I hope everyone gets 5 sessions of complementary therapy after the show.
The future is crab.
Pop Up Rock
It’s Sagar, Owen, Charlie and Gabriella’s turn to take on the Penny Social pop up challenge where they had to serve twenty portions of their chosen dish to fellow pop-upeers, including my new favourite duo in the entire world, Michelle Miah and Michelle Miah’s Nails of Rudie’s Jerk Shack
Jerk Shack is also the title of the non-radio friendly version of Love Shack by The B52s.
As many of the Very Special guests pointed out, one of the biggest things when opening a pop up restaurant is making sure your dish is unique, which I’m sure is what Charlie thought he was doing with his Crab Socca, until Sinead from Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen (my new favourite restaurant name) rained all over his parade
the making of his pancakes had caused Charlie quite a bit of trouble as he had to devote a considerable amount of time trying to work out how not make them stick to the plancha, with him having to banish a distressing amount of ruined pancakes into the plancha’s abyss
and solving the Socca Conundrum was eating heavily into the prep of his massive crabs that he’d had to artfully arrange into just 2 pots like someone desperately trying to meet a 2 case luggage limit for a 3 week holiday
and once they were cooked he then had to crack them open and paranoidly paw through 20 people’s worth of white crab meat like an anxious cat to make sure there was no crab shell in any of it
which he had obviously had to ditch the very fetching pair of Kim Woodburn-esque gloves for, both to be able to feel for the crabshell properly and because Anna had made fun of him for them
thankfully none of the diners appeared to find any shell in their meals, except for you know, the crabshell that he had kind of needlessly served the pancakes in just for one last act of cancrinous brutality
but the thought of Charlie having to bulk order 20 empty crab shells is quite funny to me.
Charlie’s dish had been largely inspired by his love of Dorset and growing up there, which was also the approach Sagar was taking with his Aloo Tikki – his favourite childhood snack while growing up in New Delhi. As well as the paneer stuffed aloo tikki, he was making masala chickpeas, two different chutneys and a sweetened yoghurt in order to mellow the heat of everything else. It was a very well thought out dish because the only really overly involved element was the aloo tikki so he wasn’t spreading himself too thinly which meant that by the time it came to plating up, he was very calm and relaxed, earning him a lot of praise from Marcus who was just happy to not be having heart palpitations for once
and as Marcus and Anna marvelled at Sagar’s calm and collected approach, Charlie stood in the background, haunted by the ghosts of every pancake he’d lost along the way
don’t worry Charlie, they’re in a better place now.
Sagar’s dish was very well received by everyone, and to me he kind of understood the concept of a pop-up the best
it’s a dish that I can see being made, served and eaten just about anywhere – there’s no fussy presentation and you can probably get away with just using a fork. He knocked this challenge for six and is at this point the frontrunner to win for me.
The Barbecue was back in action this time, with Owen taking on the task of barbecuing a whole bunch of quail, but like Chris last time he had pre-cooked them in the water bath and was merely using the barbecue to try and given them a smokey flavour – and I don’t think there’s anything more upsetting than a vacuum packed quail
I did find it a little bit of an odd dish to be making in this particular setting and given that the theme of his dish was Tapas, serving Patatas Bravas and Grilled Broccoli and Almonds, there was probably something a little more cohesive to be done than quail
which wasn’t brilliantly received, mostly on the grounds that it was lacking any smokiness but on the plus side, the Patatas Bravas – the most important part of any tapas meal – went down very well with everyone.
Lastly we have Gabriella who was doing a dessert and a risky dessert at that, with the central part of it being a pecan semifreddo which is a dicey choice to make when you’re in an unfamiliar kitchen. As well as the Pecan Semifreddo, she had 6 other components and as she listed off the ricotta zeppole, sesame toffee popcorn, chocolate and ginger ganache, tahini caramel, caramelised bananas and sour cherry gel – the scale of the challenge seemed to be setting in
but to Gabriella’s credit everything made its way onto that plate, perfectly presented and perfectly set
it’s a VERY pretty plate of food (even if maybe a little fussy) and one of the dishes from this series that I would most like to try – the cherry sugar coated ricotta zeppole honestly sounds divine and the diners seemed to thoroughly enjoy the whole dish and the admired the amount of work that had gone into it for only 3 hours of prep time.
