The Great Beertish Menu: The End

The winners are in this year’s Great British Menu, and so overcome by excitement was I that I forgot to actually post this and I’m a week late.  View this then as an early ‘repeat’ episode, and for dessert a few, final, beer pairings.

The starter was won by Colin McGurran from the north east, with an arboreal dish entitled ‘Quail In The Woods’.  Unsurprisingly, this featured our old culinary sacrifice coturnix ypsilophora. Dead and in parts scattered over a clearing in an ancient woodland, like an attack by a Michelin Starred Fox, it did look extremely tasty and the addition of some forest mist added to the Olympian drama (although the word ‘Mist’ always me giggle childishly, as in German it means ‘Poo’, or at least something to that effect).  The only problem with the dish as my good lady wife pointed out was, ‘Would you really want to eat your meal off a log’.  To which the answer would be, ‘If I’d had five pints of Pedigree, quite likely, yes’.  In fact I’m going for Asahi Black – the quail was coated in a miso glaze and this beer has enough robustness to it to complement that but smoothness from the bottom fermentation not to beat up the quail, Yakuza style.

The fish was the humble makerel treated with real respect by Phil Howard. His ‘Tasting of Cornish Mackerel’ was a standout dish and rightly won through.  And, slightly lazy though it may seem, my previous recommendation will knock your socks off: Paulaner Dunkel.  Erdinger also do a Dunkel Weisse, which would give a different character to the pairing but would be good all the same.

Daniel Clifford from the Midlands won the prized main with his ‘Slow Poached Chicken’.  I’m not sure if he had poached it, or just bought it like most people, but it certainly looked drop-dead gorgeous.  The formula for success was underlined in this dish, take something slightly old school and give it a contemporary edge and you’re away. I’ll drink to that with a glass of Hawkshead Windermere Pale, a pleasant light ABV to allow you to enjoy your main dish, but enough cut through from the zingy hop (Amarillo?) to put the cluck into the chuck.

And finally, after getting in the top three with every single course, Simon Rogan from Cartmel in Cumbria won the pud with his ‘Poached Pears, Anise Hyssop Snow, Rosehip syrup, Hazlenuts and Sweet Cheese Ice Cream’ pud. Another standout dish which created a genuine ‘wow’ not just through the techniques deployed but also the combination of flavours from the ingredients. And so, a ‘wow’ beer is needed. In the heats it was a glass of Cain’s Dark Mild; this time, rather than a contrast I shall go for a complentary flavour.  Alas, I don’t think it’s currently imported into the UK, but I would recommend a brilliant Belgian style wheat beer here, in fact a Dutch wheat beer. The quirky, rodent friendly Gulpener Korenwolf gets the nod.  Brewed with four grains including spelt and rye, and elderflower petals, a Dutch beer may not be how you expect to end a British Olympic feast, but it shows how far we have come as a society since the last time we held the Games in 1948.

Anise Hyssop meal‘That’ dessert from Simon Rogan.

© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles 2012

Great Beertish Menu: Ainsworth is Outlawed

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

Great Beertish Menu: it’s terry-ific

Despite this week’s Great British Menu being the penultimate round before the finals, the energy has not let up.  Three highly skilled and competitive chefs, Stephen Terry of the Hardwick Arms in Abergavenny, James Sommerin of the Crown at Whitebrook in Monmouthshire and Richard Davies of the Manorhouse in Wiltshire whilst mostly genial, were quite happy to stick the knife into their combatants when they were off camera.  And James Sommerin was a little too sure of himself throughout, earning him no fans in this household at least – the use of liquid nitrogen in cooking seems to transform attitudes into winning ones, without the substance to back it up.

Angela Hartnett, this week’s judge was rather like Judge Dredd – ‘tough but fair’, and whilst her scoring was generally on the low side, it was only a hare’s breath separating the chefs at the end – in fact it was a mere half point that saw Richard Davies back off to Wiltshire with his molecularly gastronomic tail between his legs.

