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Jun 6, 2012 03:37 PM

[Oxton, Wirral] Fraiche

It’s been far too long since our last meal at Fraiche and, in truth, we’d started to forget just how good it is. There’s been changes since the last visit – the menu is pared down and so is the price. And Menu Black is now on just once a month. Front of house are youngish, very cheery and thoroughly professional. I like the changes and I like the things that havn’t changed – the relaxed formality of the place and, most of all, the clever, clever cooking.

There were spiced pecans to kick off while we sipped our aperitif. Once at the table, pork popcorn, lightly dusted with sumac, was as good a nibble as you might want to come across. Then it was on to the first course – potato foam (OK, it’s a soup) topped with a little grating of Montgomery Cheddar. Absolutely lovely in itself but everything heightened when served with thin crisps – one squid ink, the other poppy seed.

We’re never going to be the biggest fan of foie gras (too many ethical issues at the back of our minds) but here it was served with rhubarb which did an excellent job of cutting through the richness. Bread is always a big feature at Fraiche and it was around this point that the first serving came – four small rolls. Can’t recall them all but there was treacle granary and a goats cheese which were really good. Two sorts of butter – a cow’s milk one, made on the premises, I think and a goats milk one, flavoured with Hawaiian sea salt (not that I could tell the difference between the American one and my favourite Halen Mon).

Fish next – something I’ve always reckoned Marc excels at cooking. A fillet of bass, just cooked through, a little dice of courgette, parsley quinoa. And a tempura courgette flower which was a stroke of genuis. Perfect for my tastes.

Second serving of bread around now – another four rolls with a stand-out olive just taking first place for us, from the tomato one.

Gressingham duck was another perfect bit of cookery. Pink and moist with no hint of the “almost raw” that you can come across when a chef is trying too hard. A little roasted shallot, celeriac, roasted Little Gem and a cocoa crisp. The latter shouldn’t have worked – the cocoa flavour was quite intense – but it did. This is exactly the sort of food I really want to eat.

Next up, a long time Fraiche favourite – the fizzy grapes. This is the third time I’ve had them and they still make me smile.

There was then an unadvertised chocolate cake. Light as the proverbial feather and not too sweet. It’s served with a mini “toothpaste tube” of, I think, apricot puree to squirt over.

Lemongrass panna cotta was a work of genius. Yes, you might say it was just panna cotta. But this was bang-on panna cotta – both in taste and texture. And when it’s topped with a sour cherry mousse, to my mind it becomes a near perfect dessert.

Finally there’s an offer of cheese or a final dessert. We picked dessert but almost regretted it when we saw the cheese trolley offered to the next table. Something like 25 different offerings, mostly French, were explained and they looked in superb condition. We’d picked the “chocolate textures” – mousse, apricot (?) sorbet, some other bits and bobs that I’ve forgotten.

Well, when I say a final dessert, it wasn’t. Last up, a small jam jar filled with a peanut butter custard was sweet and savoury as you’d expect.

To finish, espresso and petit fours. Excellent petit fours. A peanut crisp, a meringue looking like a pink breadstick, a goats cheese and chocolate affair and an intense “After Eight” mint thingy. Really good.

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  1. it sounds wonderful harters - thanks for sharing. i'd like to visit and add a trip da piero into the mix as well - is there anywhere else that's particularly local and shouldn't be missed as part of a foodie weekend on the wirral?

    2 Replies
    1. re: abby d

      Ah, if it's a trip, then you do indeed have to add in Da Piero.

      You might like to think about "Stuart Warner at the Hillbark". Excellent food in a shite venue. Place was originally set up by sleb scouse chef, Aiden Byrne, who installed Stuart as head chef, then left the enterprise within a few weeks.

      The only other thought would be the RiverHill Restaurant. Run by the 2010 "Professional Masterchef" winner, Clare Lara. Not tried it yet and the menu is a a bit more "steak & chips" than the other places mentioned, but it's on my list.

      Lunch - decent pub lunch at the Wheatsheaf at Raby. Call it a dining pub - not a gastro.
      A bit too much of schlep for me to do regular shopping but you might try and tie in the trip to when the Wirral Farmers Market is on. 'Tis rather a good 'un.

      For more shopping, Church farm Organics is yer place.

      If you get bored, youre only a short hop to the bright lights of Chester. Or pop north of the river to that place at the far end of the Manchester Ship Canal.

      And act like a local - it's "Wirral", not "The Wirral". LOL

      Have a good visit.


