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Concept Calamity: Opening Night on "Last Restaurant Standing"

I'm not quite sure what to make of the couples assembled for this season of BBC America's Last Restaurant Standing (which airs in the UK under the title The Restaurant). As always, they are a motley lot comprised of people who believe that they can open a restaurant because they give good dinner party and those who seemingly have no knowledge of food, no culinary training, and no common sense.

Last night's episode of Last Restaurant Standing ("Opening Night"), the season's third, finally had the couples getting the keys to their very own restaurant spaces, picked at random and representing a number of diverse locations all around the city of Bristol, from quayside eateries to balconied high-traffic spaces.

To me, this is where any season of Last Restaurant Standing should really begin. I appreciated what Raymond Blanc and the producers attempted with the first week auditions and the second week's trial by fire on the line of three high street restaurant chains, but the format's strength lies mainly in the fact that it's essentially Restaurant Wars every week. (Or, for the first two seasons, every other episode, alternating with a Challenge, now sadly gone.)

This week, the couple's first task was to create an amuse bouche that encapsulated their restaurant concept and then hit the streets of Bristol to market their eateries ahead of opening night. But several teams' performances left me scratching my head in confusion. Shouldn't there be some actual cooking involved in these amuses? Shouldn't it showcase the skill of the chef and the charm of the front of house manager? Hmmm... Wasn't sure what to make of Barney and Badger's two dishes: a strawberry with cream and a piece of melon with some Parma ham (the latter of which Badger kept referring to as pineapple and Parmesan). Tasty? Perhaps, but anyone could prepare either of the cold dishes at home. Would it really lure any potential diners into their restaurant?

I did feel a little bad for Frances and Lucy, whose restaurant oven failed to work. Sans gas, they attempted to make a cold amuse of toast and whipped goat cheese with a shallot marmalade. Considering that their whole concept hinged on the locality of ingredients, it was shocking to me that they purchased French goat cheese to make this and then, due to the non-working oven, only whipped the cheese, plopped it on some round toasts, and put a drop of marmalade on top. Where was the thought or the reactive instinct? Surely, they could have dressed up their dish better. Why not some local roe or fresh herbs? It looked terrible and certainly didn't sum up their style of cuisine or restaurant concept.

(Meanwhile, people seemed to like Stephen and Rebecca's arancini--or "deep fried risotto balls"--but, again, an Italian dish didn't really seem to suit their hearty British grub concept.)

As for the restaurants' opening night, it was a predictable disaster. Despite Barney's manic energy in the kitchen, Badger actually managed to keep things running smoothly in the front of house, a real feat considering his lack of knowledge about cuisine and his lack of experience. (No surprise then that the duo won Raymond's Restaurant of the Week award.) Chris' calm and grit in the kitchen was undermined completely by Nathan's inexperience in front, which he compounded by not realizing the state of the chaos nor what position he was putting Chris in in the kitchen.

I'm hoping that Daisy and Nadine stick around for a while; I like the innovative restaurant concept (Westernized Nigerian cuisine) at D'Soiree though Daisy needs to stop cooking the goat to the point that it becomes overly chewy (especially as she's serving such thin pieces of meat). As for Rebecca and Stephen, I was slightly baffled by her efforts to hire a saxophonist AND a magician for their opening night and by his style of cooking at The Front Room. As judge Sarah Willingham rightly put it, the huge, sloppy portions did look like something you might throw together and then eat in front of the telly in your own front room, certainly not something you would pay for at a restaurant. I'd be surprised if they stick around for very long.

What can I say about JJ and James, whose picnic-eating concept still throws me for a loop? Once again, James seemed to be clueless about the troubles in the front of house, with many diners waiting for orders and those who did get their food being very unimpressed, despite JJ's claim to fame with the "wet" Scotch egg and asparagus. But it was JJ who truly shocked me by not actually cooking anything that went out of the kitchen, not working on any station, and remaining at the pass to expedite. Remember, after all, this is a culinary competition and he's the chef of the team. Just... wow.

Finally, there was Frances and Lucy, who basically collapsed under the pressure of the evening, sending out disgusting looking plates that were half dressed (remember the beurre noisette?) and not running anything remotely resembling a professional restaurant. It was no surprise that Raymond closed their restaurant. Frances was too young and inexperienced and lacked the authority and confidence to keep things under control in her kitchen. A shame as Lucy seemed to be quite in control at the front of house. But I can't say that I was surprised.

What did you think of this week's episode? Did the right team go home? Discuss.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing ("The Seasonal Ingredient"), the remaining teams must create dishes using only seasonal, local ingredients while still remaining true to their individual restaurant concepts.


Hadley said…
I used to love this show but this season is so lackluster! Not only are they missing the challenges but the contestants are not impressive at all. It appears that the only one with real talent in the kitchen is Chris but his partner, Nathan, was useless on their opening night. You'd think that, after a couple of seasons, they'd get better contestants (like Top Chef has) rather than scraping the bottom of the barrel.
justjoan123 said…
I have to agree with Hadley. Furthermore, I wonder what the film editors thought their brief was. Why focus at such length and with such avidity on The Front Room's front-of-house literally retching at the thought of eating the amuse bouche Raymond had sent over with his welcome message? Wasn't everything much more rushed than in previous seasons, especially at the ending review? Surely we could enter into the deliberation process with Raymond, Sarah and David. Surely Raymond could say more than a bare sentence to each before ejecting the first clueless candidates.

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