I finally got access to the preliminary round British restaurant competition that I had missed, so I have appended it in its proper place between the 3rd and 5th competitions. Milestone is in Sheffield, owners are Mark and Matt, chef is Simon and sous chef is James. West House is in Bettenden, Kent and has 1 Michelin star with owner Graham Garrett and sous chef Ben in the kitchen and his wife Jackie as front of House along with their son James and daughter.
Milestone is known for its black pudding, salmon with pea puree and gnocchi dishes. These were available to the 30 diners sent in on a bus by Ramsay, but the wait staff failed to mention that they would receive an amuse bouche which also contained black pudding; for some, that would have resulted in changing their order.The kitchen procedures had all of a given type of dish cooked at the same time without regard to the status of other dishes for that table. That resulted in dishes cooling down and drying out on the hot plate while waiting to be served. The kitchen was one portion short of rabbit loin, so a final table's order caused the a substitution to rabbit leg, which was not cooked properly and resulted in a diner complaint. Ramsay's summary was that despite the excellent food, the banquet style serving procedure was not appropriate for fine dining.
West House's problems started with the first order. Jesse's handwriting was indecipherable, which left the kitchen at a loss on what was really ordered. Jackie was clearly not in control of the Front of the House. She failed to take orders from one table until more than 1 hour (out of 2 to have the meal completed) had passed. Their featured dishes are Scotch egg with black pudding and haddock carpaccio. The food was judged by the diners to be excellent.
Ramsay sent secret diner Simon Davis into Milestone. He got under-seasoned corned beef, but the FOH team decided to not charge him for it, which both Simon and Ramsay though was a classy move. He also got a bowl of chips (French fries in U.S. English) that were burned and asked to speak to the chef; head chef Simon did come out to discuss this with him. This personal service won high marks for Milestone to go along with its excellent food.
Ramsay sent secret diner Sarah Durdin-Robertson into West House. The FOH got mixed up her order. No doneness level was requested for some meat, so how would the chef know how far to cook it? The food was excellent.
It appears to me, as is frequently the case, that there is a large lead for one of the pair of each preliminary round restaurants over the other going into the final cookoff. In this case, the service deficiencies of West House were likely to cause them to lose. The reason is that both restaurants in almost every round do well when the service is provided by Ramsay's experienced staff and the menu is limited to one meal.
The cookoff pits these meals against each other with venison as the classic British ingredient:
Milestone - venison loin, braised venison, nettles wellington, beetroot fondant, watercress puree, game gravy
West House - roast venison loin and liver, potatoes, pickled cherry, lettuce
For one diner, that lettuce was inadvertently left off the plate so another whole meal was prepared as a replacement. For both restaurants the food was quite complex but they both excelled at the flavor and the diners were split on who had the better food. Ramsay could not decide either, so he made the decision on who won Best British Restaurant based on the earlier results. The nod went to The Milestone.
NOTE - the review above was added on Feb. 13 to the original one below so that the missing Best British Restaurant competition appears there.
The 5th competition is for best Thai restaurant between Mango Tree in Belgravia and Namh-Jim in St. Andrew's Scotland. The key individuals are Nopf in Front of House, Mark as Executive Chef (neither of which is shown in a current list of Profiles for that restaurant) and Ood as head chef for Mango Tree and the husband and wife duo of Sandy (FOH) and Bee for Namh-Jim.
Ramsay's busload of 30 diners arrived at Namh-Jim and Sandy had to explain the menu to them before they ordered. It included a unique version of Thai haggis. One of the principal dishes was Tamarind duck with bok choy. On appetizers, Sandy missed one table entirely but corrected that. At one point, Ramsay stated that "there are more waiters in here (the kitchen) than there are chefs." The staging of appetizers, entrees and desserts was not always time-separated, as some diners got two courses in the same time frame. However, this allowed all meals to be served in 75 minutes, a huge achievement. Ramsay's conclusion was that the kitchen staff was scoring a hole-in-one while the FOH was the weak link.
The diners also went to Mango Tree, which had physical layout deficiencies with the kitchen 2 levels below the dining room. Dumbwaiters and headsets and even telephones are used for communications between the wait staff and the kitchen. Prominent dishes were:
Shrimp Tom Kha
Tiger Prawn Pad Thai
A small group of customers noted that there were no vegetarian options. Nopf responded that all dishes could be done vegetarian. One diner's chicken was sent back undercooked and the replacement chicken was also sent back undercooked, both verified by Ramsay. Raw materials for the final meal cooking and assembly were in half-cooked form. An interface guy named MIkey associates the food coming up with the correct table it is to be served to. Ramsay stated that the diners, even the guy who got the two undercooked chickens, were happy campers but Mark was not. He was embarrassed about his own quality control.
At Namh-Jim Ramsay sent Simon Davis in as the secret diner and he loved the Thai haggis. However, his attempts to try out Thai white wine and order it by the glass were rebuffed multiple times. The waiter was apparently making up his own rules about this. Sandy was visibly embarrassed as it was pretty outrageous, including a threat to notify the police. Ramsay called it an aggressive service error.
At Mango Tree, Sarah Durdin-Robertson got a dirty menu. She asked for the food to be less spicy and was offered an immediate and innovative solution. The noise level was high and someone resetting tables appeared to be encouraging diners to leave and allow their tables to be turned. The food was delicious.
Going in to the final cook-off at Petrus I feel that Namh-Jim had a distinct edge. both restaurants had to create a dish using chicken. Mango Tree did chicken with a very special broth. Namh-Jim did chicken with mushrooms and a ring of basil puree around it. The Namh-Jim meal looked mediocre but tasted great. The Mango Tree meal looked and tasted outstanding, but one diner got his chicken undercooked. That was it for Mark, who had suffered that problem in the initial part of this competition and knew that a recurrence of that problem would be fatal to his ambitions to be named Best Thai Restaurant in Britain by Ramsay. That honor went to Namh-Jim.