Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Rant: Heston's Medieval Feast (TV Review)

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How to cook a plum. Mmm, mmm, mmmmmm

"I'm on a food adventure to the extreme".

These solemnly intoned words kick off the next instalment of Heston Blumenthal's Feasts. This week it's Heston's Medieval Feast.

According to our man Heston, in the Middle Ages, food was used as an escape from the "brutality of life". We skip to a pseudo Bayeux Tapestry whilst Heston explains that meals were a veritable spectacle to distract people from a time when 75 million people succumbed to the Black Death.

This week, all the guests meet with my approval because Andi Oliver's a proper chef, Bill Paterson's been my hero since Traffik (with a K), John Thomson is Fat Bob, Liz McLarnon proved adorable when she won Celebrity Masterchef last year, I'm quite fond of Germaine Greer, and Craig Revel Horwood ... well, okay, most of the guests meet with my approval.

Look at my lovely plum

So what's Heston got up his sleeve for the appetiser? Meat fruit! Obviously.

Bob Mortimer's "Shoe cake. Cake like a shoe" rings through my head, as Heston cackles with glee as he turns bull testicles into prune jelly-coated "plums" (this sequence makes my husband wince), chicken livers into "mandarins", minced pork into "apples" and parma ham into "grapes" on the vine. The grapes, he powders for "authentic dusty effect". Heston, change your greengrocer now.

So the guests dive into the bowl of luscious-looking fruit only to be discombobulated by the unexpected flavours and textures. Germaine is delighted that she's eating b*ll*cks, but I'm slightly unnerved by the jelly flaps where the plums have been breached. Craig cleverly says "I think he's trying to fool us into thinking we're eating something we're not." Well done.

Meat fruit. Fruit like meat.

Heston's starter is lamprey, an ancient, sucker-mouthed eel-like fish that was beloved in Britain in medieval times but can no longer be found here. So he flies to Latvia (cue explanation on plane about how Latvians love lampreys, whilst the passenger next to him studiously peruses his inflight mag) to catch and cook the slippery customers.

Having undergone the slightly pervy initiation of letting a lamprey suck his palm, Heston bleeds, boils and sauces the blighters in a sauce of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and blood. The local verdict? "Tastes foreign - I don't like it". This from a man seen alternating swigs of cherry-ade and whiskey earlier.

Suck on this

Heston then visits Latvian's top lamprey chef Martins Ritins who makes him grilled lamprey with deep-fried lamprey nerve. Crunchy. Anyway, Heston decides this is too mincing and seems to want it to look more like a dead body. So he splays, steams and barbecues the lamprey and when he comes back I think "Hang on - he's just made eel kabayaki". He then coats it in a mirin and yuzu sauce (wtf, that is eel kabayaki) and makes a Szechuan peppercorn, allspice and ginger sauce to go with it.

Finally Heston serves the lamprey on a bed of anchovies, waffle crumbs and tapioca (left-over gravel from last week?) topped with crunchy spinal cord and puffs of lamprey blood foam, and garnishes with lamprey head and tail.

The diners' reactions are frankly embarrassing - Craig Revel Horwood in particular is all "Don't like it mummy". Bah. His was a wasted invitation.

Too visceral for Craig

Commercial break. Oh look, it's ginger Martin from Game On.

"Hello, I'm Chef Heston Blumenthal". Why does he keep introducing himself? Did he do this last week? And stop going on about Black Death on a plate - do you want to remind us of the Fat Duck 400?

Anyway, Chef Blumenthal's all cut up because his last dish was "too visceral" for his guests. Not your fault they were world-class wusses. How will he regain favour? With a PIE of course! And one full of four and twenty blackbirds!

Pies were all the rage in the Middle Ages with records of snail pie, frog pie and even dwarf pie. The recipe which inspired "Sing a Song of Sixpence" comes from Heston's favourite Ye Olde Cookbook and Heston wants to recreate the visual spectacle. First he needs A REALLY BIG PIE-CRUST.

Heston consults his big book

Donning builders' garb, he and his staff make an industrial pie base and then borrow the pottery kiln of a friendly Frenchman to bake the b*gger. This fails, so he decides to go faithful and make an inedible pie crust. Inside there's smaller edible pies filled with pigeon breast, pigeon giblets, cornichons, carrots, celeriac, anchovies and (non-medieval) truffles, approved by a ten year old connoisseur who says "Mmmm, tastes like duck". All the while, my husband beside me chants "I. Like. Pie!"

Finally Heston coaxes several friendly pigeons (blackbirds are protected) to roost on top till serving time so all I can think is "They'll sh*t on the pies!"

Dancing like a happy fool

Anyway, though they do sh*t on both Heston and Andi Oliver, the pies remain unscathed and everyone loves them. I'm happy too, as at this point Craig Revel Horwood turns his head and I can confirm that, yes, he has got a mullet.

Pie. Big freaking pie.

Finally it's time for Heston's Illusionist Dessert. Heston tells us that folk in the Middle Ages loved whimsical, elaborate centrepiece sugar sculptures called "subtleties". In keeping with this theme, Heston decides to recreate edible versions of the tableware his guests have been using and to magically swap them without them noticing. I get excited as I hope that he'll use his personal magician John Van Der Put to put them in a trance, but alas his maitre d' simply barks at them to leave for two minutes.

Want. one. now.

Meanwhile, magic man Heston crafts breath-taking chocolate and ginger ganache knives, forks and spoons, "pewterised" with silver dust; fondant icing napkins; and light-able white chocolate candles oozing with caramel sauce.

And just in case they think that's it, he makes them a "pork pie" ice cream - the "meat" is apple & date ice cream and raspberry sorbet Dippin' Dots made with that old chestnut liquid nitrogen; the jelly is nappage glaze.

Nom, nom, nom

Back troop the guests and at first they don't cotton on, but then John Thomson takes a bite out a candle and they all tuck in. Soon everything and everyone's a mess and Heston's beside himself that they've all got swept away in the medieval spirit. It's another success and as I watch John Thomson yam through his chocolate candle like Augustus Gloop, I just wish, I wish I was there ...

Next week, Tudor! And Cilla!

All photos belong to Channel Four, you hear me!


  1. I loved the idea of edible tableware, wasn't sold on the beef plums at all though.

    I'm wondering if perhaps a Blumenthal designed selection at Selfridges or somewhere is on the cards at some point. I'm sure the white-chocolate candles would sell well.

  2. I would totally buy a Blumenthal ready to eat range!


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