Saturday 2 June 2012

Fraiche – Menu Black

Having have visited Marc Wilkinson’s Michelin-starred Fraiche on the Wirral in Oxton close to a dozen times and blogged about it on several occasions you might expect that there is little I could add in another post on the same subject…

If you have been on onto Fraiche’s website (see here) however, you may have seen the mysterious ‘Menu Black’ tab.

For those in the know, the ‘Menu Black’ experience is an ‘invite only’ special event that Marc now runs once a month.

Menu Black features many of Marc’s favourite dishes, seasonal specialties, a few extra premium ingredients and the usual boundary pushing and innovation that diner’s at Fraiche have come to expect as the norm (I say this as it struck me when watching much of this year’s Great British Menu that Marc has been using many of the ‘new’ ideas for years!)

Spiced Pecans – since my last visit, a few things had changed: the tables were graced with plush new chairs and laid out differently. Some things remained the same however, and it was good to receive a bowl of utterly moreish familiar Fraiche favourites.

Charcuterie – some good quality charcuterie is hard to beat and the excellent chorizo and Ibérico ham were a real treat.

Squid Ink Lollies – the recent discovery, in England, of preserved ink sacs from a fossilised giant cephalopod has revealed that the melanin pigment is identical to that of a modern day squid; suggesting that cuttlefish, squid and octopuses have not evolved since the Jurassic period. Of course, after mentioning ‘innovation’ and ‘boundary pushing’ I’m not suggesting Marc’s recipe is over 160-million years old – I’m pretty certain no one in those times was making delicious, sweet lollies.

Calamari Tempura – following the squid ink, we were treated to a perfectly crisp tempura of baby calamari - exceptional cooking to get the textures of the calamari and batter so faultlessly.

Turnips in Soil – next, we got to eat the table decoration. The raw baby turnips were set in a ‘soil’ simply made from chocolate – I must admit this combination didn’t really work for me, although my wife loved it.

Potato Espuma with Caviar – this next dish, we both loved. I’ve recently grown to appreciate caviar more and more and the Ebène Caviar (from is wonderful quality and a real treat. Whilst some chef’s and restaurant’s commitment to only using British produce is laudable, when you are eating at the finest restaurants (such as Fraiche) it’s a privilege to be able to enjoy some of the finest ingredients from around the world. Another one being the cubes of Japanese ‘yuzu’ jelly that lay hidden beneath the amazing espuma.

Breads (round 1) consisting of cheese, five nut, mixed seed and as always, my favourite, granary and treacle.

Textures of Carrot – the carrot sorbet was absolutely wonderful and had perfect synergy with a purple carrot purée, carrot meringue, and a carrot and sumac meringue the sweetness of the carrot components was balanced with the peppery, spiciness of watercress and its flowers.

Seared Scallop – set on top of compressed cucumber and a Meyer lemon purée with a sourdough toast and cucumber espuma, this exceptional dish was complemented by the always-amazing oyster leaves (this time served with their flowers).

Breads (round 2) with Truffle Butter – a dinky white roll and a sweet, brioche were served with a lavish and indulgent house-made truffle butter. So good… I would have asked for more but I know Marc’s profit margins are already slim!

Sweetbread – this was a serious contender for my favourite dish of the evening; perfectly coated in a crisp golden crumb and served with duxelles, shimeji and thinly slices mushrooms with a white port jelly and button mushroom sauce.

Textures of Beetroot – a real celebration of flavour and texture: roasted beetroot; golden beetroot purée; sliced raw beetroot; the welcome addition of smoked almond; olive oil powder; a fresh tasting yoghurt mousse; sea buckthorn purée topped with pain d'épices.

Poached Brill – served with asparagus, buttermilk, purslane and peppery rocket cress with a piece of ‘coal’ that I think was made from bread that had been soaked in a black olive stock and dehydrated. Brill aside, the best thing on the plate was the aubergine that had been cooked in apple, soy and ponzu sauce – it may not sound all that special on paper but it tasted fantastic!

Anjou Pigeon – the top quality Anjou pigeon breast was sublime enhanced by the leg and confit of bones weighing in with an additional hit of flavour. The red cabbage, baby leeks and morels added a classical touch but it was the cocoa crisp that surprised and delighted in equal measure.

Cheese Board – as always, a fine selection of mainly British and French cheeses served and explained with expert knowledge from maître’d James. Standout cheeses included a Tomme de Savoie, Pont-l'Évêque, Camembert au Calvados, Munster and, my favourite, Livarot that James, informed me is often dubbed ‘barnyard’ because of its smell.

Fizzy Pineapple – fizzy grapes have been a long time Fraiche favourite but I enjoyed this tropical variation.

Lemongrass Panna Cotta with Sour Cherry – topped with flakes of dehydrated grape, this is another Fraiche (and personal) favourite; treated to funky new glassware.

Tamarind Sorbet – I love tamarind and this was the first time I have tasted it in a sorbet; it worked really well for me with the orange, mango, nut brittle and crumb.
Blackcurrant Sorbet – another interesting combination; this time Marc had cleverly used the subtle licoricey tasting tarragon in the tempered white chocolate to pair with the blackcurrant. A lemon curd added a citrus note whilst the nut crumb provided texture – flavour-wise, a stunning dish.

Rhubarb ‘Hobnob’ – I’m not sure of the legality of using the ‘Hobnob’ name but this oaty digestive biscuit sandwich with its vanilla cream and rhubarb filling was so good I’d be surprised if McVitie's don’t start begging Marc for the recipe.

Fresh Mint Tea and Petit Fours – great fresh tea and delicious petit fours, featuring a berry meringue, an ‘after eight’, a passion fruit marshmallow and popcorn lollies.

For my wife and I, Fraiche has always been a ‘great’ experience… Menu Black was ‘exceptional’. We can’t wait to return… assuming we will be re-invited. 

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