Boiling Point on BBC One review: the ingredients and execution of this stressful series are *chef’s kiss*

Vinette Robinson as Carly in Boiling Point (BBC)
Vinette Robinson as Carly in Boiling Point (BBC)

The cries of “Yes, chef” have only just faded away from one intense, high-anxiety restaurant kitchen drama – US hit The Bear – when they’re right back booming out in another, and with Boiling Point, set in a swanky Dalston restaurant, the results are just as tasty.

Created by director Philip Barantini and writer James Cummings, Boiling Point started as a short film starring the great Stephen Graham, became a critically acclaimed feature and is now a four-part TV series airing on the BBC from Sunday.

The film was a tour de force, done in one shot, following Graham’s head chef Andy Jones over the course of an evening when just about everything in a high-end restaurant kitchen that could go wrong, did go wrong, building to a heart-stopping finale.

Viewers weren’t far behind. And just as with The Bear, this new series is the epitome of the high-end drama as nail-biting stress watch. Hours of glorious, bittersweet anxiety… Ahhh, you can’t beat it.

In episode one, we find that Carly, played again superbly by Vinette Robinson, is no longer Andy’s sous chef, but is head chef of her own restaurant, Point North, which seeks to give London’s fine dining community haute cuisine with a northern twist.

It opens right into the action of a busy night and everyone’s… happy. The team – which includes a few of those from the previous restaurant, including Freeman, a charismatic, brittle performance from Ray Panthaki – banters, and the “Yes, chefs” are all in glorious harmony. Can it last? Well of course not.

 (BBC / Boiling Point TV Limited)
(BBC / Boiling Point TV Limited)

Very soon it’s turning into “one of those nights” (though every night appears to be one of those nights). Some potential investors are coming in, Carly’s mum is having a funny turn, a server has just spilled red wine all over a punter (“it looks like he’s been f**king shot”) and when the new guy Johnny (Stephen Odubola) turns up it quickly becomes clear he’s out of his depth, googling how to make hollandaise when nobody’s looking.

Graham, the star of the film, only appears briefly, certainly in the first two episodes, but he still brings his a-game as Andy, alone and suffering after the chaos of that night. He’s sour, furious, and has lost it all. Padding around his living room in a dressing gown, washing pills down with lager, he looks like the ghost of restaurants past, and maybe for Carly, a vision of what’s to come.

In what plays out like a thriller, and occasionally a horror, there is little respite in the first episode. And while the high-drama remains in the second episode, the TV format allows the story to build out into the characters’ lives beyond the kitchen a little more, which is welcome.

If Robinson is a standout, a drama such as this – like The Bear before it – works on whether the kitchen environment is believable and the audience likes the team. Here the ensemble smashes it. Other great performances include Hannah Walters who feels like the emotional heart of the kitchen, and it’s lovely to see others return, including Izuka Hoyle as Camille, Gary Lamont as the newly promoted restaurant manager Dean, and there’s an extraordinary turn from Stephen McMillan, as the pastry chef who is struggling to cope.

The addition of Shaun Fagan as Bolton, the gobby scouse chef who can’t help but put his foot in it, is great, as is Odubola – it’s impossible not to root for Johnny as he bungles around the kitchen, sending out veg he’s dropped on the floor, accidentally putting chocolate sauce with beef and almost burning the kitchen down. But as with them all, he gets his moment.

Stephen Graham as Andy Jones (BBC / Boiling Point TV Limited)
Stephen Graham as Andy Jones (BBC / Boiling Point TV Limited)

Director Barantini worked in a kitchen for 12 years, while fellow co-creator Cummings worked front of house, so perhaps the most terrifying thing about this drama (and the one which will give most people pause the next time they go to a restaurant) is most of the incidents are drawn from first and second-hand stories of real-life kitchen disasters.

But this is also a clear-eyed look at the mental health issues that working in such a high-stress environment causes, how it can drive people to drink and drug dependencies. That comes through loud and clear as the action unfolds and things fall apart. The restaurant is a delicate ecosystem; if one part goes wrong, everything starts hurtling out of control.

Few will enter a restaurant again without thinking of the frenetic activity behind the kitchen door, or thinking twice about getting shirty with the serving staff – we’re introduced to some appalling diners: drunken bores, influencers making outrageous demands, idiots making a string of thinly veiled racist microaggressions towards staff – and even fewer will so flippantly leave a one-star review online.

Boiling Point gives us just a taste of the anxiety and the adrenaline of this world. It’s an extraordinary peek behind the kitchen door, and an uncomfortable one. But as a drama, the ingredients are spot on and the execution superb. Am I a glutton for punishment? Yes chef…

Boiling Point starts on BBC One from Sunday October 1