Grafene, Manchester

Manchester is famous for many things and people, Oasis, Coronation Street, Vimto, Emmeline Pankhurst, Professor Brian Cox, so over rated britpop band, awful television show, best soft drink ever, votes for women and a stoned sounding physicist…. and most recently the wonder material, Graphene. Taking inspiration from the latter, a new restaurant has recently opened in Manchester, joining Manchester House and The French in the city’s ambition to become home to great food… Grafene!

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We booked in for lunch to prepare ourselves for a day of shopping (pretty much just us buying Christmas decorations, posh advent calendars and Christmas jumpers!), and started with some cocktails at the bar.

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I had hoped to have a couple of the bar snacks from the online menu with cocktails, but these didn’t seem to be on offer at lunch, so I’m a little disappointed on missing out on them. The cocktail menu looks relatively short on first inspection, but then a small sentence at the bottom confirms that they also do all the classic cocktails, always something that makes me confident we’re in for good cocktails!

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I went for the Nothing Like A Mojito, which true to it’s name was nothing like a mojito! Chase Marmalade Vodka, Velvet Falernum, Moroccan Mint Tea Syrup, Lime Juice and Orange Bitters made for an extremely refreshing cocktail. I could have one of these for breakfast every day.

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Sara, as often is the case, opted for the much cooler looking cocktail, the Mancohattan. A playful take on a classic Manhattan, Bulleit Bourbon, homemade coffee liqeur, Antica Formula, Creme de Cassis and blackberries, served in a Moka pot with dry ice in the bottom to create an impressive mist! A much more grown up cocktail for the more grown up of us.

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After cocktails we were shown to our table, a cosy little booth in the well lit area of the restaurant. I have to admit, I’m a bit bored of the industrial aesthetic. I think I’ve seen enough air conditioning units and all the pipework that surrounds it in restaurants to last me a lifetime, a nice clean ceiling would make a lovely change…

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Just behind our booth was a chef working away in the separate pastry kitchen, making macarons, one of Sara’s favourites.

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We started with a selection of breads, which arrived mere moments before our starters. One little niggle was the amount of slices of bread, five between the 2 of us, meaning we had to share the slice of delicious focaccia. Aside from the focaccia, the breads were nothing to write home about, but nice enough, perhaps a sourdough wouldn’t go a miss? Also, I think the butter was unsalted, which I don’t mind but usually when the butter is unsalted, some restaurants sprinkle some coarse sea salt over the top, it’s a little thing that makes a big difference to me.

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Sara’s starter was the Wensleydale cheese mousse mille feuille, Morello cheery & tonka bean gel. Quite a dainty little starter which came with a nice touch from the waiter, who when asked if we wanted the meals describing to us (we declined) joked that it’s “posh cheese mousse” and mentioned that the hazlenut isn’t actually nut, but a seed… you learn something new every day. It was a very delicate dish, and really benefited from the gels on the plate, perhaps a little more salt to bring out the flavours would be a good thing.

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I started my meal on a high with the excellent Seared scallops, black pudding bon bon, courgette, prosciutto, chorizo puree. If some of my complaints before this point have been about seasoning being slightly off, there was no such worry here. Beautifully seared tender scallops, the exterior crunchy from the Maillard reaction, and the deep rich nearly liquid centre of the black pudding bon bon and crispy pancetta showed a real understanding of textures.

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For mains Sara chose the Sea bream, pomme Anna potatoes, leek, forest mushrooms with lobster bisque. A delicious fillet of fish with crispy skin, with a flavourful sauce. It was great to see radishes used in a hot dish, criminally underused outside of salads!

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I chose the Goosnarh chicken breast, parmentier potatoes, garlic & heritage carrots. One thing to say about this kitchen, is they can really do sauces! I’d just love more of it! The use of garlic in this gave it an almost Chinese flavour, which was a surprise, but an enjoyable one.

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Sara’s favourite part of the meal was her pudding of White chocolate cheesecake, chestnut puree, milk ganache, macadamia crumble, fig gel, whiskey & raisin ice cream. A very airy and light cheesecake, which she nearly scraped the pattern off the plate to finish.

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Unfortunately they had ran out of chocolate fondants, the dessert I’d been eyeing up, so I had to opt for the Milk chocolate creme brulee, pistachio praline, blood orange gel, blood orange sorbet. It was a nice pudding, but I definitely wouldn’t call it a creme brulee, the biscuit base, and the fact it came as two quarters of a larger whole made it seem like more of a cheesecake. The pleasure of cracking through the caramelised sugar had also been denied, as there was only a thin layer on top of one of the quarters. I’m not convinced that the dots of gel were blood orange either, they tasted more of berries but it wasn’t very strong so I’m not certain. I also missed the pistachio praline, and wish they had at least told me that there would be changes from the menu so I wasn’t disappointed. The sorbet had a great flavour, however was slightly crystalised.

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We finished our meal with coffees (an Americano and an Espresso), a light roast with fresh fruit flavours coming through. I couldn’t help but think that at the level Grafene is clearly aspiring to, perhaps coffee should come with petit fours, once again it comes down to the little things that make the difference.

I’ll definitely be up for returning, especially for the reasonably priced tasting menu, and I hope that this place continues to grow and improve. Maybe 2017 might be the year Manchester gets a star?

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