Restaurant Review: Grafene, Manchester

When I first wrote about Grafene, it was newly opened, and after two visits, there were still issues galore. Service was hit and miss, the food was hit and miss. 

Even when I visited with work – given I work at the National Graphene Insitute, this was pretty disheartening.

I visited a few times afterwards. Sometimes for drinks, sometimes for lunch. It was OK. It didn’t seem to know exactly what it wanted to be – it felt like it was lacking direction and was trying to please too many people at the same time. 

Then whispers reached my ears of a new chef. Rumblings were good, praise was forthcoming. Loud, vocal praise. My heart fluttered, I had hope again. Please bear in mind, I’ve worked in graphene for 6 years. I’ve seen the research develop, so something bearing (the Italian spelling) of the chemical, of the work behind it, for me, needed to be really good. I can’t tell you how sad that it’s not fulfilled it’s potential has made me. 

So an invite to review, filled me with hope. Let’s start at the beginning. 

As previously, the menu is divided into two. For lunch/early evening there’s the British Tapas menu – smaller versions of items on the menu, and other dishes for your delectation. With three for £17.50, or 5 for £25, I have it on good authority that’s it’s definitely well worth it. Meantime, we were dining in the evening, so it was A La Carte for us – three courses (plus extras) is a bargainous £45 each, or you can pay for individual elements separately. 

Of course, we went for the full works. So in with the bread first.

 

 

Two dinky mini loaves, one a treacle and rye loaf with corn butter, the second a Hendersons Relish filled loaf with butter, tomato salt. Soft, warm, fluffy bread, the tomato salt was a revelation, intense, sweet, salty, with all the tomato flavour you could hope for, it was perfect with the Henderson’s Relish loaf. Though it did prompt a discussion with my husband over a Yorkshire relish being used in a Manchester establishment, but he had to acquiesce – Lancashire Relish wouldn’t work quite so well in that pairing. The soft sweetness of the corn butter with the rich grainy rye was such a good pairing too. Please don’t make me choose a favourite (it’s going to be the relish). 

Then comes your first surprise. A little treat of smoked salmon, samphire and cucumber topped with a scrambled egg espuma, and crisp salmon skin, all sitting ontop of a squid ink bagel. A balance of lightness and richness, in one, the foam was akin to the lightest, fluffiest scrambled eggs. If the bread wasn’t a hint of what was to come, then this certainly was.

 

Onto the actual starters and Mr GFB’s starter of tuna tartare was small but perfectly formed. Rich tuna, with creamy egg yolk and crisp dashi, it was served with a delicately thin slice of crisp sourdough. 

I had gone for something a little meatier, with the black pudding, served with chicory, white beans and bacon. Hints of sweetness balanced out the heavier flavours of the black pudding. 

Onto mains, and I’d gone for the stone bass, served with a little nugget of smoked eel, onion, apple and potato. 

The fish was perfectly done – crisp skin, soft just done flesh. Creamy, sticky and served with crisp sweet onion, soft sweet apple, all contrasting with that little intense slice of eel. 

Mr GFB went for the spiced brisket. 

Soft, rich, sticky, it was divine, and served with roasted vegetables. Special mention needs to go to the barrel potatoes. Imagine if a fondant potato and a triple cooked chip had a baby. Then you’re close. Dunk these in the oyster emulsion and it’s close your eyes and savour good. I could sit with a plate of those potatoes and that emulsion with a glass of white and go to my happy place. 

But before dessert, one more little treat. Pre-dessert

 

Fresh smoked coconut, topped with coconut sorbet and a fruit punch poured on top. A little hint of the Carribbean before we moved onto our final course.

And of course, my selection was cheese. 

I know, I’m a little predictable, but with ten cheeses to choose from, plus perfectly pickled grapes, quince, walnut powder, homemade crackers, chutney and fruitbread, there was only ever going to be one choice for me. 

And for Mr GFB, the Eccles cake. 

Fat sweet currants, yoghurt, crisp fluffby pastry all served with a Lancashire Bomb ice cream. All the flavours of a classic Eccles cake with cheese, treated in a very different way. 

All good things must come to an end, as did our dinner. But Grafene, I’m beyond thrilled with your new incarnation. Chef Ben Mounsey has brought the direction you needed. 

And I know we’ll be back again soon. After all, there’s that tapas menu to work our way through. 

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This meal and accompanying drinks were supplied for free by Grafene. As ever, this doesn’t guarantee a positive review (if anything, I tend to be a harsher critic).

I’m so pleased. So happy Grafene has found it’s core, and it’s direction, and the food is bloody fabulous. Go. 

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