This week’s final heat on the Great Beertish Menu featured chefs from the South West. I love the South West. I went to University there and now have family in the region – but it’s the incredible variety in the landscape that’s in my soul. From the windswept moors and their bewitching rock tors that hover, almost suspended in mid air on misty mornings, to the deep, riven valleys, cutting narrowly and steeply into the sea, and the surprises too… like the parallel valleys and ridges of east Devon that rise and fall as if the ripples of the sea have set on land. And undoubtedly my positively coloured view impacted how I viewed this week’s Great British Menu. “All the chefs seem much more chilled, and they are all being pleasant to one another. It must be living in the South West that does it. I bet they all go surfing after work”, I was telling myself…. although none of the chefs had much of a West Country burr in their accents though so it was definitely a case of beer tinted specs on this job.
Of the three cheffy protagonists, two had competed before. One, Paul Ainsworth, got his pud through to the final last year and this year yet again delivered incredible, thoughtful and creative presentation…plus clearly, flavour too. Yet gratifyingly, Nathan Outlaw ultimately won it, for his beguilingly simple dishes; so simple, they disguised the innate technical complexity and subtle combinations of flavour. And I say gratifyingly because at his restaurant in Rock, Outlaw has been working with Stuart Howe of Sharp’s Brewery on innovating with food and beer. It seems fitting therefore to pair his winning menu with some beers.
Starter: Hogs pudding with seaweed, potato terrine and mushroom ketchup. I remember Hogs pudding from when I lived in the south west, At Uni, they used to serve it every Friday breakfast. Consequently, I didn’t have it there that often as I rarely made it up at such a ridiculous time (9am), but when I did, I always had it. I think it was made by Ivor Doble in town and had this subtle yet peppery taste plus a smooth, deeply milled texture. For me, this needs a beer with nuances – ideally from a bit of aging. I’m going to kick off this menu with a good bottle of Worthington’s White Shield, buy it from Morrisons and get it close to sell by if you can, then ideally leave it at least another 6 months. Described as having a ‘chestnut sparkle’ whatever the hell that is, this is beer that gets sophisticated with age. It does have a lovely conker colour right enough, but I feel could handle a little bit more yeast dosage to give it the greater ‘sparkle’ it used to have.
Fish Course: mackerel again, this time with horseradish and oyster sauce. This dish split the judges but was presented fabulously, despite an accusation of being ‘beige’. The humble mackerel seems to be quite de rigeur at the moment, and it has now featured on a number of winning menus. And when combined with horseradish needs a beer with a willingness to fight and stand up for itself. There’s a lot of flavour going on here but I think a beer that can handle it will be Veltins. I think of these west German lagers as like chablis – steely and precise – and good with fish of all denominations.
Main: duck, barbequed monkfish, rosemary, samphire and aspargus. My friend Paul describes dishes like this as ‘Surf and Turd’ after he had a run of bad experiences in Texas when he was working out there. But I get this one; monkfish has that bovine-like compact texture and structure, yet a delicate flavour; the ‘barbeque’ sauce wasn’t what we perceive it to be but a much more herb-laden marinade that brought the two cuts together. And for me, a bottle of Sol or Corona for BBQ just won’t cut it. You need some body here, and whilst I am loathe to recommend a beer that is so hard to get hold of in the UK, I think Orval would be a cracker – again, give a bit of age on this beer as it can change remarkably with time. Orval is a Trappist beer that flys like a butterfly and stings like a bee; it has the suppleness to complement this meal, yet a left hook that lets you know that there is another boxer in the ring.
Pud: elderflower and lemon tart, strawberry sorbet and meringue. This dish didn’t go down that well, so don’t expect it to be gracing the innards of any Olympians soon, however, it was very pretty and nicely executed. And Vedett Extra White would be a lovely accompaniment to this dish – Vedett’s wit beer is fairly new and unlike some other Belgian beers of this style doesn’t have an overpowering cloviness. It’s more finessed yet still has sufficient bitter zing to show off elderflower and stand up to flavours like strawberry.
Onwards and upwards: next week the grand finale – let’s see if a great British beer can win gold on the final menu, or whether the final medal table will be dominated with New World boldness.
© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles 2012