Episode 7: Simplicity and ambiance were key in the gastro-pub challenge.

I've gone to the Jones Wood Foundry on the Upper East Side a couple of times this year, and both times I've gone with one of my closest friends and her boyfriend, a Brit. The food's good, but it's really not the food that brings me back -- it's the ambiance. Tattered Union Jacks, distressed wood, chill people… chilling. And my friend's boyfriend -- we'll call him Jonathan cause that's his name -- is just happy as a clam when we're there. It provides him with a little bit of home in Manhattan. He uses the word "proper" a lot when we're there. A "proper" bangers and mash, a "proper" sticky toffee pudding, etc. I'm sure many people experience this sort of attachment, investment, when they have a personal if not national connection to a place, and specifically the food being served (i felt that way when i finally found a "proper" Rochester garbage plate in Manhattan!) There's a British invasion going on in Manhattan, if you haven't noticed (you can purchase British candy in my bodega, for G-d's sake!), and so this week's gastro-pub challenge seemed very timely. The gastro-pub scene in NYC is pretty big, with chefs like April Bloomfield and her delicious Spotted Pig and Breslin serving as two examples of the trend.

This week, the Signature Dish Challenge's two surviving chefs were asked to create a gastro-pub experience for their guests. One could say that this was Janet's challenge to lose (or win, depending on how you look at it.) Her restaurant is not only called London, but its famed English chef Gordon Ramsay's place. Two of my friends -- actually the same ones mentioned at the beginning of this post -- have dined there and kvelled over it. Janet created a menu with English flavors she knows, but in the end Rocco thought she overthought it. Gastro-pub food is comfort food. Sure it can be refined, but Janet's was a little too refined. Her dishes were appropriate for a fine dining restaurant. And after her "British Milk Ta Broth" dessert, which Cat Deeley despised, I literally yelled at the TV, "Where's the bread pudding?!" Well, it was on Kevin's menu.

Janet's competitor, Kevin,  claimed to do about 1500 covers  night -- that's a lot of diners, so Rocco was initially concerned about Kevin being able to give his guests a personalized experience, and not have them feel like their dishes came off an assembly line. But he really came through. Not all of his dishes were winners, but his ambiance was so spot-on. It was so Raven (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Whose gastro-pub would you have preferred to patronize? Let me know in the comments below!


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