      1. re: Harters

        thanks Harters - it sounds like it would be a great spot for a few days. i doubt i'd get away with acting local though, regardless of your advice on terminology! ;)

    2. oh my. oh my oh my oh my. sounds absolutely divine.

      pray tell - fizzy grapes?

      5 Replies
      1. re: mariacarmen

        Fizzy grapes are, erm fizzy grapes.

        They're plain ordinary grapes that Marc injects with something from his collection of gastro-wizardry that makes them fizz when you bite into one. It's pure genius.

        I tell you, in earlier centuries, the man would have been burned at the stake.

          1. re: Harters

            Apparently, the grapes go in an air compression unit and then when they're exposed to air they burst and the fizz is created. I really thought he'd injected them with super bubbly champagne, because that's what they tasted like. VERY grown up sweets.

            Blinder of a meal last night. It's the weirdest place - a cool oasis, serving exceptional food, whilst at the end of the street, as you get into North Birkenhead, a fight was breaking out. Compare and contrast.

            Front of house is young, enthusiastic, quietly efficient and with that lightness of touch that means they know when you want to talk, and when you don't. Impressively the young manager told us about all his foodie research trips that he goes on in his spare time, including L'Enclume the week before. Business must be doing well...

            I wasn't taking notes and the menu is quite terse, so from memory:

            Moreish spiced and sweet pecans to nibble, followed by, at the table, a nitrogen granita of cucumber, mint and apple which was very well balanced, and then an urchin shell of a sort of mussel chowder with yuzu jelly. The starter proper was a slow poached egg in a cauliflower soup/foam with bits of smoked eel.

            Bread is a real strength and I especially enjoyed the cheese roll when accompanied by their home made goat's butter and salt.

            The vegetable course was sherry braised salsify with chicken skin crisps, verjus and truffle shavings. Mop the plate good.

            As Harters said, he's a dab (pardon the pun) hand with fish. Exceptionally well cooked monkfish came with squid, textures of olive, and blood orange.

            Meat was barbecued Dexter beef rib with artichoke mousse, shavings, a hazelnut snow and braised shallots.

            Then said grape bonbons. And then you choose between 'salt' and 'sugar'. Salt brought some goats curd done with radish leaves and mandarin, followed by a wonderful cheese chariot, from which I particularly enjoyed some well kept Tunworth and Epoisses. They have well thought through accompaniments too, so pickled blueberries with goat's cheese, and a chablis jelly with blue, for example.

            Sugar was the lemongrass panacotta Harters had with sour cherries, then 'textures of pear' which came with popping candy, something of which I will never tire, and then a burnt white chocolate mousse with coffee meringue.

            Absolutely stunning, every mouthful, and at £62 a head very good value for cooking at this level.

            For anyone struggling to book, it's an electronic system, and tables (only 8-12 covers) come available on the 1st of the month for 3 months in advance. Because it's electronic, the 1st of the month means a minute past midnight, so if you stay up late, it IS possible. We've got another 2 bookings coming up by doing just that. It's also worth following Marc on Twitter as he tweets last minute cancellations. SOOOO worth the effort!

            1. re: helen b

              Pleased to see the secret of the grapes revealed at last. Your winning smile must be more effective than mine.

              1. re: helen b

                Yes, online booking for European restaurants is one of the delights of being in Australia. I snared a Friday night at the Ledbury because I was at my desk when the clock ticked over.

          2. Marina O'Loughlin reviews Fraiche in today's Guardian.

            She loves the food. Hates the restaurant.

            The things she hates are the things I hate. Like the servers wearing black gloves when they bring cutlery to the table. I didnt used to be so poncy and it's not fecking progress.

            That said, we're booked for the end of May. I'd emailed Marc to try and score one of his monthly "Menu Black" evenings but no joy for the foreseeable future, so we've taken what we can get

            13 Replies
            1. re: Harters

              Me too - the food is wonderful, but hushed reverence can take the place of enjoyment, and that's not why I go out to eat. I don't want to feel like I'm in church. I hate the gloves too. And it is very beige ...

              1. re: Theresa

                I think the whole "speaking in whispers" thing comes with small places - where there isnt an ambient noise level to mask a conversation.

                1. re: Harters

                  John - a reasonable point, but I also wonder if its because the punters don't eat out that often and are slightly in awe of posh places or feel out of place.

                  1. re: PhilD

                    Maybe, Phil.

                    But even Mrs H & I tend to talk in hushed tones at small places like Fraiche. It's a feeling that your conversation is easily overheard by neighbouring tables.

