Spherication… a load of balls?

This time last week, I was basking in northern pride as the participants in the Great British Menu North West heat slugged it out. Despite a walkout, the standard was still phenomenal and Simon Rogan fought off his adversary with a menu of balance, finesse and imagination.  Much like the ensuing beer choices I hear you say. 

The turn, this week, of our London and South East entrants – the region containing the majority of our population and in London, one of the gastronomic capitals of the World. The standard, in previous years was bound to be high.  But in the end it begged to differ and was something of a disappointment.

The three chefs were all Michelin Star vajewelled – Phil Howard of the Square Restaurant in Mayfair has held two Michelin Stars for almost 15 years; Marcus McGuinness, a young upstart (relatively speaking) from Hibiscus has a one, and another down the side of his sofa, and finally ex rock band drummer Graham Garrett, from the West House in Biddenden, Kent also keeps one in the barn out of the back of his Gastropub.

The issues started with the elimination of Graham Garrett.  Along with all the chefs, he made small mistakes, but his food, more than all the others spoke from the heart, showed his personality, and on the basis of his main course and dessert alone, should have seen him through.  But celebrity chef judge Jason Atherton did not agree and was wowed by McGuinness’ use of olives & asparagus in his dessert course.  Marcus is another molecular gastronomy advocate – using scientific techniques to create unusual and counter-intuitive textures and tastes. But it was all rather a triumph of style over taste with yet more spherications doing the rounds, so to speak, meaning that Phil Howard unsurprisingly romped home with his classical menu.   Let’s get into it:

For starter, Phil served a spring salad with goats’ milk puree, pickled asparagus and quails’ eggs. For me, the Goats’ milk will be the challenge – the rich, farmyard earthiness and hay aroma can be quite powerful; yet the asparagus is a dream pairing with beer.  I’m going to push the boat out here, and recommend something with some hop led backbone yet finesse. Anchor’s Liberty Ale should be a fine accompaniment.

Phil’s fish course was undoubtedly a cracker, in fact, I’m sure had it been required, it would have been the tiebreaker.  A simple, high quality ingredient, elevated from pedestrian to pedestial. Cornish mackerel with oysters, mussels, winkles & samphire was mackerel being treated with reverence: the beer should not let the dish down; and again, a balance between structure yet finesse is needed – to cope with the smoky mackerel, but not overpower the other ingredients. This is dark lager territory – if you can get hold of a bottle of Paulaner Dunkel it should be both a fine complement and foil to this fish.

The main was elegantly executed but rather lacking in imagination: roast loin of lamb with pie and mash, carrots, nettles and mint.  And a classic British meat and veg dish, needs a classic British ale to accompany it – so many to choose from here although in this case Hall & Woodhouse’s Tanglefoot would be a great choice; a little more alcoholic body to stand up to the mint, but more of a floral aroma and foretaste to not knock out the lamb.

Finally pud, rhubarb and custard souffle rounded the meal off.  A fine dessert; particularly putting a small base of rice pudding into the souffle was a cracking idea, but I’m not convinced that it will stand much of a chance in the finals. However, for now it deserves a beer to show it off in the best light, and it’s a tricky one – souffle being so light, yet rhubarb being slightly vinous and acidic, making for a tricky pairing. Well, even though I think a small serving of a stronger, more maderia-like beer could work here, on balance, I am going to plump for a lighter bodied beer to finish, with some crisp, hop bitterness. Something of a radical choice at this stage in the meal, but a terrific beer, Jever Pils (available through a few specialists in the UK) would complement, not get bullied and leave you wanting the cheese board!

What do you think?  Sound recommendations or a load of spherications?

© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles 2012

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