I was distraught when, just before Christmas, I read that Fraiche had closed. It’s a restaurant we’ve been visiting for years. Never had a bad dish, let alone a bad meal. I emailed Marc Wilkinson to offer best wishes for the future and he replied saying he hoped to reopen in another location. So, it was with some surprise that I found he was actually staying in the original Oxton premises. It seems nothing has changed. It’s still a no choice tasting menu, cooked immaculately and served with relaxed style and professionalism. We gave a deep sigh of relief.
While you’re having an aperitif, there’s snacks to be had. A raspberry and verbena shot was a sign that, whilst Marc may have had a few months break, he’s lost none of his touch. There’s sweetness from the raspberry perfectly matched by a citrus hit from the verbena. There’s also spiced nuts, a buttermilk and trout roe rice cracker, cheese marshmallow and, perhaps best of the lot, a smoked eel sandwich.
Once at the table, we checked that, as before, there are only eight covers in the restaurant, with seven bums on seats. It’s probably as many as Marc can deal with on his own in the kitchen. For a first course there was diced watermelon. I can still remember our first meal at Fraiche, eleven years ago, when it was also watermelon to start. Then it was mixed with raw tuna so you couldn’t really tell which was which until it went into your mouth. Now, there’s cubes of salty feta and a whack from basil. Smoked salmon follows, in a light dashi broth, with a crunch from small dice of cucumber. Bread was served round about now – four different ones – the fennel one being a stunner, IMO
Next up, a set parsley cream was topped with thinly sliced raw (?) scallop and a shaving of truffle. Then a more assertively flavoured “textures of artichoke” dish – sliced raw Jerusalem artichoke, an ice cream, a crisp and, probably, other preparations that I’ve forgotten. For contrast there sweetness from a passion fruit jelly and crunch from hazelnut. It all works really well. Sea trout had been lightly cooked – I think I recall Marc doesn’t use a sous vide machine so I guess this had just been poached. It comes with a squid ink cracker, salty samphire and a lovely passion fruit mayo. On every single previous visit to Fraiche, the fish has been over favourite course and, at this point, it was the front runner.
The final savoury course was an intricate preparation of Cumbrian lamb. There’s a slice of perfectly pink loin (?) and some long cooked breast. There’s also classic French lamb accompaniments – black olives in the form of a crisp, shallot, tomato and aubergine.
Pre-dessert was a knockout combination of yuzu, orange and a little background hint of liquorice. Texture was more than a foam but less than a mousse. It’s really good. At the beginning of the meal, you’re asked whether you want to end it with “salt or sugar”. Salt gets you cheese. Sugar gets you a dessert which proved to be the best course of the evening – and it’s rare that we would say that. It’s another “textures” thing – this time of exceptionally flavoured Gariguette strawberries. They sit on a shortbread (?) tart and there’s fresh berries, marinated ones, a gel and an ice cream as well as a coconut meringue crisp.
Coffee was good although somehow during their closure the espresso machine went missing, so we had to settle for a cafetiere. Petit fours were excellent. It had been a lovely evening when we “oooh and ahh’d” over the food several times. And then it was off into the night having, in truth, paid a bill that was remarkably good value for this quality. Oh yes, and there’s a little pack of homemade hobnobs to take away just in case we get peckish on the hour’s drive home.
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