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Restaurant Wars: An Advance Review of Season Three of BBC America's "Last Restaurant Standing"

I've long been captivated by BBC America's culinary competition series, Last Restaurant Standing (a.k.a. The Restaurant in the UK), which returns with its third season tonight.

While Last Restaurant Standing returns tonight, the series is a slightly different beast than in its two previous iterations. While chef/restaurateur Raymond Blanc and judges Sarah Willingham and David Moore all return and the overall premise of the series--"couples" compete to open their own restaurant--remains the same, there's something slightly different going on here.

For one, Last Restaurant Standing's format has changed, reducing the episode count and sucking out some of the series' nail-biting tension. In the UK, previous seasons of the competition series aired twice a week, with one episode devoted to the couples running their individual restaurants, amid frequent complications sprung on them by Raymond Blanc, and the second devoted to the Challenge, a gauntlet of fire through which the worst-performing couples would be run and by which one couple would be eliminated.

The Challenge is, rather sadly, gone. I always thought that it was one of the more interesting arenas for the series, forcing the contestants to adapt to any situation (sometimes quite mad ones) and really think on their toes. It was a good metric for understanding just how adaptable, intelligent, and determined each of the couples were, pushing them even further out of their comfort zone and forcing them to come to accept the harsh realities of the restaurant business. After all, it's not just dinner parties and shopping for ingredients at farm stores.

In the two episodes provided for review by BBC America, the new version of Last Restaurant Standing therefore places much more emphasis on the overall concept of the couples' individual restaurants and on their skills on line and in front of house. However, it's hard to judge the week-to-week tension and drama of the series as the couples don't actually move into their restaurant spaces until Week Three.

But that's not to say that the couples aren't under a great deal of strain in the first two episodes, because they are. The first episode finds them more or less auditioning for Raymond Blanc himself, as they are put into teams of three couples and tasked with organizing a three-course menu, with each couple responsible for creating a dish (starter, main, or dessert) that sums up their restaurant's concept. The second installment has the couples working on the line in a three of Britain's high street chain restaurants. It's a task that proves that many of them are ill-equipped to be running a place of their own and several seem to have little understanding of the amount of diligence, organization, and hard work necessary to run an endeavor such as that.

And, yes, some of the contestants engage in behavior that is outright shocking. Mother and daughter team Sandy and Natalie's attempts to open cans using a very sharp chef's knife (rather than, you know, a can opener) is so jaw-dropping and terrifying that Raymond is forced to take action from the start and actually intervene before one of them loses a finger. It's an eye-opening start to the season and one that makes me question the sanity of several of these contestants. Did they really not know what they were getting into? Had they never seen the series before? What did they expect that they would be doing?

There are a few that are worth keeping an eye on. One couple in particular seems extremely strong while another has a restaurant concept that is quite original... and mind-boggling at the same time.

All in all, a good start for what promises to be a fun season of Last Restaurant Standing but which so far lacks the same level of spark and heat of the last two seasons. Still, I'll be tuning in every Tuesday night to see just who walks away with their own restaurant...

Season Three of Last Restaurant Standing premieres tonight at 9 pm ET/PT on BBC America.


Bella Spruce said…
I'm sad that this season will be shorter and that they are no longer doing the challenges. It was good to see the teams interact with each other and they always came up with challenges that were fun and interesting too. Oh, well.
Chris said…
I've already seen the season and it's very much off from the past two. A lot of the elements are there but the BBC budget cuts that must have happened behind the scenes really affected things. The lack of the Challenge really makes a difference. I'll be interested to read your take as the show progresses.

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