A Pop Up Dish Ranking
1. Aloo, Aloo Zis Izz Night’awk
2. Banana Splitting The Difference
3. Charlie vs The Crabs
4. Owen’s BBQuail
Desert Islands In The Stream
It was now their turns to take on the Desert Island Dishes challenge and sadly this lot weren’t embracing the fantastical nonsense of the challenge quite as much as the previous Star Wars and Castaway shenanigans. The only one namedropping a celebrity being Owen, who seemed thoroughly embarrassed about it going by the way Anna had to pry out the fact he was cooking duck for Kevin de Bruyne
I hope this challenge comes back every year, I am obsessed with it.
The Kevin de Bruyne of it all was mostly just in name only, the rest of his dish was kind of the standard duck cookery – a carrot and star anise puree, sweet potatoes, hispi cabbage and a five spice sauce
it would have been fun to see a touch of the Belgian in there just to be able to see how de Bruyne had in anyway influenced this dish (throw a waffle on the plate, that’s the Strictly Come Dancing approach to representing other cultures), but what they had got was some very good duck cookery with the whole dish being praised something fierce, particularly the Five Spice Sauce which Anna had feared would overpower the dish because Five Spice is the bully of the spice rack.
Everyone else was going for more sentimental dishes inspired by family or mentors, Sagar using the opportunity to namedrop the fact his executive chef was Derek Johnstone – the first winner of MasterChef: The Professionals and not the former Scottish football player
said dish was a fusion of his Indian heritage and Scotland, where he currently lives and works – choosing to serve up poached lobster tail and a tempura claw with a white lentil dahl
it’s a very graphic looking dish and I do quite enjoy that everything has the same shape, but what I liked even more was that he’d Stegosaurus’d his carrot with shards of chicken skin
and Sagar continued to only impress with Gregg falling head over heels for the lobster and marvelling over how the lobster still manages to hold its own against the 30 ingredients dahl.
Charlie was on what has now become Obligatory Pigeon Duty, with his dish inspired by his brothers, one of which works on on estate and has no idea what to do with the pigeons they shoot so Charlie plays the Mrs. Lovett to his Sweeney Todd and turns them into pies for him, which I suppose is at least more dignified a result than macabre taxidermy
he was serving his pigeon two ways – the breasts were roasted and off the crown while the legs were being turned into what he called “a pie” but I think were taxonomically closer to a sausage roll
you debate whether the taxidermy or Marcus Waring trying to daintily eat pastry encased leg meat off a pigeon’s femur with all the sensuality of a woman in a Galaxy chocolate advert is a more or less dignified end to this pigeon
the dish didn’t quite manage to impress quite as much as Charlie’s previous efforts with the pigeon being overcooked and the pie being on the dry side, but they did love his sauces – the pie being served with an offal dipping sauce and the main plate coming with a chocolate sauce – forcing Anna to say “I love the turnip leaves in the chocolate sauce”, which is a uniquely cursed sentence.
Gabriella was also struggling with her dish, inspired by her grandfather who sounds like a man deserving of a Wes Anderson film about his life – having opened an unsuccessful Indian restaurant before leapfrogging to a fudge shop that is apparently still open in Edinburgh
sadly she wasn’t making 5 different kinds of fudge, leaving her dessert days behind her, and instead embracing the Scottish side of the story with Fillet Steak served with Skirlie and Crispy Haggis – and she couldn’t ignore her Italian heritage, so she was adding a lasagne on the side, except it wasn’t any lasagne, it was a pastaless, Oxtail and Turnip lasagne
the lasagne was probably a little misguided and hadn’t quite worked out, with the whole thing being a little dry – but she had perfectly cooked the fillet steak and the accompanying haggis and skirlie worked very well, but with the the aforementioned lasagne and the sauce lacking in depth and flavour, there was nothing that truly made the dish sing.
A Desert Island Dish Ranking
1. Sagar’s Lobster and Jurassic Carrot
2. Owen’s Duck de Bruyne
3. Mrs Lovett’s Pigeon Pies
4. My Old Man, The Fudge Shop Man
Sagar had excelled in both challenges and was an easy choice for Finals week, and with Owen having more than redeemed himself with his duck dish he was also safe. Charlie and Gabriella had meanwhile both struggled in the Desert Island Dishes round, and while I thought Gabriella had had the stronger Pop Up dish and that that should have counted for something, the judges thought it was her time to leave
I’m really disappointed for her, she’s been one of my favourites from this year and I hope with her personality and talent that there’s only big things for her in the future.
And so, we have our 6 Final chefs
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