Great British Menu 2014 blog by Danny Kingston: The Scottish Heat

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This is the seventh in our series of weekly blogs by food blogger Danny Kingston aka @FoodUrchin looking back on each heat of Great British Menu 2014.

For the Scottish round this week, I decided to keep a bottle of Laphroaig tucked down by the side of my sofa; so that when 7:30PM rolled around, I could be ready to go, ready to get stuck in. I am not stereotyping here by the way, nonchalantly commenting on our Celtic cousins fondness for a tipple, a ‘wee dram afore ye go’ and all that.

No, in keeping with the repetitive element of the Great British Menu, I Stevie McLaughlin Great British Menu 2014thought I would liven up things a touch by playing a drinking game whilst watching. Every time Wendy Lloyd made mention say of ‘double Michelin star chef’ Stevie McLaughlin, I would drink one finger.

Whenever she cooed about ‘experienced chef’ Jacqueline O’Donnell, I would take two fingers. And every bleeding second baseball-capped BBQ supremo Neil Rankin got called an ‘unconventional chef’ I’d drink a walloping three. This was not a good idea. By Thursday, I had got through 3 bottles and come the end of the deciding round that night, I ran to the toilet, screaming for a girl called Ruth and expunged the contents of my stomach so violently that I burst a blood vessel in my right eyeball.

On Friday, I simply drank tea. Alright, I didn’t really play that drinking game, the idea did cross my mind once or twice, but I thought it would be best to remain sober, despite the monotony. I do propose one for the next Jeremy Lee Great British Menu 2014series though, should Jeremy Lee ever get invited back to mentor. One slug for every time Mr Lee pouts those luscious lips of his and arches an eyebrow and we’ll call the game - ‘Oooh Matron’.

Gawd, we’ll all get so fish paste together so we will. But anyway, enough of that, what happened last week with the chefs from up the road? How did they fare? What did they cook? And most importantly, did they all get on together?

I say that because from the off, there definitely was a dark undercurrent going on, with talk of targets on heads, shootings and stabbings. Despite wearing pink, it was Jacqueline who came across as the most menacing of the bunch, in a Dolores Umbridge sort of way. In her opinion “pink was not
a colour, it was an attitude” and she certainly wasn’t going to let the big boys of the kitchen frighten her. 

Her starter, inspirJacqueline O'Donnell Great British Menu 2014ed by an old favourite called ‘Not Quite Your Mammi’s Liver and Onions’ definitely meant business and caught Neil and Stevie off-guard. Though fanciful, their starting portions of potted pork pie (served with crackling) and camembert mousse with cured ham and artichokes paled into insignificance compared to Jacqueline’s nostalgic dish. However in the fish course, Neil and Stevie did bounce back.

The former with a very unusual twist on Dover sole, celebrating the spoils of war with Normandy sauce, prawns, cockles and mussels and um, deep fried fish bones. The latter with crab, sea vegetables, spicy tomato mousse and seaweed mustard, all served in a sardine tin. I did stew about the decision to let Stevie do a segment where he got to meet an old fisherman and talk about food during the war though. The big fella was allowed to wear a pair of red trousers for flip’s sake and we know how the world feels about red trousers.

Even Jeremy would have had word with that sartorial editorial decision I am sure.Black market silver Great British Menu 2014 Jacqueline’s ‘Black Market Silver Darlings’ showed promise too, especially given the story behind the dish. The tale of sliver for gold, or that ‘silver’ herrings used to be exchanged for ‘gold’ whisky, was a great one and highlighted the wartime spirit perfectly. But alas, her fish was woefully under seasoned and her cucumber jelly hadn’t quite set, which didn’t impress Jeremy. And so the guys came right back into contention.

Mains round meant meat round and this was the moment for Neil and his round green egg to shine. I get worried about the ideas of barbecues being used indoors, haunted ever since my student days and the loss of a hefty damage deposit (great party though) but the man in the baseball cap demonstrated why he has made such a name for himself.  After constructing a beefy, beef dish made from lots of rare-breed beef and beef stovies and bones and stuff and plating on a field of grass, it looked spectacular and had me dribbling on my shirt.

Stevie’s dish, a double pie effort featuring beef wellington and a Woolton pie, was no less Beef Wellington Great British Menu 2014impressive (a 10 in Jeremy’s eyes) and the letter he found (or wrote?) to accompany the dish brought a tear to my eye, as well as Jacqueline’s. As for the lady in pink, her homecoming platter was also pretty exceptional. A gorgeous Sunday lunch that was almost too simple, too meat and two veg.

The only chink in the armour this time being that Jacqueline over seasoned her pork this time around. In the deciding round, Neil and Jacqueline were neck and neck with Stevie just edging a point or two ahead and everything was still left to play for. Stevie seemed the most nervous in this round, bemoaning his lack of experience in pastry and pastry chefs do have that enigma don't they?

Like they are the SAS of kitchens, or ninjas, or something. But his ‘V for Victory’ dish did him proud, even if the inclusion of a cigar was by now a very familiar feature on GMB. Neil Rankin Great British Menu 2014I did think that Neil was going to nip ahead and get through to the judging round with his twist on teacake with marmalade, a breakfast for pudding affair. Especially as he went to all the effort of recruiting Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques.

But curiously, Jeremy gave more points to Jacqueline’s ‘Candle of Remembrance’. The idea was sweet yes but how the guests at the banquet were going to get on with eating this ungainly shard of white chocolate was beyond me. So it was bye bye Neil on this occasion. Working out who was going to get through to the banquet final was also a tough one as the judges’ reception was very mixed. Even Jim Radford, one of the youngest sailors in the Merchant Navy to be serving on D-Day, had a tough time wading through it all.

Too much richness and shoddy execution were just some of the complaints, although Oliver Peyton did suggest that his fellow judges (Jim Jim Radford Great British Menu 2014withstanding) were all going soft in their old age. The winning dishes to come through came in the shape of Jacqueline’s liver and onions and her elegant fish dish. And Stevie’s ‘Letter from Home’ was also a big hit. Prue certainly wet her knickers over his beef, so to speak.

When Jacqueline presented her ‘bizarre’ candle for the second time this week, I was still unconvinced and was sure that she had buggered things up at the end, leaving Stevie to go on to the finals. But then the judges put her through by the skin of her teeth, which left a look of absolute surprise on my face. In fact if I had an empty bottle of scotch sat next to me on the sofa, I would have picked it up and done a comedy shake, like they do in all the good movies. But I didn’t. Because I wasn’t drinking. Honest.  

>>> Everything you need to know about Great British Menu right here  

>>> Read more about Great British Menu 2014 here

Danny is a food adventurer, enthusiastic allotmenteer, supper club host and writer Danny Kingston (Food Urchin) of the entertaining and quirky epicurian blog, Food Urchin. He also writes for Great British Chefs and past credits also include writing for Delicious Magazine online and MSN Food and he is an absolute sucker for East End pie and mash (with loads of liquor and vinegar).

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Editor 27th May 2014

Great British Menu 2014 blog by Danny Kingston: The Scottish Heat