel and aniseed fronds. Phil Howard felt it needed more starch, which Andy provides in the form of garlic and rosemary fondant potatoes.

‘Ooh, that is good!’ says JB, and Oliver loves the ‘unique element’ of black pudding. ‘It sings to me, this plate’ smiles Andi.

Celebrating the absolutely fabulous Dame Shirley Bassey, ‘Goldfinger’ is Andy’s glittering finale. Coffee panna cotta is topped with white chocolate and sea salt crumble, then paired with a triple choc fudge brownie. Cubes of coffee jelly and segments of boozy caramelised orange are accompanied by chocolate sorbet, coffee foam and more gold leaf than a Renaissance restoration. What, nothing to pipe? Of course there is! Andy skilfully squirts a little chocolate crémeux, before adding a little gold spray for good measure. Andi adores the lightness of the coffee foam but the judges are split over the value of the brownie. After all Andy’s efforts, Andi concludes it still ‘needs a bit more theatre’.

Grabbing the anarchy of punk by its tempered balls, Westy presents ‘God Save the Queen’ – an Eton Mess-ish tribute to the Sex Pistols hit. He fills white chocolate spheres with strawberries, lemon curd, strawberry jelly and Chantilly cream. On Thursday, his ‘blue’ meringues baked to beige, so he resorted to colouring the cream. Unsurprisingly, Phil Howard still wasn’t happy. A scoop of strawberry sorbet on freeze-dried berries perks up a side plate.

‘Bloody hell – it’s hard work!’ cries Matthew as the judges struggle to break in. Andi decides it’s ‘loads of sweet stuff crammed together in a very small space’ and Oliver concludes ‘it just hasn’t delivered’.

And thus, the task of delivering in the finals is handed to a delighted Andy. He’ll need to steady his hand, ready his nerve and rinse his nozzles, but he’s surely feeling pumped.

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