We had dinner at Grafene in early 2017. Frankly, it was an underwhelming experience and we never felt a need to go back. So, why did we go back? Well, it was the announcement of a new chef, Ben Mounsey. His track record includes a decent stint as sous chef at Fraiche in Birkenhead. Now, Fraiche is a favourite place of ours and the chef, Marc Wilkinson, is a culinary genius in my book. So, we wanted to see how much of that might have rubbed off on Ben.
It’s short menu with a handful of choices at each course. These are all priced separately but you can roll everything into a fixed price three courser, including bread (normally chargeable), an amuse and pre-dessert for £45
It was a good start with bread. Bread is a feature at Fraiche (you’re likely to eat six different ones during your meal). This was a well made mini-loaf – very crisp crust with a sweetness from treacle.
A crab starter was presented very artfully in a bowl. On one side, a bisque. On the other the crab. But it was a bit odd. The bisque was barely above room temperature – no idea if that’s intentional or not – but with a decent flavour. There was the brown crab meat served warm – devilled and, for me, overly so. It crowded out the flavour of the more delicate white meat and the bisque. Thinly sliced radish gave crunch.
Slices of black pudding on the other plate, dressed with bacon and cannellini (?) beans and a savoury, if indeterminate, foam across it all. All very tasty as you’d expect with those ingredients. The only improvement would be to crisp the pudding slices a bit for a bit of texture.
Spiced brisket was long cooked so it almost pulled apart. And a good flavour. It comes with “barrel chips” – finger length perfect cylinders of spud – which decorated the plate prettily but, otherwise, were no improvement on ordinary chips (but obviously better than the ubiquitous “fat chips”). Comes also with a nicely dressed salad. A good plate of food.
Another aspect of Fraiche which seems to have been picked up is the ability to be absolutely bang on with fish cooking. It’s always my favourite course there. Here, monkfish was just cooked, even maybe a tad under, which to my mind is absolutely bang on. There’s a bit of kale and few baby turnips. This all tasted really good but it was a parsimonious portion – the sort you might expect as part of a multi course tasting menu not a “proper” main course. It rather spoilt it.
Desserts were very much a game of two halves. Rice pudding was, in itself, well made. But there had been the addition on liquorice which made it, let’s say, interesting rather than enjoyable. And, served in a little jug, rhubarb “water” to pour over – it had little flavour of the fruit and served no significant purpose. For me, dessert was the best thing I ate all evening and it’s rare for me to say that. There’s a passionfruit sorbet and white chocolate ganache, together with other bits and bobs of passionfruit. I’m not normally a fan of white chocolate – it’s just not chocolatey enough. But here, it’s bringing sweetness to contrast with the sour of the fruit. A very well balanced dish.
So, a decent enough meal that wasn’t out of the way for the price paid. But, unfortunately, not one interesting or enjoyable enough to have us schlep into the city for another go any time soon. The place was very quiet, even for a midweek night, so perhaps others are not schlepping either.