Dog Eat Dog

I will never take the piss out of a Great British Menu contender again. Probably. The restaurant group’s competition took place this Monday and it was the culmination of quite a lot of work for me. Those of you who know me at all will be aware of how overdeveloped my sense of competition is, I have a friend who vividly recalls the underhand methods I used to win a casual game of Wii Golf (NB: there is no such thing as a ’casual’ game).

Needless to say I put myself under an enormous amount of pressure to get everything done and to push my dishes to the limit the competition and the time I had would allow. I had done my best to test them and tweak over the past weeks but with other things going on I hadn’t been as rigorous as I would have liked.

The competition was between the group’s three restaurants, each would supply the top two entrants from the last competition, as someone had left work in the intervening period I was the sole contender from Opera Tavern. The idea was to create four tapas dishes, in the style of the restaurants, a vegetable, fish, meat and dessert. They had to provided along with costings, descriptions and wine pairings, the whole shebang.

Here is my menu:

Gazpacho Salad: Compressed Heritage Tomatoes, Red Pepper Puree, Balsamic Reduction, Frozen Melon, Cucumber

Cod, Puffed Skin, Moscatel Curd, Broth, Fennel

Beef Fillet, Charred Onion Puree, Bone Marrow Croquettes, Guindilla Salsa

Cherries Pickled and Fresh, Almond Brittle and Gelato, Chocolate Ganache

Admittedly not the sexiest-looking dish I have ever made

I was pleased with a lot of different elements on each dish, they were within the boundaries set by the competition but were idiosyncratically mine. I’ll do posts on a couple of the others as I have done with the dessert.

I was last to go and as the panel were going to each site separately it meant a long and fairly agonising wait. The time really began to drag and this was beginning to have a detrimental effect on the food. My fish had fairly precise cooking times, it is poached in the fat from Iberico pigs for 25 minutes at 40c. This meant I had to gamble slightly on when they would be arriving. My gamble didn’t pay off but luckily they were so late that it meant my second piece of cod was perfect for the time it was needed.

The judging panel was made up of the two directors of the group, the executive chef and an instructor from Westminster College. They certainly know their stuff so it wasn’t going to be easy to impress them.

It seemed to be over in minutes once it eventually began. It was difficult to gauge how the dishes were going down; I was concerned I had pushed things too far with some of the dishes. I was also really frustrated by the dessert, the cherries I done before were perfect, sadly these ones weren’t anywhere near as good and I thought it may well ruin that element entirely.

It was finally over and in the lap of the Gods. Without knowing what any of the others had done it was impossible to have any idea where I might come.

The results were announced the next day with everyone gathered together and I am very happy to say that I won. From talking to the other guys and the judges the standard of everyone’s food seemed to be really high was is pretty exciting.

I feel very privileged to have come first, I’m grateful for all the help and support the guys at Opera Tavern gave me as I gradually became a basketcase over it. Also thank you to the directors for giving us the opportunity to show what we can do. A big thank you to my girlfriend Emma, being the ridiculous person I am I put myself under enough pressure to make myself actually quite sick and she came and looked after me on Monday night. She also puts up with a lot of crap from me about food (amongst other things)  and I want to say thank you for everything, she’ll be coming with me to enjoy my prize.

For said prize I get a trip down to Folkestone to visit the guys at Mark Sergeant’s Rocksalt, spending a day in the kitchen with them, dinner and a night at the hotel before visiting their suppliers and gardens. I’ve heard a lot of great things about the restaurant and their set up so I’m stoked to have the chance to go and experience it firsthand. No doubt it will eventually find its was on here.

Predictably I was too stressed to take any photos so I apologise for how crap these ones are. I will try and update with better ones when I get time to redo them.



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