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Sail Away: Teams Attempt to Grow Takeaway Businesses on "Last Restaurant Standing"

Talk about heat in the kitchen.

This week on BBC America's deliciously addictive culinary competition series Last Restaurant Standing ("Takeaway"), the five remaining teams were tasked by Raymond Blanc to offer takeaway options from their restaurant, given them motorcycle couriers to deliver food to customers' doors. The one catch: they'd still have to run their restaurants with a normal weekend service and keep profits up. Not an easy one.

It was made especially more difficult by the fact that several of the restaurants don't really have concepts that are easy to translate into takeaway. I don't really know how fine dining, for example, would be able to be created, delivered, and enjoyed in the same fashion as in the restaurant. James and Alasdair's The Gallery was especially at a loss as to what to do and, faced with yet another difficult decision, took the wrong path.

So how did they do overall? Let's discuss.

James and Alasdair. Let's be honest, this week brought us yet another catastrophe from these two, whom Raymond said had to "grow up." I have to say that I was completely flabbergasted by their performance this week, especially as they ended up having their best weekend yet, in terms of filling the restaurant. But they once again tried to cut corners by opting to not offer an actual takeaway menu but instead creating some rather subpar picnic boxes--little tea sandwiches, a brownie, some fruit, and water--and offering them to attendees at the local regatta. Which was a monumental error in judgment, as Raymond later told them. I've been to the regatta at Henley myself and these events are high-end affairs. People bring their own tents, their own exquisite food, and at times their own china and silver to these things. Offering such an upscale clientele a boxed lunch (itself meant to be a marketing exercise) was just foolhardy and doomed to fail. They sold ONE box the entire time they had been there.

If they were looking to lure customers into the restaurant (rather than fulfill the brief this week), I would have hoped that they would have thought things through more clearly and instead offered something like passed canapes to regatta attendees before they entered. Something that would have painted The Gallery in a good light and perhaps brought in more customers later on. Anything, really.

I felt bad for James, who had to get through a weekend service after learning that his father had suffered a heart attack. He soldiered through and that showed grit and determination. But these things matter little when the person in question shows such poor judgment to send out some ratty 14-hour old sandwiches that have been in the refrigerator to a customer looking for a nighttime takeaway. So it was no surprise to me that Raymond would place these two into the Challenge. They really do need to prove that they have a handle on running a restaurant and the maturity and levelheadedness necessary to do so. Will they sink or swim next week?

Helen and Stephen. Having seen the UK version of this episode ahead of time, I have to say that there was A LOT cut out of this episode that spoke to why Helen was so defensive in front of Raymond and the inspectors this week. For her part, Helen was so proud of the improvements she made in quality over the last few weeks (including altering recipes and attempting to lift her standards of presentation) that she felt really personally attacked by Raymond's criticism of her food. Was it a HUGE improvement in terms of the dishes' looks at Nel's? Perhaps. But it's also a matter of her cuisine's taste, which Raymond said many customers were complaining about. I have to say that Helen is trying really, really hard but I don't know if it's going to be enough to win this competition in the end.

I was also really surprised that Raymond didn't seem to find any positives in Helen and Stephen's efforts on the takeaway side. Stephen made a deal with a local market to offer Helen's ready-made meals to heat at home and he sold out completely... and they then proceeded to ALSO offer traditional hot takeaway for delivery during the nighttime service. I understand that Raymond wants a partner who is flexible, mature, and passionate and I feel that Helen is all of those things. But she did shoot herself in the foot a little bit when she said that she "wasn't a chef." Ouch. I was not surprised, but a little saddened, that these two were also placed in the Challenge.

Tim and Lindsie. I really feel that Tim and Lindsie should have gone into the Challenge, no doubt about it. The fact that they chose to do the clangers--with sweet and savory ends--was a gargantuan error in judgment on their part. As Sarah Willingham pointed out, just because Raymond mentioned that Cornish pasties used to sometimes--rarely--and not any more offer that combination doesn't mean that they should offer that today. There was no way of telling which end was savory and which was sweet but that's also beside the point: why would anyone ring up True Provenance and expect a clanger for their takeaway offering? It bore no relevance to the restaurant's concept, ethos, or style of cuisine and was just odd.

