TV review: Great British Menu

Comedy and food are two elements of a banquet for 100 people that are not easy to combine.

Tom Aikens, Adam Simmonds, Richard Corrigan and Matt Gillan star in the eighth series of The Great British Menu
Tom Aikens, Adam Simmonds, Richard Corrigan and Matt Gillan star in the eighth series of The Great British Menu

But 24 hopefuls in the eighth series of The Great British Menu are aiming to do just that in the hope of creating a special banquet at the Royal Albert Hall, celebrating 25 years of Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day.

The daily dose of comedy-inspired dishes (7.30pm on BBC 2) will come through eight rounds of heats, the first being London and the South East with returning contender Tom Aikens, newcomers Adam Simmonds and youngster Matt Gillan all trying their hardest to ‘out-technique’ one another in last night’s installment.

Quirky Gilliam was first up with his take on a 70s disco dish of pigeon and beetroot with orange and ginger.

Served up on a psychedelic dance floor of multi-coloured beetroots with accompanying music, the surreal offering left Irish judge and Michelin Star chef Richard Corrigan looking totally bemused – not quite enough funk in his pigeon for a winning dish it seemed.

At least Matt hit a high with his presentation and got top marks for comedy – although it looked as though the food was being laughed at for all the wrong reasons – but the rookie’s content came across as amateur at best.

Sloppy silver disco parfait balls, a lack of seasoning and raw beetroot were just a little too far out and not much of an advert for great British cooking.

High hopes followed in the form of classically trained Adam Simmonds. His dish of squab pigeon, sweetcorn, Douglas Fir oil, granola and blah, blah, blah used more ingredients and complicated processes than was really necessary. From freeze-drying, purees to smoking and liquidising, Adam used them all!

Heston would have been proud of the centrifuge machine too used to extract fir oil, in the end its flavour came across as insipid at best and failed to deliver on the comedy aspect at all.

However, the meal looked like a real plate of food I’d happily tuck into and he also got top marks for trying to secure his place in the final by attempting to choke the judge with a piece of bone – way to go!

If ever there was a clear winner from the off it was sure to be Tom Aiken’s dish of chicken-egg, egg-chicken. Still fuming from his previous loss, Aiken made sure his chicken and langoustine dish was not to be outdone with an ingredients list three times longer than his competitors.

Technically, the food was faultless with the only real feedback regarding the complexity of the dish. He even delivered the comedy element by topping off the meal with cracked eggs filled with delicate mousses nestled in a birds’ nest complete with fluffy chickens.

Pressure certainly built up and it was refreshing to see some edited out bad language from a chef who so passionately goes about his work.

So much of this type of show depends upon a strong host, turning up the pressure at just the right time, pointing out obvious problems and generally ribbing the already sweating and swearing chefs.

Corrigan could have done much more to turn up the heat, perhaps as it’s in aid Comic Relief the mischievousness has been edited out and replaced with a more gentile script but the nail-biting, against the clock pressure was sadly lacking.

Given Corrigan’s experience too, I would have expected a bit more constructive criticism instead of weak feedback about not enough seasoning.

Healthy competition among the chefs was evident as they each strived to push the limits of their creativity and technical ability which some achieved better than others. Arrogant and self-assured Tom Aikens was the star of the show, his cocky confidence was a reassurance of what great British cooking is all about without being too ridiculous – delicious, intelligent and totally edible – or was that the chef?

Fundraising challenges and special guests follow later in the week and even more exciting news includes Shropshire’s own Will Holland of La Bécasse in Ludlow serving up some Midlands-inspired comedy grub.