BBC Two – Put Your Menu Where Your Mouth Is

Posted on Monday, 2nd March 2009

Roast beef cooked by Chef One

Roast beef cooked by Chef One

Reef TV are currently filming a new series of celebrity chef cook-off programmes for BBC Two. The working title of the show is ‘Put Your Menu Where Your Mouth Is’. Two celebrity chefs square off and compete by preparing and cooking for a restaurant of paying customers. Each chef offers up a starter, main and dessert, and diners choose from the alternative choices. Each dish is priced by the chef and the one who makes the most money at the end of the evening wins, with all the profits going to charity.

I went to one such filming last night. It was held at The Mercer Restaurant on Threadneedle Street rather than at the BBC studios. The atmosphere was incredibly buzzy, heightened by the television crew milling around and aiming the camera at our faces. This was TV! Excitedly, one of my friends was interviewed, twice, so she might get to appear on television. The chefs were not revealed until just before dessert so there was also a sense of anticipation as to who they might be.

The menu last night was as follows. We weren’t told in advance which dish belonged to which chef, but with the benefit of hindsight, I have been able to label the dishes by chef.

Chef One
Roast Kent Jerusalem artichoke & dry cured bacon soup (£6.25)
Roast Court Farm fore rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, roasted root vegetables and red wine gravy (£21.50)
Caramel poached organic comice pear with a tuile cup, crème fraîche & chocolate sauce (£6.50)

Chef Two

A taste of Italy – rustic wild Kent mushroom & truffle oil risotto with parmesan shavings (£8.90)
Organic local Shoreham cod fillet cooked in a wine, leek, dill saffron & Norfolk mussel broth with courgette chips (£17.50)
Vanilla cheesecake of Somerset ricotta with raspberry served with ice cream & a warm dark chocolate sauce (£6.50)

Mushroom & truffle oil risotto

Mushroom & truffle oil risotto

As exciting as it was to be at the filming, by the time the food came out, we realised it wasn’t going to be a good meal. Out of the five of us, four chose the risotto which was sloppily presented. Dumped on the plate was probably a more accurate description. There was also no consistency in the portion sizes either, which on the whole proved to be pretty small. The risotto was cold and there was no discernible trace of truffle oil. A cheek I thought to be charging £8.90! The soup was quite watery, not particularly flavoursome and could have done with more bacon. But at least it was hot, which was a nice touch. By this point we realised the food was being produced en masse and the quality was going to be questionable.

Jerusalem artichoke & dry cured bacon soup

Jerusalem artichoke & dry cured bacon soup

The roast beef was overcooked. What should have been medium rare turned out to be medium for me and well done for three of the other people on my table. That poor cow! Overcooking is surely no way to treat an animal. The fish was overcooked too, and the mussels were limp. We all started to grumble. The meal felt like a rip off and it became all too clear that being a ‘celebrity chef’ doesn’t mean you are a ‘chef’.

All was finally revealed as the chefs came around to all the tables to canvas support for their dessert. To ensure I don’t get in trouble with the BBC, I won’t be revealing their names. But to give you a few hints: Chef One is Scottish, appears on Ready, Steady, Cook and occasionally appears on Saturday Kitchen; and Chef Two is Italian, owns several restaurants in London and is the author of a number of cookbooks on Italian food and seafood. Neither of the chefs is in the celebrity class of the A-listers (eg, Nigella) and I would only class them as minor celebrity chefs.

As Chef One moved through the dining room, I managed to nab him for a chat. By his own admission, he had overcooked the beef. (Yes, we agreed). He revealed he hadn’t cooked ‘in anger’ (sic) for some 10 years now so was feeling quite rusty. So back to my original point: being a ‘celebrity chef’ doesn’t mean you are a ‘chef’.

Ricotta cheesecake

Ricotta cheesecake

We all settled on the cheesecake which was again disappointing. It essentially tasted of gelatine rather than baked ricotta cheese. We all decided that we would only pay £2 for the cheesecake in light of the bad cooking and extreme overpricing (the only course which permitted us a choice as to how much we could pay). Ok, the money goes to charity. But still.

The Mercer Restaurant made no money from offering the use of its space and staff other than what was made on the drinks. But by doing this, The Mercer will get free publicity when the show airs on television. So at this point, it would only be appropriate to comment on the restaurant itself. The dining room is lovely with high ceilings, dark wood panelling and leather backed seating. It’s a classy joint. However, the service was pretty bad. Other than one particular waiter, we found most of the wait staff to be unpleasant and unhelpful. Our glasses were consistently left empty. They exuded an air of indifference, as if they wanted to be anywhere but here. And these are the regulars at The Mercer. I surely won’t be going there again anytime soon.

