Well it’s the season for tv series’ finales and last tonight we endured the Strictly Come Dancing climax (could have phrased that better), hosted by Britain’s oldest and most irritating non-entertainer and won by the BBC’s very own Stuart Little – Chris and his equally diminutive partner Ola, a pairing affectionately nicknamed Tiny Cola. God they dragged it out but at least we don’t have to put it with it any more at least until the new season starts, probably around 14 January. And a couple of evenings ago we watched the concluding episode of The Restaurant, where the very Gallic and charming Raymond Blanc sets out to find another pairing worthy of investing in a joint restaurant operation. Just imagine winning your own restaurant eh? For those of us who enjoy a bit of cooking it must be a dream come true. And the winners of this season’s competition were a very special pair indeed, affectionately known as Can’t Cook Cola.
But more of them in a minute. The Restaurant is one of my favourite cookery-related programmes. There are others – I’m very keen on the simplicity of Nigel Slater’s food and his easy presenting style. Even though I find his recipes overly-fussy I really enjoy watching Rick Stein prepare food (especially now that the Jack Russell’s in pet cemetery). I used to think Jamie Oliver was a prize Essex prick but the guy is passionate about his food and his travelog series have grown on me enormously. Now, Gordon Ramsay remains a KH of the first order but I find his programmes very watchable, especially the current series of the F-Word (where our local Thai restaurant was accorded best in the UK!) which is brilliantly edited. I just wish he’d ditch the cringeworthy cook-off bits against the celeb diners (find me any other man who wonders/cares whether Kelly Brook knows how to scramble eggs). Finally there is the Michelin 3-starred treat which is Come Dine With Me. Ahh, television heaven. Imagine my delight at seeing a trailer last night for next week’s celebrity edition which is to feature the Loose Women panellist who makes Denise Welch sound like Stephen Hawking – the dipstick with the lipstick, Sherrie Hewson, who will be trying to impress a cluster of other Z-listers with her cooking/home-entertaining skills. It’s a nailed-on kitchen catastrophe which I’m looking forward to almost as much as Xmas itself.
Back to The Restaurant. Its appeal to me is not just the concept of winning your own restaurant (an idea which I find irresistible to be honest), it’s also because we’ve been to Raymond Blanc’s place Le Manoir a few times and it is absolutely my favourite restaurant/country house hotel. Everything about the place is brilliant. Thirdly he once bumped into our car whilst parking outside the Bluebird foodstore and he managed to maintain his charm whilst we discussed his awful parking skills and my car’s damage report (negligible). Fourthly, his fellow judges and business partners are very chalk-and-cheese-interesting – Sarah Willingham is the smart sassy business woman who remained incredibly alluring whilst being heavily pregnant and David Moore, Blanc’s former front of house manager at Le Manoir, who has to be the most anal stickler for detail I’ve ever witnessed. Finally Blanc’s heavily-accented voice and deep Gallic charm seemed to have an interesting effect on C which always made Thursday nights more fun somehow.
Anyways this year’s finalists – the pairings of head chef and the front of house partner – were Chris and Nathan v JJ and James. Chris was a great chef from up t’north who was unfortunate to have a really can’t be arsed maitre d’ pal in Nathan. But the lad could cook. With the other pair the reverse was true; they were a pair of cheeky ex-public school boys who’d been spending their time running a cocktail bar in Covent Garden. James was a decent charmer who had teamed himself with old mate JJ, possibly the worst cook in christendom. If Carlsberg did truly crap chefs, they’d have created JJ.
In the final the four of them were despatched off to Devon to prepare a banquet for Lady Totnes or whatever her title was. She described the 5 course menu in which they had to prepare alternate courses (they’d share the puddings) and told them she expected all the food to be as fresh as possible. JJ immediately admitted he had never prepared a single one of the dishes but undaunted he and James called up the local supermarket to deliver their grub. Chris meanwhile went into the vegetable garden to gather as many of the ingredients as possible from her Ladyship’s own backyard. On initiative alone he deserved the title. And he proceeded to create perfectly cooked scallops and fresh vegetable soup. Meanwhile JJ ruined his stock, burned his blinis and absolutely destroyed the risotto. Smooth talking James was doing his best to keep Lady Exmoor from passing out with shame with his oily charm. Then came the final course. Chris produced the most exquisite baby souffles for his half of the table whilst JJ produced, basically, a bucket of sick which even James admitted couldn’t be served up. So what did the fellas do? Well JJ suggested sending out his fail-safe solution; some highly intoxicating cocktails. It wasn’t food and definitely wasn’t what her Ladyship ordered but James did his slip-this-dine-your-throat-your-Ladyship routine and as the assembled country set were already half pissed they were received in a frightfully jolly way. Hurrah, the dinner was a success!
So which pair did raffish Raymond, sexy Sarah and detail David choose to receive their gift of a beautiful restaurant? You’re already ahead of me aren’t you….James and JJ of course. Presumably on the grounds that they were ace spoofers. Well I wish the enterprise well. It’s bound to be a great success – a restaurant offering crap food but lots of public school boy charm and mojitos, no doubt called ‘Never Mind the Eton’. Unbelievable yah.