Aaron is definitely better at cooking than he is at hide and seek.
We’re almost at the end of these quarter-final rounds guys – one more Critics’ Chamber to go and then we get to find out how Covid impacted the rest of the competition!
When Life Gives You Lemons…
The quarterfinal invention test this time is for the chefs to create a dish that showcases citrus flavours – and they an abundance of fruits to choose from including several varieties of oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits and the increasingly common kumquats
They could create a sweet or savoury dish and I imagine in an attempt to stand out they thought “Everyone will do sweet, so I’ll do savoury!” which is a great plan until everyone else has the same plan and what we end up with is a series of savoury dishes with grapefruit them which feels like a hate crime against me specifically.
Guillaume made a beeline for the kumquats because of his special recipe for “kumquat butter” – I would appreciate if nobody ever said that particular phrase ever again and he’s pairing this butter with a plate of several prawn dishes including a Celeriac and Prawn Raviolo, a Prawn Spring Roll and a Prawn Tartare
He has a very exact and deft touch with the use of citrus on his plate – as a viewer, it came across as much more of a Prawn Showcase but the judges thought there was enough citrus running through it – though the Kumquat Butter was a bit of a lead balloon and didn’t really belong.
Luke’s kumquat was much better integrated into his dish in the form a Kumquat and Honey Puree alongside his Orange Glazed Chinese Duck and Rhubarb Slaw
His duck cookery really is on a top tier level – it looks SO GOOD. Monica was a bit apprehensive about the Rhubarb Slaw because rhubarb is the weapon of choice within the Seventh Circle of Hell. He manages to tame the sharpness of the rhubarb with a generous helping of Chinese spices and I think overall his dish was the most well executed as whole, if perhaps the least original.
Aaron on the other hand was reinventing the wheel with a Fennel Bhaji that Monica was absolutely thrilled about
Honestly, find someone that looks at you the way Monica looks at deep-fried food. Aaron is pairing his Fennel Bhaji with a Pan-fried Seabass Fillet and Orange Braised Fennel with a Citrus Beurre Blanc Sauce:
It’s a fine dish, the Bhaji is the clear and obvious standout – although a special nod to the Orange Braised Fennel which looked divine while cooking and I could eat a plate of alone
Fennel is such an underrated vegetable. Hi I’m Ariadne, Head of the Fennel Marketing Board apparently. His dish is a little quiet on the citric front – even the rather distressing Grapefruit Beurre Blanc Sauce didn’t really ramp up the flavour too much, but I’m not sure they tasted it because it looks like a practical effect from a horror film
WHY THE WHOLE CHUNKS OF GRAPEFRUIT AARON?
Having similar unfortunate Sauce Woes was our last chef Burhan who was making a Orange Confit Chicken Breast with Grapefruit Pickled Carrots and a Lemon Peperonata Sauce
The sauce was distractingly lemony, hey, you asked for standout citrus flavours, Burhan’s sauce tasting like a child overacting in a junior school Nativity play is not not that. The judges were also worried about his confit chicken from the beginning because you would need an abundance of orange zest put into the confit oil to even register the orange flavour when you tasted it and sadly Burhan had maybe 5 pieces of zest bobbing around in there:
It doesn’t help that it’s a chicken dish and as we have established if you’re going to do chicken, you have to make it really, really, really, really good before it gets even a modicum of praise. Monica did however like the grapefruit pickled carrots – which very much came across as a desperate attempt to compliment ANYTHING he did because Marcus has just spent 10 minutes telling him how much he was disappointed in him.
Rayner MacLeods are Brewing
Our critics this week are Jay Rayner and Tracey MacLeod who has show up looking like a spy at the end of an action film who has retired to a small Italian village (and who will undoubtedly be called back into action in an ill-advised sequel 3 years later)
She’s expecting a higher quality of food this year because nobody has had a day job to distract them from training like a culinary Rocky for this show – except all of their VTs have emphasised how they have adapted their restaurants in Covid Times… It’s a little insensitive Tracey.
Burhan was coming in to the round in a tentative 4th place – his Signature Menu however was arguably the strongest of this 4 and so I was very excited to see what he would bring out this time. He kicked his two course menu off with a Panko Crusted Hake and Curried Bean Cassoulet with Spiralised Courgettes:
I don’t think there’s a critic in the land whose hackles are not raised by the mere mention of spiralised vegetables – even in the Instagram wellness influencers have abandoned the gimmick so this was a touch baffling – just make roast courgette, it’s fine, honestly. It was an interesting dish – the bringing in of his Bangladeshi heritage into a traditionally French dish was touching and carried a lot of emotional weight in terms of his personal journey of coming to celebrate and understand a cuisine that he had previously steered away from. I did enjoy that everyone was so busy talking about Luke’s massive Yorkshire Portions that nobody expected young little Burhan to turn up and cook Lazarus himself
That’s a ridiculous piece of fish and I love it. He cooked it beautifully – it was just let down by the courgettes that were a bit of a workout to eat – he should really have thought about maybe cutting them down a bit, if anything to just be kinder to Tracey MacLeod who I’m pretty sure must have a repetitive strain injury in her wrists.