But this is a beer matching blog, not a TV review so let’s get to it.  The winner in the end was Stephen Terry to the visible dismay of James Sommerin who has not yet succeeded in getting a dish to the final meal.  What he lacked in radical new techniques he made up for in inventiveness around the olympic theme.

His starter was entitled The Opening Ceremony.  A rather dainty salad served with squab pigeon, chicken livers, onion risotto cubes and asparagus.  The pigeon and livers make this sound somewhat heavier than the presentation actually was, so this salad needs a beer with backbone but one that leaves only slight footprints. St Peter’s do a lovely fruit beer with grapefruit that should marry well with this dish.

The fish course perhaps pushed the Olympic theme a little too far: 5 coloured rings with nine different fishes or seafoods; including caviar & lobster; cucumber jelly with mackerel tartare and a baked lemon jelly with cold and hot smoked salmon.  Consequently it’s a tricky match as there’s a whole load going on.  But I’m going for a wheat beer which in this instance needs to be clean and not too overwhelming.  Erdinger weissbier is the one for me, whilst not my favourite, it has a more gently clove character which should stand it in good stead here.

Main now, and rabbits beware for this was The Bunny Pentathlon.  Peter was shot, skinned, boned and dealt with savagely but it must be said deliciously. There was bunny burger, pressed bunny loin – fivefold ways as you can gather from the name. And this is pale ale territory which means a lot of choice, and I will err for a well balanced version but not an English one – in fact, Cooper’s Sparkling from Adelaide would be my choice (one of my favourite beers this one, so always a pleasure to marry it well to some good food).

And finally pud here it was three traditional puddings dusted down and scrubbed up to a new sheen. Gold, Silver or Bronze? was the name for an interpretation of Chocolate mousse, lemon meringue pie and strawberry trifle – and again, this tapas approach makes matching troublesome.  But where there is chocolate there has to be beer and in this case a classic – Westmalle Dubbel has the flavour punch with delivered with elegance.

No Welsh beers here I’ve just realised, but given that both the judge and winner are actually English please forgive me this indiscretion.

© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles 2012

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

Great Beertish Menu: Rogan Josh!

So Simon Rogan came through in the North West heat of Great Beertish Menu. Funny old world isn’t it – he’s running a little restauant in Cartmel in Cumbria…and it just so happens to be one of the top 5 restaurants in Europe. So in fairness, he probably knows a thing or two about cooking.

As promised, here’s his winning menu and a proposed beer to go with each.  Let me know what you think and trump my recommendation please!

Starter: Grilled salad, truffle custard, cheese foam and cobnut crisp.

An interesting combination of textures here – and of course a vegetarian starter. We want something light on the palate which won’t dominate the food yet stand up to the custard.  Let’s go for a Deuchar’s IPA – I think the light body and modest hoppiness will complement well.

Fish Course: lobster with pickled beetroot & sweet apple

IMG_1015Tricky. You can easily wreck the lobster – and given the lengths he went to to reinfuse it with extra lobsteryness that would be a shame; but then there’s the pickled beetroot to consider.  This is a cracking dish to go with a beer though. I’m looking for a more malt accented beer, not too coating and with modest bitterness.  I’m actually going for a classic here. Timmy Taylor’s Landlord.

Main: suckling pig with northern mead, vegetables and artichoke

Right – lots to be getting on with. I’m thinking contrast and some body. The knotty bit is the mead I want something that will sit nicely alongside it but get noticed – bridesmaid not bride. Don’t want to upstage the meal, but I want people to fancy me. So for me, I’m going to go for a Rooster’s Wild Mule.  It’s got the sweetness and the hop attack.  Perhaps not enough alcholic body though.

Pud: poached pears, atsina cress snow; sweet cheese ice cream and rosehip syrup.

