Greater Manchester, where I live may have great football teams (difficult for a London born Chelsea fan to admit); renowned museums and galleries and an illustrious artistic and musical pedigree... but sadly, one thing Manchester does not have is any Michelin starred restaurants. (This does not mean however that you cannot find great food in Manchester, as I’m sure future posts will attest).
Travel just over an hour in many directions and things on the Michelin front get a little better: Derbyshire has Fischer’s at Baslow Hall; Lancashire has Northcote Manor; Yorkshire has the The Box Tree in Ilkley and the Old Vicarage in Sheffield; Chester has Simon Radley at the Grosvenor; Cumbria has the excellent L’Enclume and the classic Holbeck Ghyll and Sharrow Bay and Birkenhead on the Mersey has Fraiche. Each of these places has been awarded One Michelin Star. The pick of the crop for me is Fraiche (please note that I have so far only eaten at the restaurants in bold).
Fraiche never ever fails to thrill me. Chef-proprietor Marc Wilkinson has created a beautiful setting in which to enjoy his similarly beautiful food. There are five well-spaced tables in a room where covers are kept to a minimum so that the exceptional quality can be maintained. Bookings are taken up to four months in advance and can be made online but you have to get in quick because the small number of covers means getting a table can be tough. We have eaten there now several times and have taken dining companions who have always been blown away by the plush, yet unpretentious ambience and formal standard, yet relaxed service that is Fraiche!
Chef Wilkinson always prepares exciting menus (Bespoke, Elements, Concepts and Signature) showcasing outstanding quality ingredients; prepared using classic and progressive cooking techniques.
Fraiche’s Sunday evening choice of menu is the ‘Concepts’ menu, which ‘displays new ideas and reflects the seasonal changes’. Exceptional value at £45, including amuse bouche, breads, mains, desserts and petit fours - expect somewhere in the region of 10 to 12 courses. Most definitely a treat for anyone interested in new flavours.
Our experience began this week with delicately spiced pecans – a Fraiche favourite. Followed by a chorizo sandwich - a wafer thin toast, topped with a savoury jelly and chorizo dust.
The next course was simply divine. An artistically arranged array of vibrant greens and reds, which certainly wowed as it was brought to the table. The beautiful and texturally diverse dish featured: delicate ribbons of finely sliced asparagus; a beetroot sorbet, which added freshness in addition to a pleasing temperature contrast; a dehydrated pistachio ‘sponge’ which added yet another interesting texture and a cherry tuile, which added drama to the dish and helped to hide the pleasant surprise of a delicious fresh cherry which was nestled behind. A chilled almond soup (poured from a cute little glass teapot) finished the dish. Great flavours, great presentation, great textures – a quintessential Fraiche work of genius!
Following a selection of some of Marc’s gorgeous breads came another outstanding offering: cubes of marinated sashimi of tuna; crisp juicy watermelon; pea shoots and more progressive techniques and textural treats in dehydrated olive oil and ‘charcoal’.
More breads (including my personal favourite, flavoured with treacle and my wife’s favourite, with cranberry and caramelised onion) were followed by the fish course. It is always gratifying to see more and more restaurants using environmentally sustainable fish and my first taste of ‘Char’ did not disappoint – deliciously moist flaky fish with a subtle sea trout like flavour. The char was served on a bed of baby leeks with a yuzu gelée and another Fraiche signature ingredient, puffed rice.
Some of the best venison I have ever tasted was up next topped with a slice of truffle, morels, roasted shallot and fondant potato.
Fraiche’s cheese chariot usually carries and impressive selection of artisan cheeses. Tonight’s cheese course however was a whole new approach: a quality cheddar; crisp matchsticks of apple; dehydrated apple; pistachio dust and to complement the cheese, an imaginative twist on chutney, a perfectly executed bite size Eccles Cake – flaky and fruity, sticky and sugary.
|The usual Fraiche cheese chariot.
Fizzy grapes followed: another Fraiche favourite. Then, an unusual divergence from the typical creative Fraiche desserts came a classic English Custard Tart with fresh berries and lemon sauce. Classics like this leave no room for error and have to be impeccably executed – this one unquestionably was, a thick wobbly, filling and unparalleled pastry. Very accomplished cooking.
All in all, Fraiche is simply fantastic!