Restaurant review - Fraiche, Oxton, Wirral
- Credit: not Archant
After a four-month wait for a table our reviewer finally gets to dine at the highly-acclaimed Fraiche on the Wirral. So was it worth the wait?
Nothing heightens one’s sense of expectation from a restaurant quite like having to wait the best part of six months to get a table.
This is the form at Marc Wilkinson’s acclaimed Restaurant Fraiche in Oxton, near Birkenhead. It means that it’s nigh on impossible to celebrate any red letter day at Fraiche - in its 10th year this year and holder of a coveted Michelin star for most of that time - unless one is prepared to be very flexible with dates. Rather, one goes to Fraiche to celebrate Marc Wilkinson’s food. Full stop. And the constantly evolving, highly inventive culinary creations from a man who admits to being ‘driven’ really is worth celebration.
The menu arrived in a black envelope and on the face of it comprised four set courses for £70 whose titles gave away little about their content - plus the intriguingly named ‘Salt or Sugar’. So what was to come was a revelation - particularly the seven or eight courses that weren’t even listed.
After a fantastic bowl of baked pecans, we were led to our table - bare apart from its cloth and a tea light. No cutlery, no condiments (of course), and no glassware. The knives, forks and spoons - lots of them -were brought to suit each course.
A trio of amuse bouche led a cavalcade of excellence. Delicate cubes of apple jelly, foam, foraged baby leaves and edible flowers were presented on a square of astroturf in a black box. Next arrived lighter-than-air brioche with poached quail eggs and Perigord truffle; then cherries, one fresh, the other marinated with stones replaced by hazelnuts, a morsel of delicious ham and a dainty glass porón containing sublime, garlicky ajo blanco to pour over. The components of every course were explained by two knowledgeable waiters.
Only now does the official first course arrive: ‘Horseradish’ features fine bresaola with horseradish pannacotta, white Port jelly, cress and hazelnut in a brilliantly artistic combination of textures and flavours. Then it’s back to the extras: one of the waiters prepares the fourth unbilled starter at the table by cooking thin slivers of fresh scallop on a salted hot rock to accompany parsley purée, pak choi, the tiniest apple dice and pumpkin seeds.
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Then the first bread course: four light, flavoured rolls with cows’ and goats’ butter. ‘From the Garden’, second course proper, is perfectly done sweetbread with kohlrabi, pea shoots, broad beans, piquant verjus and orange nasturtium petals, a picture on a plate. Poached Cornish mussels with samphire and exotic, oriental aiyu jelly served with squid ink and linseed crisps, then more of that divine bread, precede the fish course ‘Turbot’ - a delicious pan-fried fillet with pickled, roasted and puréed cauliflower, herbs from the sea, gherkin purée, roasted artichoke and fennel crisp; the work involved phenomenal, the flavours exceptional.
The mains follow: ‘Black faced Suffolk Lamb’ brings superb, pink best-end cutlets with braised aubergine, salsify roasted in pinot noir, sweet and sour shallots, feta gel and crisps of potato, spinach and celeriac; a sensational collation. The wine list is exemplary; we kept it simple with a bottle of house white Rioja and a glass of malbec to partner the lamb.
We now learn the secrets of ‘Salt or Sugar’ but not before the arrival of lemon cakes - so light they threaten to float away - and fizzy grapes, marinated in carbon dioxide with mint and lemongrass. I chose ‘Salt’ and delighted in the subtlest Gorgonzola ice cream with caramelised and fresh pears; then chose four of 25 choices on the cheese chariot. Époisse is paired with honey, Lancashire Bomb with dried apricot, French goats’ with tomato compote and Bleu de Basque with pistachio soil. Mrs K’s ‘Sugar’ commenced with lemongrass pannacotta with cherry foam and textures of strawberry; then a tasting of strawberries, with thin slices of meringue (how?) and lychees filled with elderflower sabayon. That wasn’t quite the end: we were brought coffee creams encased in blackcurrant gel to round off three epic culinary hours that soared way beyond every expectation.
Fraiche, 11 Rosemount, Wirral. CH43 5SG. Tel 0151 652 2914; www.restaurantfraiche.com