Winner of three AA rosettes and the first Michelin star on Merseyside, Fraiche (Marc Wilkinson’s restaurant near Birkenhead) has a footprint far larger than the diminutive 16-cover space that it occupies. It has a reputation for bold, adventurous flavours.
Wilkinson opened Fraiche in 2004 and today - as the only chef in his kitchen - he is as hard-working as any restaurateur alive. He cherishes the freedom that flying solo allows him, though as he says, ‘Fraiche is my passion-driven machine.’
Several types of menu – elements, signature, concepts, bespoke and members among them – leave visitors with plenty of options as to how long they wish to stay and how much they wish to spend. On the menus, you might find dishes that seem either familiar or deceptive in their simplicity. Creams, panna cotta, ‘textures’ and soups or yoghurts made from unexpected ingredients take the fore, as well as the famous ‘pesto shot’. This is a collection of flavours in the forms of powders and other adornments which looks like nothing you’ve seen before but which tastes like a super-fresh version of the real thing.
Much has been made of the fact that ingredients will arrive in ways that challenge the preconception of how, in a dish, an ingredient should be served – in the form of frozen lollies, poached and fried dumplings, cold soups, and other unusual preparations. This is not experimentation for its own sake, since the grounding is very much in recognisable flavours from a distinct cuisine.
Wilkinson says that when designing his dishes down to the bread served before the meal, he puts them through taste-test after taste-test, exhausting every possibility for improving each before moving ahead.
But Wilkinson’s dishes are far from merely composed and cerebral: Glyn Mon Hughes of the North Wales Daily Post called Fraiche’s soup ‘a taste explosion’, and Harden’s says Wilkinson offers ‘an extraordinary eating experience’.
Once seated in the dining room – with its soft textures, gentle lighting, and modern artwork – guests are presented with a series of dishes informed by chef Marc Wilkinson’s self-named ‘adventures’ to global culinary hubs like El Bulli. The flavours might be familiar, but it’s the ways in which they’re presented - with forays into texture, contrast and temperature - which has led to Fraiche being so hotly tipped.