When you think of British food, you’d be forgiven for conjuring up images of hearty stews, old fashioned pies, school puddings and custards. Not exactly the most health conscious cuisine, but ideal for carrying out manual labour in a cold climate. Times and working methods have changed and with them a new pride in our native dishes has emerged to form Modern British cuisine, a celebration of our culinary heritage without the stodge.
We loved our main course of supremely fresh roast cod, brushed lightly with oil and cooked on the plancher
This new generation of chefs wouldn’t dream of hiding behind thick cream sauces, overuse of butter or deep frying. In fact, Modern British cuisine concentrates on the simple natural flavours of meat, fish, herbs, fruit and vegetables. With clean eating in mind, we went along to Grafene, to see whether fine dining really can be seen as a healthy option.
Grafene describes its menu as ‘refined take on British eating at its flavoursome best’ and new head chef Steve Moore (ex-sous chef at Quill and Thornton Hall) took us through some of the techniques he and his kitchen team uses to keep the flavour in with almost no added fat and sugar.
The first dish we tried was a starter of mackerel, lightly cured in a mixture of salt, sugar and citrus. The skin had been charred by blow torch until crisp. This was served with a variety of heritage beetroot, a known superfood, served raw, pickled and salt baked until tender and naturally sweet. The dish was drizzled with a vibrant spinach and lovage infused green oil and garnished with buttermilk snow which merged with the oil as it melted to act as a light salad dressing.
We also sampled a small starter plate of sliced partridge which had been cooked sous vide to keep it tender and moist whilst adding only a minimal amount of oil. To match the seasonal theme, the game bird was served with a simple celeriac puree blitzed with only enough cream to loosen it. For texture, the dish was scattered with fresh micro herbs and homemade granola with dried fruits and grains which worked perfectly with the partridge.
We loved our main course of supremely fresh roast cod, brushed lightly with oil and cooked on the plancher. It was served on a bed of protein-rich and dramatic black quinoa along with plump smoked mussels, cooked in a traditional liquor of white wine and mirepoix of vegetables which formed the base of the accompanying sauce. For added texture, the dish was finished with perfectly charred baby leeks, nasturtium leaves and paper thin shards of crisp potato.
Grafene’s chefs actively seek out the best quality ingredients allowing them to have the confidence to not overcrowd the plate with too many different flavours. This came across with our second main course of poached chicken breast with heritage carrots served various ways and a chicken croquette. Only a little mashed potato provided balance and comfort to this warming and colourful dish with a bit of sunshine coming through from fresh orange added to the carrot puree.
Poached Chicken Breast
The healthy eating theme did not fall apart when it came to desserts which were small but perfectly formed, providing the sweet intensity we sometimes crave to round off a meal. Providing that chocolate hit was an iron-rich dark chocolate ganache made with only a tiny amount of cream and no added butter. Vitamin C (which helps the body to absorb iron) was provided in a luxuriously smooth mandarin sorbet made with a little sweetener and stabilizer to replace some of the sugar, and a scattering of tiny fresh orange segments. The whole thing was encased in delicate cocoa nib tuilles and shards of reduced sugar meringue.
We also enjoyed a light dessert of compressed pineapple cheesecake which utilised the natural juices of the fruit. This modern interpretation of the traditional dessert was as pretty as a picture incorporating piped cheesecake mixture with cubes of pineapple macerated in spiced rum, delicate shortbread biscuits, pineapple gel, low sugar coconut sorbet, more healthy granola for crunch and some fresh micro herbs.
Since opening to great fanfare last year, Grafene has managed to convey the idea of approachable, relaxed fine dining for all, celebrating British food using the best produce. Now we can confirm that eating this way; using fruit, vegetables, lean meats, fresh fish, herbs and grains, with base notes coming from native fungi and seaweed, shows that British food can be quite healthy after all.
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Grafene, 55 King Street, Manchester
0161 696 9700
Compressed Pineapple Cheesecake