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[PLAN] Fraiche in Manchester

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No change there then Gary :wink: Please bring your wallet this time.

I too am very much looking forward to it Marc, but not however, to meeting up with with two blokes who have been swanning around Mancunia for five hours before I get there.

See you tomorrow.

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Oh go on then...there was a great sense of occasion - especially among Thom, Gary and Bapi, at least one of whom thoroughly enjoyed the wine flight. I blogged it here,but basically:

Last night, a bit of Wirral glamour came to Manchester in the shape of Marc Wilkinson and a selection of culinary toys including a smoke gun. It was the first Harvey Nichols guest-cheffery occasion that I can remember, and like a small-town theatre in summer, the bar and brasserie had gone dark in order to focus the collective mind on the matter in hand: 40 Mancunian covers, keen to taste Marc's food without trekking to Oxton for it.

As I breakfast contemplatively on the herby caramelised pecans boxed up for the ladies to take away after dinner, I can report that all went well. There was a jovial, slightly excitable atmosphere – by its nature, it's not often that the HN dining room is full of customers whose main interest is in the food – and Gemma Perry, Marc's right-hand girl, ran an unflustered service.

For £90 with plenty of matching wine (£65 for me, the poor non-boozer), we had a dinner that I'd rank, if I was the Hornby sort, somewhere in Per Se's slipstream but far above our recent sortie to Mr Underhill's in Ludlow, which has held a star for years, and probably over Purnell's, Juniper old and new and Simpsons as well. Highlights included the novelty of a dish of smoking olives with a plume that rose when the lid was lifted ("They taste," said Tim, "like they've just come out of a house fire"), and an extraordinarily tender loin of rabbit swapped in for the foie gras course in case baby H'n'H, now 34 weeks and kicking like a mentalist, was adversely affected by all that vitamin A. There was also a revelatory pairing of sweetly seared scallop – not pictured, that's another one of his scallop dishes – and fresh, clean pineapple puree.

Wilkinson does like to fiddle, but he gets the balance right, and the processes he puts ingredients through serve to clarify the flavours: my melon and almond soup came with little barrels of melon stuck with slivered almonds, like tiny fruit and nut angels, and the almonds themselves were ridiculously...almondy. The verjus drizzlings with a piece of seared sea bass and aubergine yoghurt shook the whole thing awake, although I will admit that I thought it was tamarind for a while, and I hadn't even had a drink.

Things slowed down marginally towards the end, and I decided that I would willingly have sacrificed one of the dessert courses in order to leave while I was still awake. Then Tim asked me whether I would have missed the chilled, fizzy grapes, the lemongrass pannacotta with the sour cherry foam, or the deconstructed Sachertorte with the shot glass of apricot sorbet and warm, mouth-filling chocolate moussey stuff. I didn't have an answer for that.

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Bapi was designated writer-upper of the evening, he had the menu and his own 'Mr Ishi' to take him home so he has no excuse for not slaving away over a hot keypad, wheras Thom and I had only our animal cunning and thom's encylopedic knowledge of late night manc to ensure i got home to my luxury hotel, aka the cheapest room in the britannia (but it had a window, that's an upgrade)and back safely-ish to the right side of the Pennines, though possibly the dodgiest looking kebab shop at who knows what time AM, looked very likely to derail those plans, that may have been before matt and phreds or after, it was one of those nights.

But before all that frivolity there was a light touch of red chilli to line 'us stomachs, absolultely no prizes for guessing what (ok, for those not paying attention, dumplings, lamb hot pot , rice, ,no onion bread - that would have been greedy. Then onwards to Thom's office aka Piccolino's. So pleased to see us were they, and foolishly assuming we'd be in need of mid-afternoon sustenance, provided us with a plate of ham, pecorino and crostini. They would have been offended if we hadn't eaten it all.

Eventually Bapi arrived after 'erroneously' reading the train timetable, he told us this via text, i'm all for using 'proper' english rather than txt spk, but really, has anyone in the world other than thom and I received a text with the word erroneous in it? This became our buzz word for the evening, shoehorning it into every context, trust me it was hilarious. no, really, it was.

Given the way the afternoon was shaping up i thought it wise we headed to HN early to get settled in, so we did, via Sam's chop house. I manfully persuaded Bapi that a bottle of wine probably wasn't the best idea after a wine list perusing pint, but i was over-ruled, perhaps fortunately our choice of an unusual musar white was out of stock. We took that as our cue to leave.

Winding our way to HN we marvelled at the sights, manchester even has an Ugg shop. Through the lift to HN resto we were warmly greeted, well thom was, as tends to happen in manchester.

To the bar for a cocktail, not my idea, i'm frequently accused of many frasier-esque crimes against manliness but cocktails is not a vice i currently have, to my mind they're to be drunk on a beach, but I'm happy to go with the flow when the occasion suggests. Oddly my suggestion of a strawberry daquirie was not taken well. Whilst bapi eulogised over his dirty martini, thom and I had old fashioned's , very nice they were too, but they did take - and this is no exaggeration, about 4 weeks to make. So the pleasure/weight equation was not balanced.

We then took our seats in the room, a very pleasant, dimly lit space full of the beau-monde of manchester, we had a good corner table and waited expectantly.

Now this is where the wheels will fall off as i only have mobile photo's to jog my memory and marc's cooking is one of finesse and detail, which we are relying on bapi to fill in, but here's some thoughts....

smoked grapes very nice, interesting amuse and followed by a trio of further amuses including a most mushroomy pipette.

some excellent bread

a scallop dish, perfectly cooked scallops, and rolls of the best i'm sure we were told parma ham , but given marc's spanish connections perhaps spanish, either way top stuff.

next foie gras with some very precisely julliened apple. proper grown up food.

finally a quail with the melt in the mouth legs.

desserts became a little of a blur at this point, we had supplemented the matched wines with a couple of bottles of 05 taupernot - merme (?) auxey - duresses which was superb, after deciding that the champagne wasn't really our market, at about £60 for the cheapest bottle.

Service all evening was attentive and spot on, in what must have been a stressful evening for gemma and her team.

so apologies for the lack of descriptions, marc's food remains worth a trip from anywhere in the UK and this just whetted our appetites for a return visit to the wirral. (if only bapi can overcome his fear of a night out afterwards in liverpool with thom and I - we both went to university there, we know where to go, he's scared, very scared.)

And it was good to meet you Emma!

you don't win friends with salad

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Marc, had any offers or thought about penning a cookbook?

“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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