[Birkenhead] Fraiche

(John Hartley) #1

Marc Wilkinson never lets us down. In ten years of eating his food, I don’t think there’s ever been a duff dish. It’s always interesting, modern, creative food – food you want to eat. Of course, with any fixed multi-course tasting menu there’s dishes you like better than others but everything is always perfectly executed. It tastes great and it look good too – art on a plate, if you will. And the food isn’t the only arty thing about Fraiche. There’s giant video screens with seasonal scenes (and, in a nod to the dessert we were going to eat later, there’s clips from Willy Wonka). There’s glass artwork on the walls and the glassware on the tables, some individually made, are artistic in themselves. On our last couple of trips, Marc’s had a sous chef to help out but he was cooking on his own this time. He’s supported by someone doing the washing up and two front of house staff. Everyone grafts all evening. The menu doesn’t give much away. Only four courses listed – starter, fish, meat, dessert – but you know with Marc that’s just the main building blocks. There will be more. Everything comes together to make Fraiche the 14th best restaurant in the country, according to the Good Food Guide. And I wouldn’t argue with that for one minute.

There’s snacks with a drink. Spiced pecans and thin slices of wagyu salami. A shot glass of rhubarb bitters – those of a certain age thought the taste reminiscent of Lovehearts (in a good way). A disc of avocado mousse topped with a black vinegar caramel.

Mackerel tartare was an absolute belter of an opener. This was a mix of cubes of mackerel, apple and cucumber – light and fresh. There’s a bit of texture from squid ink crisps. A dish simply called “onions” is the listed starter. Grilled onion with onion jam (and, no doubt, some other oniony bits I’ve forgotten). There’s a bit of truffle, parmesan mousse and another very thin crisp, this time of bread. And speaking of bread, Marc serves it as a course in itself. Three types along with a single estate olive oil and a Glucestershire farm butter.

Next up is an egg yolk cooked, I think, as a confit so it’s set but still soft. It’s covered by an artichoke mousse which includes a nice bit of crunch from hazelnuts. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Fraiche without thinking that the fish course was the best thing I’ve eaten in the evening and it was no different on this trip. Brill was, erm, brill. Perfectly cooked and sat on a little white asparagus, it came in a yuzu sauce which gave a sharpness as you might get from a squeeze of lemon but a little sweeter. Really good and enhanced further with a few shreds of monksbeard (which Google tells me is only around for about five weeks of the year).

I had to Google the main course of “presa iberica”. It’s a shoulder cut from the Pata Negra pig (the beast that makes the absolute best Serrano ham). It comes soft and deliciously tender. I reckoned the only way to get it like that was cooking it sous vide, so I asked just to confirm my suspicions. “We don’t do sous vide” was the answer. In which case, what a credit to Marc’s skill. Accompaniments were bang on – grilled hispi cabbage, a couple of morelles, a little boudin noir and a creamy sauce (in which I think I detected just a tiny bit of mustard).

If Fraiche has a signature dish , it’s “fizzy grapes”. They’ve been served everytime we’ve been, except in 2016, and it was nice to see them again. They are what they say. And a delight if you’ve never come across them before. There’s then a bit of culinary wizardry at the table. On a spoon, there’s a little bit of brik pastry, topped with homemade lemon curd. It’s topped with aerated cream, frozen in a bath of liquid nitrogen which spills smoke across the table. And there you are – Fraiche’s take on the lemon meringue pie in a single mouthful. Absolutely bloody lovely!

I’m not coconut’s biggest fan but even I scoffed all of the next dessert. In the bottom of a little bowl, some cubes of mango or similar, topped with a coconut foam and finished with shreds of coconut.

And then there’s a chocolate and banana dish. No, I wouldn’t have ordered such a combination if I’d seen it on a menu. There’s a banana parfait, topped with powdered speculoos, alongside a chocolate mousse. It’s rich but not overly sweet.

To finish, there was excellent coffee and petit fours. And, after we’d paid the bill and got our coats on, a final thing – a takeaway cup of perhaps the best hot chocolate I can recall drinking.

What a great evening.