Friday, May 23, 2008

The Great British meal at the top of the 'gherkin'

So the public have decided what the world gets to dine on at the top of "the Gherkin" (see photo if you are wondering why the Swiss Re building is more usually called "the erotic gherkin"). And I’ve think they’ve chosen well! I for one am pleased that the sensible voters have banished all thoughts of artfully dribbled on slate roof tiles (can you just imagine how excruciating the sound of your knife scraping against that would be? - ughhh!) worthiness and the infamous ‘my body is my temple’ Chris Horridge cooking for the world’s culinary elite.

But they’ve certainly given my favourite Jason Atherton a fair old challenge. Firstly he beat Chris to the chance to produce the starter. His witty take on a sandwich platter will be delighting the guests at the banquet. And even with the inclusion of the dreaded tomato I am pleased the Bacon, lettuce and tomato with Croque Monsieur rose to the top of all the choices. Though actually my favourite starter would have been Tom Kitchin’s stunning looking and surely glorious to eat Wild boar British breakfast and it would also have been a very fine start to the feast. Obviously I would have left both the stuffed tomato and home-made baked on the side of the plate but would have enjoyed the rest. But it was not to be, so my second choice would be Jason’s butties!

For the fish course a couple of the chefs totally changed their final dishes, Tom Kitchin completely abandoned his bone-ridden pike and swapped it for beautiful looking Carpaccio of octopus and Glynn Purnell also threw out his pike for a brave entirely fish free Haddock milk with cornflakes. The judges felt that as Glynn had only used essence of fish in his dish that perhaps is was a little avant garde. And the cornflakes, slightly perplexing even with the tale of a young Glynn pocketing a handful of cornflakes to nibble on the way to school.

I was probably slightly biased against Stephen Terry in the regional heats because I was hoping Angela Hartnett would get through but putting that aside I did think his salmon “three ways” looked rather fabulous. The crab encased in the thinnest slices of potatoes bound together with both a little potato starch and a lot of hope looked dreadfully fiddly but probably tasted pretty good. So I think his homage to Welsh seafood the Organic salmon and smoked salmon with crab fritters and cockle 'popcorn' will make a very fitting fish course for Heston’s do. And Matthew Fort was delighted “that they’ll be eating fish fingers at the gherkin”.

And then it’s the main event, this is where I was hoping Jason would shine, Dexter beef fillet, ox cheek, smoked potato purée and marrow bone would definitely have been my first choice and it wasn’t all about the smoked potato purée, the substituted beef (as the Dexter fillets arrived a little scant) looked sublime and the judges confirmed that it was both “beautifully simple and perfect cooking”. But Jason winning the main means he has to cook two courses, and coincidentally his original mentor Stephen Terry came second with his entirely reworked Salt duck breast and duck hash with quails' eggs, peas and broad beans and that could be quite a feat on the day (how very Mark Hix I thought!)

The dessert was hotly contested, those chefs that hadn’t been chosen in the top three every day were determined to leave with some accolades, Steve came third stopping it being a two chef only feast and then Chris came second with his not quite indulgent enough but undeniably pretty Blackcurrant mousse tartine, berry soup infused with basil and wheatgrass foam. But the crowning course of the exemplary banquet in June was Glynn Purnell and his Marinated strawberries with tarragon and black pepper honeycomb with burnt English cream surprise. Pru Leith called this “orgasmic!” which certainly raised the collective eyebrows or Oliver and Matthew. This was my choice again for the winner and Glynn couldn’t have been happier after lagging behind some of the other chefs. And how quintessentially British, to have some jewel bright luscious strawberries and a little crushed Crunchie (not to say orgasmic!)

I don’t know yet whether D feels we could tackle this menu and have our own ground level gherkin experience, maybe if heavily paraphrased. It is undoubtedly a very accomplished menu and ideally I would like to eat it rather than attempt it. And as I would so adore the opportunity to sample some of this feast; I will be keeping my eyes peeled for opportunities to indulge in a repeat performance (as my invitation to Heston’s Gherkin event hasn’t turned up yet!).

But you never know, maybe as the long six week holiday stretches ahead, D may feel we are up to the challenge and in anticipation of that I will be on a suitably modern British eggcup watch!

A curious aside to the post, I decided that I’d write about the winning menu with the accompanying chefs’ photographs on Thursday evening many hours before the winners were announced. And rather curiously I only downloaded three photographs - Jason, Stephen And Glynn. I am not sure why I only went for these three (though I was pretty confident about Jason’s beef) but Chris has fared well in the finals and I didn’t bother to get his photo. I also really wanted Tom to win with his elegant breakfast inspired starter but still I didn't download his photo. It seems I have predictive powers, how very spooky!

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