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Review: Grafene aims for cutting edge with new head chef

There's been a fair amount of chopping and changing during Grafene's first 18 months of residency at their slick King Street location. From tasters through to tapas, owners Paul and Kathryn Roden have been seeking the perfect formula for their fine dining experience.

After securing themselves a new head chef in the shape of Ben Mounsey, a man with Michelin star experience from a previous position at Fraiche in Oxton, the husband and wife team will be hoping they’ve finally found that je ne sais quoi. The well regarded young chef is hoping to shake things up at Grafene with some adventurous new dishes that still fit in to the restaurant’s modern British blueprint. They’ve got a new a la carte menu which offers three courses with bread and ‘surprises’ for £45, so last week we gave it a whirl.

We began with the aforementioned bread, which arrives in the form of two crusty, little warm loaves, one rye, the other flavoured with that tangy northern favourite, Henderson’s Relish. Accompanying butters are pimped up with treacle and tomato salt. 

If you’d rather keep your ‘surprises’ just that then look away now. Our amuse bouche was a squid ink bagel topped with a luscious slither of smoked salmon in an egg foam seasoned with crisped skin. It was beautifully balanced and the fragile bite of salty samphire set things off perfectly.

First starter proper stayed with seafood and a generously proportioned tuna tartare.The fish was flavoured delicately with dashi and capers, allowing that meaty, raw succulence to the fore.

I reckon my companion must have aiming to eat the rainbow with his choice of lamb and beetroot. Those vibrantly multicolored beets against the greens of spinach and nasturtium made for an impressive display, especially on a black mottled crockery backdrop, whilst a nicely herbed and gamey sausage brought it all together.

The venison main course surpassed almost anything I’ve eaten all year. Perfectly seared fillets splayed out across baked salted celeriac combined beautifully, but most of all I loved the black peas. I tried the traditional Lancashire dish only recently for the first time, it’s a Bonfire Night staple round north Manchester apparently, the purple podded pea is boiled down to a mush and then sprinkled liberally with malt vinegar. Here a set vineger gel is laid atop, clever stuff, it might have looked like a little jellyfish perched on something unpleasant, but it tasted fantastic.

On the other side of the table tender slices of duck also impressed, the meat was beautifully cooked, although a meagre amount of asparagus, and fennel didn’t do enough to fill the plate. My mate had just been to the gym and looked ready for another serving after making his way through the handful of bites. I know this is fine dining and all, but for £25 a plate if there are no carbs tell me order to something on the side. Bag of chips on the way home?

On to desserts, and a our first brought sharp shards of chocolate stabbed in to mint chocolate brownie for a crunchy hotch potch of a dish, which didn’t really offer more than the sum of its parts.

I was reliably informed by our waiter that the best way to tackle my final plate was by placing the central bauble of passion fruit in my mouth whole, and taking it from there. I was pretty dubious and my doubts were well founded, it was not a pleasant experience at all, the casing cracked to unleash a sickeningly sugary citrus explosion. Remember those “How do eat yours?” adverts for Cadbury’s Creme Eggs? If anyone chose shoving it in your gob in one go that wasn’t my method, I’m more of a nibbler. A creamy ganache and sherberty sprinkles allowed the dish, and myself, to regain some composure, but it was all bit too sharp.

Grafene, 6, 55 King St, Manchester M2 4LQ
0161 696 9700
www.grafene.co.uk

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