Food News

Great British Menu: Northern Ireland week

After a disappointing Welsh week (reviewed here), Great British Menu came back with a bang for Northern Ireland week.

Competing this week we had returning contender Chris McGowan and newbies Ben Arnold and our favourite (not least after our Q & A with her that you can read here) Danni Barry. All of this was taking place under the judging eye of competition veteran and superb chef Phil Howard.

With the heats bringing out mixed fortunes for the chefs, we saw a huge meltdown that surely could have seen the lowest score ever awarded in Great British Menu history. In the fish course, Ben managed not only to turn up to the pass 10 minutes late, but also managed to miss not one, but two elements of his dish.

Despite this error, Ben and Chris managed to progress after Danni was knocked out after essentially being too nice. With her dessert clearly needing a while longer to set fully, Danni opted to make sure she didn’t mess up the timings of the other chefs and allowed her dish to come to the pass not fully finished. With Ben having a stormer with a trifle dish, I have to confess I felt a touch of unjustness on behalf of Danni, who had a solid week including an excellent main course dish. While I am a big fan of his food, I think you got this one wrong Phil!

With the show having to go on, Ben and Chris faced off in the final, with Ben knowing he had to up his game after scraping through and knowing that Chris was a veteran when it came to facing the judges.

Chris’s Dishes:

For his starter, Chris served ‘Shall I be mother?’ In the heats he made the error of leaving the rabbit sausage roll off the plate. This time he remembered it, but was let down by a soggy bottom! The rabbit broth with a herbal teabag and High Tea rabbit style made up the other components of the starter, but the judges deemed it all to be too busy.

The fish dish was called ‘Imelda’s fish and milk 2015’, which was basically turbot with langoustine sauce. Diners were invited to pick their own herbs. All of the judges agreed this was a weak dish, with the buttermilk gnocchi particularly disappointing.

Chris’s main was ‘pie-oneers and pickles’, featuring homemade rough puff pie pastry. There were also three pots of different pickles to be ‘judged’ by the diners, with WI-inspired rosettes to tie in with this concept. The pie included ox tongue, which went down a treat with the judges, and the pickles were a nice touch that added to the drama of the main course. All three judges clearly deemed this dish to be banquet-worthy and all were unanimous in giving it a 10 and going back for seconds (and thirds!).

And so on to pudding. His ‘WI Apple Day’ really lacked refinement in the heats. The dish included blown sugar apples that seemed too much of a faff for a banquet pud. There were also doughnuts and a strange apple tree presentation that left more questions than answers when it came to the judging process.

Ben’s Dishes:

Ben’s starter was inspired by his Mum. In the heats it was criticised for being too bread-heavy. Served packed lunch style, it featured a runny Scotch egg and a Blue cheese spread, which the judges really didn’t like. The Wheaten bread was described as too heavy. Overall, room for improvement.

His fish dish – ‘Mrs Skillen’s fish soup’ – was inspired by his Granny. He failed utterly during the heats with this course, missing two elements and failing to pull off the ones that did make the bowl. Luckily for Ben, he did much, much better in the judging chamber.

Ben’s main – lamb revolution – offered diners lamb cutlets and shepherds pie, along with sweetbreads. It was just nowhere near as good as the pie in terms of appearance. Although it did show lamb for all budgets, tying in with the WI theme, it lacked the drama needed to get a high score.

Rounding the dishes off with dessert – Summer fayre of the country tree – Ben made what looked like a straightforward trifle. In reality it was a very refined version of a trifle flavour-wise, although of course it did stick to the classic presentation. It had a lovely wobble, that true test of a good trifle! The honeycomb on top was not a hit but was a nice idea.

The outcome

Despite the fact that the pie dish offered by Chris was perhaps the strongest dish of the series so far, Ben managed to sneak through to the finals after a very strong dessert, his trifle winning over the hearts of the judges on the back of an otherwise very average menu.

Dishes for the banquet?

The pie dish from Chris would have been nailed on. In fact they may have ended the competition for the main dish and declared it won had he managed to win the the Northern Ireland final. Fortunately for the competition (though not for Chris!) now he is out it is Ben’s trifle that carries the flag for a Northern Irish dish to make it to the banquet. For me, I think something a bit more dramatic might come along and usurp it but so far it is certainly one of the best desserts we have seen and could well be banquet-worthy with a bit more razzmatazz!

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