Delicate (pear) yet punchy (rosehip) – and then the sweet cheese ice cream which  could be quite mouth coating. I’m going to go left field here and actually go for Cain’s Dark Mild, but served in a wine glass to so volume doesn’t overpower the dish.


Grand. I’m off for pie and chips now.


Great Beertish Menu

Look. I admit it.  I really enjoy TV cooking programmes.  I’m sure that in my dotage I shall spend more time perfecting acts of culinary wizardry than I can afford today.  I’m not a cooking programme whore though; I do have a Premier League:  The Hairy Bikers (I know, I know); Masterchef; Rick Stein (you know, the poetry one) are 3 of my top 4.  But for me, the Champion of Champions – the Campionissimo if you will, is The Great British Menu.

I know I shouldn’t.  If I engage my rationale mind, I can see through it. The total fabrication of an excuse for a national banquet (“Let’s celebrate the work of the Great British Seaweed Farmer”).  The promotion of chefs to celebrity status even when many of them clearly either haven’t got the charisma, or in the case of the glorious Mark Hix, the desire. It was great – seemingly, he just couldn’t be bothered. Whilst his competitors slaved over their stoves, deconstructing sea bass into sea and bass, he cobbled together a pie, or jelly and blancmange and sat back, reading the paper, having a fag. (Even better that he got not one but two dishes through to that year’s grand finale.  Mind you his Stargazey Pie was inspired, and I’ve had a few good ‘uns in my time).

This time round, the feast is oddly, Olympics themed.  To compensate for all the Fast Food from America that is going to be consumed during the event, the BBC have struck out early, encouraging us to celebrate our Olympians with a gargantuan British feast in their honour.   I actually only tuned in last week (Northern Ireland), and this week it was my home region, the North West.  And it’s been sensational viewing – have you seen it?

Marcus Wareing, the celebrated 2 Star Michelin chef took apart a Preston chef, Johnnie Mountain. Johnnie’s track record on the fish course has been poor.  In two attempts, the best he has done is 4 out of 10.  This time, he pushed the boat out, submerging himself (oops, that must be ‘pushed his submarine out’ then) in the world of molecular gastronomy.  He visited the Fat Duck to get top tips, and there he is with his baths of liquid nitrogen, ice cream wafers and smoking devices making a beach…and sea.  No chunk of fish in there, but anchovies and clams and various other fruits of the ocean.  And it looked pretty. But we can only glean that it tasted pretty bad.

And Marcus was not a fan. In a 30 second, calmly delivered diatribe, he took poor Johnnie apart and gave him a 2, accusing him of ‘playing with toys’.

Johnnie, unsurprisingly, was a little peeved and stormed out, clanking pots, pans and assorted sous chefs behind him.  Cracking viewing, and all the better as it supported my hypothesis that Marcus Wareing is a plastic northerner and an all round tit, even if he can bake a good tart.  But any way, that’s not the point.

The point is this: I am looking for your help.

I’m an advocate of beer and food – cooking with beer, pairing food with different beers – you know what I mean. I haven’t quite got to BBQ’ing a chicken with a can of beer up it’s bottom, but it’s on the list of things to do this summer.   But industry efforts are all very self-serving and ponderous.

So, here’s the plan:  when the winning course is announced on a Friday, I shall post a short blog with my recommended beer accompaniment and a short rationale for said choice.

I’d love your comments, but better, try and top my recommendation (this won’t be hard, trust me).  We shall then, with the wonder of modern science and the use of a public voting system (which shall be independent, and by the time it comes round, properly thought out) sally forth with our recommendations.  A column in the Guardian will quickly follow I’m sure, and by next year, yours truly will be on The Great British Menu recommending great beers to go with the great food*

Up for it?

*Sneak preview from the BBC.  Next year there will be a Feast Celebrating Great British Muck Spreading. Sounds like sh

Johnnie Mountain

Johnnie Mountain: I’d eat in your restaurant mate. Give me Wareing’s table.

© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles. Originally posted on Posterous, June 2012