                    Fraiche has a particularly poor layout in its "rear half". It's a relatively narrow spot, with only one biggish table up against each of the two walls with, IIRC, seats only on the wall side of the table. Basically means that, if you look up, you're inevitably staring at the folk opposite. Not conducive to a relaxed evening. Last time I was there, the two tables had got into conversation with each other (which meant everyone else in the restaurant could hear them clearly). It also meant that I felt I was almost interupting the chat when I walked between them going for a pee.

                    If the food wasnt so bloody good, I'd not be bothering with an hours drive to get there. Star or no star.

                    1. re: Harters

                      John - understood - never comfortable down the back passage.

                    2. re: PhilD

                      I think it's a combination of factors. Yes, a small dining room will often mean people will speak more quietly, and I'm sure that there are lots of people who may be in awe of posh places - me included at times.

                      But I do think that the staff of a place dictates the atmosphere, and no matter how small the room/wonderful the food/famous the chef/posh the place, it should be possible for them to make us feel at home and relaxed without taking away the "special occasion" factor. It is an important skill that I think all waiting staff should have, and that is having the ability to respond to people as individuals and interact with them in a way that makes the meal an enjoyable experience beyond just the taste of the food.

                      If someone is serving me wearing gloves or is so formal that it looks like they have a rod up their jacksie, then I am not going to feel relaxed. It is one of the reasons I've gone off fancy places/tasting menus.

                      1. re: Theresa

                        I don't like formality, although I do like "proper", if you see what I mean.

                        Story from last time we were at L'Enclume.....a place that, to me, has formal service oozing from every pore. Our waiter was a young bloke working, I think, his first or second shift. He was really efficient but there was also a genuine hospitable warmth to him. I thought "they'll soon beat that out of him".

                        1. re: Harters

                          i wish there was a grin button on here - both this and Phil's comment deserve one ;o)

                          1. re: Theresa

                            There's the new "recommend" button which may work in place of :-)

                            1. re: Harters

                              Well, went with some very noisy friends last night, and they certainly managed to cut through the hushed reverence :)

                              Another lovely meal. The gorgeous mussel chowder made a return visit, and there were a few new dishes too. A deconstructed Spanish omelette - a cheesey, oniony parmesan foam with chorizo jelly and a perfectly runny quail's egg; butternut squash soaked in amaretto with morels and curd; quail breast with a confited leg; a rhubarb assiette which had been steeped in hibiscus...Loveliness. I told James I LOVED the plates and the sparkly loo, so just to ignore it ;)

                              Only 8 covers last night as they'd had a cancellation. It pays to follow them on Twitter, just in case. Plus the sous chef's decamped to Northcote, so they were trying to have a gentlish night.

                              1. re: helen b

                                The sous chef thing must be a relatively recent introduction. It's some while since I chatted to Marc but then he was alone in the kitchen, other than a potwasher. Marina O'Loughlin also noted that in her recent review in the Guardian.

                                We're there end of next month.

                                But you also remind me, it's a while since we've been to Northcote - one of the northwest's bargain lunch spots.

                                1. re: Harters

                                  Fraiche just got cooking 8 in the new GFG and has broken into the top 20. Thoroughly deserved!

                                  1. re: helen b

                                    Absolutely brilliant. Email on its way to Marc.

                                    It is one of those difficult things - I applaud the GFG when I agree with it and moan when I don't . Recentish meals at Baslow Hall and Simon Radley werent that thrilling and I'd be doubtful if they'd be in many folk's Top 50 in the country

              2. Fraiche remains impossible to eat at!

                For the fourth month in a row, we've tried to get a table. August opened up at 10am today. Half the dates were already closed to new bookings, due to holidays. Found a date...started the online reservation to the be told the date was no longer available. Tried another date.....same thing. By 10.04, the whole of August was booked. Once again, emailed them asking to be added to the cancellations list which will probably have the zero result of previous requests. It really is easier to score a Fat Duck table!

                3 Replies
                1. re: Harters

                  Just to rub salt in the wound, sorry, we were there last night. It is all change in the room - even less tables, menus on ipads, video projections on the walls, bit naff - and also on the menu, which is anything but naff. In fact, a revelation up there with the first time I ate there. Too much to go into, but highlights were the essence-of-earth that was the pool-clear broth that came with 'shitake hit', something extraordinary done to a fennel with a tranche of turbot, and a melting spoonful of Cumbrian hogget breast. Just lovely. Very proud to show the place off to a visiting friend from that there London town :)

                  1. re: helen b

                    Ouch. That salt is fecking painful!

                    1. re: helen b

                      Shit ache mushrooms. And this was in Wirral!