Somehow these two managed to squeak by without getting placed into the Challenge, which really shocked me. They only managed to fill nine tables and had to deal with a table of five walking out without paying on top of that. Yes, that man was beyond rude and OTT and I credit Lindsie with dealing with him in a mature and controlled manner, but that doesn't erase their errors in judgment with this latest task. Especially when compared with what Stephen and Helen offered for their takeway offerings. Slightly head-scratching, this one.

Laura and Peter. If ever there was a couple who should have been booted from the competition weeks ago it's these two, who run the Welsh Wok. It's taken them this long to get a grip on their restaurant's concept (Asian, finally!) and Peter still has no control over his kitchen whatsoever, despite the fact that he's the only one in there who knows how to prepare Cantonese food! (Cut from the US version of the episode: Peter telling his sous chef that he wants to be in charge... and then still taking a backseat to him when they find themselves in the weeds.) I'm glad that Raymond placed them into the Challenge as I don't think that they have a shot in hell of running their own place. Certainly not the way that they've been performing so far.

Russell and Michele. I felt a little bit like the Restaurant of the Week decision was a case of producer interference. It would have been a foregone conclusion that Russell and Michele are the team to beat if they won for the third straight week in a row so Raymond and the inspectors made an example out of them for the frozen chips, even though it wasn't the most egregious error made this week. Should it have been enough to keep them from winning the prize again this week? I don't think so. Yes, they made a huge deal about their sustainable takeaway fish and chips and offered a choice of poached, fried, or pan sauteed fish but so what if the chips were frozen? As Russell put it, he couldn't afford the wage expenditure to have his commi or sous chef peeling and cutting potatoes all day. Which is a valid point, really.

But to not give anyone the Restaurant of the Week, after Russell and Michele did a brilliant job this week running their restaurant and offering a successful takeaway service (even if Michele wanted to discontinue it straightaway), seems wrong to me. I do think they did the best and at this point could win this entire competition. I knew they were the one team safe from the Challenge but I do think that the inspectors made an error here by not giving them the prize. Would Russell have preferred to offer fresh chips? Absolutely. Did he get reamed for not doing that? Indeed he did. But he also made a valid case why he didn't that was based on profits and time management. Which alone points to him being by far the most qualified chef in the mix.

What did you think of this week's episode? Should Tim and Lindsie have been placed in the Challenge? Who will be the next team send home? And who do you think has the chops to win the competition at this point? Discuss.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing ("The Dinner Party"), the three teams placed into Raymond's latest Challenge must cater private dinners for three very demanding and discerning clients. Whose dream will go up in smoke? Find out next week.


Anonymous said…
The thing I find difficult about the judging is the decision of what is most important from week to week. Is the running of the restaurant the most important thing or is it Raymond's task? For example, James and Alasdair actually did quite well in their restaurant this week but mucked up the takeaway task. Helen and Stephen, on the other hand, had some complaints about Helen's food during regular service but did brilliantly with the takeaway task. And both of these teams ended up in the challenge.

I know the point is to do everything as well as possible but, usually, all the restaurants suffer in at least one area and I'm always surprised by what Raymond and his inspectors choose to focus on each week.
Anonymous said…
The judging this episode was pretty harsh. Russell certainly didn't use frozen chips out of laziness. He knew it wasn't the ideal situation but was trying to make the best out of his time and resources.

And I feel like they should have given more credit to Helen and Stephen for doing so well with both the takeaway and take home menus. They were really clever about it and I thought the judges would be impressed. I do agree that Helen needs to improve her food skills, though, which is sad because I really like them as a team!
Ally said…
I am WAY over James and Ali - I am read for them to go. I won't cry if it's Peter and Laura, but those two guys have been ridiculous from week 1.

ITA that judging was too harsh, with regards to Russell & Michele. It was a smart of Russell to use pre-made chips. No matter what Raymond thinks.

Side note - last night I had a dream that the finale was decided Amazing Race-style, and R&M made it to the finish line first and won the season.

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