Amongst Manchester’s devoted foodies, the name Grafene crosses lips more often than molecular foam of ethically-farmed shrimp, and with the help of some new compositions the lunch menu leaves no question as to why.
On a recent Sunday afternoon my companion for lunch was just returned from Barcelona, and when I suggested we start with the plate of olives and assortment of bread from the starter menu, I could tell she was braced for disappointment. When what arrived proved the equal of anything from the land of tapas, we knew we were in for something special.
The bread deserves particular acclaim. First of all, it comes served not just with a pat of butter — too pedestrian. At Grafene, your pat of butter has a twin pat of beef drippings as well. Pure genius. I split open a small, white roll to find steamy heaven, the bread perfectly glutinous and stretchy and hot, eagerly absorbing the butter off the tip of my knife. Next I found some sliced sourdough, hewn flawlessly to form with nutty chewy crust and firm, spongy insides. It was all some of the best bread I’ve eaten in years and when I crowed about it to the server I learned that all the in-house baking is handled by a pair of Polish pastry-chef sisters called Kasha & Dottie. I forgot to ask if they were available for an immediate and unconventional marriage.
I ordered the Beef Consommé for my first course and what arrived (poured table-side, of course) was a silky smooth and shiny broth over a small stack of gorgeously sauteed onions. The sweetness of the dissolving onion can barely be described, working perfectly against the savoury stock. With a dollop of creme fraiche for homey richness, the consommé is somehow both ethereal and hearty, finishing with golden notes of caramel.
Next to the easy refinement of the broth, my companion’s dish of Beetroot, goat’s curd, hazelnut & gazpacho seemed almost alien in it’s bold plating. Looking something like a Dr. Seuss landscape with deep, rich colours leading the presentation and strange geometries emerging from tiny eccentric piles and pools of segregated ingredients. Seeming a touch frivolous at first blush, the dish was ultimately described as mindful, for the way that the scant portions demand attention and appreciation. In a nutshell, that’s what makes the experience at Grafene work: whether in composing a dish like Kandinsky or carefully making sure that my companion and I were only served on plates of contrasting colours, the stylistic touches are applied with a calm confidence atop foundational mastery of flavour and technique.
The Honey-glazed duck breast is succulent, bouncy and pink, with a skin that absolutely bursts with flavour. The pressed leg is fattier and flakier, richer in flavour and slightly more caramelized. Both cuts of duck bed to be smeared with the bright-yellow squash puree and cool, sweet carrot slaw that also give the plate its visual pizazz.
Also terrific is Grafene’s Hallibut, which is perfectly pan-basted to buttery softness and served beneath a creamy Grennoible sauce, rich and acidic in captivating balance, like a hollandaise without lemon.
On the side we shared a pot of roast potatoes, pillowy and yielding inside a dark and crunchy shell and drizzled with an aromatic mint butter that was understated and vaguely mysterious.
For dessert we opted to keep things chocolatey and let our spoons wander freely between chromatically-balanced dishes of White Chocolate and Blackberry Delice and Dark Chocolate Mousse. The mousse takes the competition on visual pageantry, arriving alongside a crunchy burnt-chocolate wafer-lattice thing which stymies easy description but definitely reminded me of something Lady Gaga has worn to the Brit Awards. In both cases, the desserts were richly-flavoured, airy and thoughtfully composed with little quenelles of sorbet for refreshing the palate between creamy bites.
With these latest additions to a brilliant and much-ballyhooed range of plates, Grafene cements itself as must-visit for world-class innovation, presentation & flavour. I’d usually warn you not to fill up on bread, but in this case I dare you not to!
Grafene, 55 King Street, Unit 6, Manchester, M2 4LQ
0161 696 9700