What a fantastic evening: food, fun, good company and entertainment. You even get to guess whether Paul Young or Barry McGuigan made your soup!
The MSG and I are big fans of the programme, so suddenly hearing at 3pm that a table had come free that night (it’s all booked up in advance, and we hadn’t asked, but luckily my agent got us on the reserve list the day before) made it all the more exciting.
The programme sends a car, so I left MSE Towers early to get changed, ready to be picked up at 6:15.
Buy a bag of crisps on the way; then prepare to meet the celebs
Having been warned by friends who’ve been in previous years that sometimes you don’t get any food, we stopped on the way. I had a packet of crisps and the MSG some rice-cake crisps; just to ensure there were no hunger pangs. As it happened though, we were served very promptly and got a full three courses.
While on TV it looks like a big restaurant, the whole thing is actually filmed in a studio lot in the middle of East-London. On arrival at 7:30 there’s a champagne and drinks reception; unsurprising as its much better telly if the guests are half-cut when they get there.
I always feel a bit of a fraud at such things – when there are real celebs around – and I’m always slightly shocked if anyone has the vaguest clue who I am. Luckily this time I straight away spotted the This Morning team (Fern, John, Denise, plus the Editor & Exec Editor), who I know from my time on the programme.
Then Emma B, the DJ, walked up to say how much she loves the site and how she’s saved a fortune! And finally, Michael Underwood of GM-TV and his girlfriend Francesca (another site user) came up to say hello.
Michael & I haven’t actually met before but our paths have often crossed at GM-TV, and he often chats to the MSG when they’re covering new film junkets for their respective programmes.
Do you want a romantic dinner in front of the cameras?
After a quick briefing, guests are shown in table by table, staggered throughout the night. The MSG and I had our own table. Now normally there’s nothing more lovely than a romantic dinner with the MSG; yet in this setting with TV cameras all over the place it was quite a relief when Michael and Francesca were shown to the table right next to us 20 minutes later, and we treated it a bit like we were all eating together.
From my angle I could see straight into the girls’ kitchen whilst the MSG peered into the boys’. And they really are working hard in there. It looked just like any normal restaurant kitchen, except with Anneka Rice cooking!
The Menu & The Food
After the waiter had taken the drinks order, the Maitre D’ brought the menu. We were eating food prepared by the blue team (boys), although the menus are identical whichever team cooks, with a choice of five starters, five mains and five deserts.
Of course, any menu prepared by Marco Pierre White is going to sound fantastic; the problem here is you’re not sure the quality will live up to it. Here’s our order and the scores we gave on the feedback paper.
The MSG – White Asparagus. Her Score: 4/10 (I didn’t think it was quite that bad and would’ve given it a 6/10).
Me – Mushroom & Truffle Consommé. My Score 6/10. Not bad although a little oily; and it was absolutely massive.
• Main Courses:
The MSG – Salmon with herb & tomato glaze; lovely, just right. Her Score: 8/10
Me – Dover Sole – hideous, undercooked, I couldn’t finish it, really and truly revolting. My Score: 2/10 (luckily my wonderful MSG shared her salmon with me).
Together: There was a two person apple pie which we ordered jointly. Both of us loved it – I gave it 8/10, the MSG 9/10.
The highlight of the evening, Michael Underwood’s Pig’s Trotter!
Now, without doubt the funniest moment was watching Michael try to eat the pig’s trotter. He’d ordered it because, “it’s not something I’d ever normally risk, but as we’re not paying…”
And then it arrived. Long, with toes, and the gelatinous texture of the ducks hanging up in some Chinese restaurants’ windows; best of all, whilst they’d tried to burn the hairs off, they’d missed a few. The wretched, or should that be retching, look on his face as he attempted to eat it was priceless.
First he lifted the long flap of skin back to show the mousse underneath which was nestled up against the curled and broken toes. Then, encouraged by the Maitre D’ (and with cameras now firmly focussed on him, although it wasn’t shown in the end), he took a trepidatious bite.
My view was blocked by a camera at this point; but the noise he made gave the game away. It’s difficult to express in words quite how funny it was watching him gulp down the water and try to rid the taste from his mouth. The rest of us (me, the MSG, and Michael’s girlfriend) were crying with laughter – hopefully it’ll make an outtake show somewhere.
Luckily his girlfriend shared her salmon too.
There are actually two shows happening; you’ve the main Hell’s Kitchen, as well as “Holly & Fern go dating” , which is being filmed at the same time; so Angus Deayton, Holly Willoughby and Fern Cotton are also milling around with their various camera crews and directors.
For some reason, when Angus read his links on the night, he kept standing by our table, so I found myself in prime viewing position each time. Now, while both of us are used to being on the telly, there’s actually something a bit unnerving about being in the back of shot, being seen but not heard each and every time.
While you’re there you actually miss the show. There are no TV cameras or highlights of the previous night being shown; all you get to do is listen to Angus’ links (actually you can’t hear them, but you can read them off the auto-cue). So in many ways you get far less of a feel for the show when in there than you do when watching at home.
Guess what they asked me about?
When it came to the interviews for the guest vox pop, unsurprisingly there was only one line of questioning for me: “Would you complain? What did you think of the guy who complained and was thrown out? What are your rights?”
By this point admittedly I’d had a couple of glasses of alcohol, so wasn’t feeling the most coherent. I think my main answer was, “Of course you should complain if the service isn’t right and you’ve paid, but here with free transport, booze & food, you don’t exactly have consumer rights.”
We stayed for another 20 minutes after the show finished, but we didn’t get to see the summary and what comments were read out (seeing the programme the next day, neither mine nor the MSG’s appeared).
On the way out, we gossiped with our fellow diners about their experiences. Poor John Scott the This Morning stylist is a veggie and there are no veggie main courses. Still he didn’t complain: he ended up with double asparagus and double dessert!
Overall it was a memorable night; great fun; now I’d better be good and hope they ask us again next year!