Burhan’s dessert was similarly a twist on a European classic with a Deconstructed Black Forest Gateau
Which again, there’s nothing gets a critic’s hackles up like the word “deconstructed”. It featured everything you could want, Booze Addled Cherries, Dark Chocolate Soil, a Chocolate Cremeux and a Microwaved Chocolate Sponge, which apparently is a bit of an open secret in the restauranting world, I’m just curious if they always do it in a paper cup
His dessert is all presented in a wonderfully fun gaudy fashion that Burhan has done nothing but pull off with aplomb all series, and personally speaks to my magpie soul.
Also showcasing European classics and twisting them was Guillaume whose started was a Goat’s Cheese and Tomato Stuffed Courgette Flower with Courgette Puree and a Tomato and Ginger Jelly
It’s a very delicate looking dish – the colours and geometric shapes remind me a lot of paintings by the cubist artist Robert Delauney. His Courgette Flower brings all the flavour to the dish and the rest of it is a little lacking and I think *maybe* the jelly and the courgettes were meant as more of a palette cleanser to the courgette flower – that what those sorts of flavours and textures bring to mind at least.
Certainly not lacking in flavour was his main course of Roast Tenderloin of Veal with a Butternut Squash Puree, Sautéed Chanterelles and Apricots flambeed in Whiskey, which was certainly eye catching
And if we continue our adventure into French art, this was more of a Cezanne – bold colours and strong shapes. He was worried that the sauce was going to be too bitter but the dish as a whole went in completely the other direction and made Jay Rayner question whether or not he had just eaten veal as a pudding. It’s only a matter of time before that does actually happen, so brace yourselves lads.
Throwing caution to the wind and not bothering to even look the word “dainty” up in the dictionary was Luke who bulldozed into the round with a piece a Wagyu Ribeye, Cauliflower Puree, Fondant Potato and a Trademark Avoiding Yorkshire Relish Jus
Jay Rayner having to talk about the sauce and actively rolling his eyes at the fact he couldn’t say “Henderson’s Relish” was sublime television. It’s a bit of a miracle that his Wagyu was cooked so perfectly because he had initially planned to sous-vide it and flash fry it at the end – it makes for a more evenly cooked steak – but he got so distracted by his dessert that he kind of just left his beef sitting in a tepid pool of water because he never switched machine on
He cooks it beautifully, as any Yorkshireman would or face death. The cauliflower’s existence is called into question but it’s the black soul of a sauce that really sets tongues a wagging
I hate Henderson’s Relish with a passion but my God I want to dip my finger in that.
To combat the richness of his main, at the request of the wife he abandoned to raise his WEEK OLD BABY alone for a few weeks, he is making a Toasted Coconut Panna Cotta with a Mango and Lime Rum Salsa and a Brandy Snap, which looked very elegant and displayed the refinement that Luke needed to pull off at this stage
The coconut is a perfect balance to the usual sweetness of a dessert and it’s wonderfully executed and there’s not much more to say about it – Luke’s dishes may not be revolutionary works of art or showcases of unusual flavours but he certainly gets the job done and he’s a reliable chef and incredibly charming and natural on TV – which shouldn’t matter but inevitably does.
Lastly there’s Aaron who played an absolute blinder of a round, starting with his Braised Hispi Cabbage with Mussels and Hazelnuts in a Bombay Aloo Sauce
I personally sit firmly on the side of that if you cook a cabbage it should not be braised or roasted as a big chunk – I think it just looks a little unappetising – but he kind of needed to have a statement piece to his dish so I get his reasoning behind it. His Bombay Aloo sauce is a revelation and I think the dish would have gone down just as well had he served it a as soup – the production team just about has to step in to stop Jay and Tracey licking their plates clean. Everyone is unanimous about it being maybe the best thing they’ve ever tasted in the Critics Round.
His main course, which is arguably smaller than his starter, is a Grilled Lobster Tail with Carrot Puree and Lobster and Bone Marrow Momo, which is a sort of Nepalese dumpling that he’s adding a twist on by using squid ink for the dough
Aaron was really battling to get it out because the ghost that usually haunts the ice cream machine has apparently now taken up residence in the Pasta Machine so he has to do a lot of hand rolling but he eventually plates it up and I was worried, and as I mentioned on Twitter it did end up looking like a collection of things a beachcomber would find and I was proven correct by @tinkleflange on Twitter who made and sent me this:
Literally the same.
The simple and rushed presentation belied the intricacy and depth there were to the flavours and again everyone was hard pressed to not storm into the kitchen and demand him to cook more of it.
Aaron was sailed on through to the semi-finals (if not given a free pass to the finals just for the momo alone) and Luke was an obvious second choice – but I did genuinely expect them to play another Wicked Wango Card and save either Guillaume or Burhan because of the promise they both clearly have but no, apparently they’ve used the last one on Jono and his insects so it’s a sad farewell to both Guillaume and Burhan.