It ended up being quite a long evening. We were there for about five hours. I suppose television programmes can take a long time to film although we had no visibility of what was happening in the kitchen. Chef One was the eventual winner and we think it was because he had decided to serve the roast beef, which on a Sunday evening is probably most people’s favourite choice when the alternative is fish.

Even though we didn’t enjoy the food, we still had fun. My friends and I have decided to watch the show together when it airs on TV (the date is currently unknown but it will probably be sometime in May). We have decided to have our own cook-off while we watch the programme, and we know our food will taste far better.

The Mercer at:
34 Threadneedle st,
Tel: +44 (0)20 7628 0001

Leave a Comment


15 Responses to “BBC Two – Put Your Menu Where Your Mouth Is”

  1. Natasha - 5 Star Foodie Says...

    That is certainly an interesting experience. I’m sorry that the food wasn’t so great but it still must have been exciting to see how they film those shows.

  2. Agirlhastoeat Says...

    Yes it was really exciting to see how they film those shows. Despite the food, I had a really good time. My friends are a great laugh and we really enjoyed ourselves. I am really curious to see how the show will turn out.

  3. gen.u.ine.ness Says...

    Ouch… the food looks horrible for the amount charged. As you pointed out, overcooked beef is a definite no no – at £21.50 you could have bought the rib and cooked it at home. The food looks no better than what you get served in the hospital canteen. =.=

  4. My Comfort Food Says...

    What a disappointment! But I am sure at the same time it must be quite exciting to try and guess who the chef’s were. I wish they would air the show here in the US, so as to see who the chef’s were and to look out for the girl in the red dress. In the end who won the show?

  5. Agirlhastoeat Says...

    Yes the food was disappointing. Never mind. We all still really had fun!

  6. Agirlhastoeat Says...

    Hi My Comfort Food, It was really exciting wondering who the chefs were. I wonder if it will show in the States. Can you imagine? In the end, Chef One won. He cooked the soup, roast beef and poached pear.

  7. Sam Says...

    Wow, I’m surprised the food was so bad, still at least you had fun! I’ll be watching this for sure when it’s on TV.

    Thanks for your nice comments on my blog the other day, I’m glad you led me here because your blog is great! I’m subscribing to the feed right now!

  8. Miss_Bendy Says...

    Hi There
    I Attended filming of the same show at Hispaniola on the Victoria Embankement this week. Very similar experience to you. I chose steak and big chips which cost £22.50 – thats quite pricey for 2oz of over cooked steak (it was far from even remoteley pink) and 4 chips. Another of our party had lamb w, which similarly was overcooked and appeared to be lacking the spring vegetables described on the menu. One of the chef’s I had heard of, but the other I had no idea. We actually left before filming ended as we were fairly disgusted by the state of the meal.

  9. 'A Girl Has To Eat' Says...

    Hi Miss Bendy,
    Yes it sounds like from your experience the chefs must be consistently bad. The problem is they don’t tell you who the chefs are before hand so you cant decide whether it would be worthwhile going or not. For the money we paid, I am convinced we could have had a nicer meal elsewhere. Or a nicer meal for less.

  10. Barry Cotton Says...

    I experienced the filming of this show from a different perspective, hosting a table on behalf of the venue. On the whole however our evening seems to be have been an overwhelming success! The Elvetham is predominantly a banquetting venue catering for larger corporate groups, weddings and parties and so we are perhaps more used to large-scale catering. All of the guests were also specifically invited, knowing that the evening would be filmed for TV and it would seem that most were delighted with the experience. The food was also, in the main, most enjoyable. Our episode is scheduled as the final show on Friday 5th June and so we are all looking forward to it!

  11. 'A Girl Has to Eat' Says...

    Dear Barry, I don’t believe my experience is necessarily indicative of all filmings of this show. Just mine. Of course it would depend on the chefs cooking. Anyway, I look forward to watching your programme!

  12. Jo Says...

    Hi Miss Bendy – I went to the same filming as you and wasn’t overly impressed with the food either (and even less impressed having to walk down that steep gangplank to get on the boat – not good in 4 inch heels!). I had the prawns for a starter which were lovely but the steak took forever to be served and wasn’t cooked how I asked it to be and I only had 2 chips (although they were rather large ones!). The chocolate tarte was nice, but very sickly. Not worth the money we paid for it but was a good experience & looking forward to seeing it aired in May. On the plus side, one of the chefs did stop & chat with us after filming & even bought us a bottle of wine! ;o)

  13. pewaychoope Says...

    hi nice post you have going there.

  14. KrystleWhamb Says...

    Happy New Year 2017!
    Hooooorrrayyy!!! 🙂

  15. A Girl Has to Eat Says...


    Happy new year!