THE first major restaurant casualty of 2019 is Grafene, which will offer its final service on Saturday, January 26, two and a half years after it opened in the former Brasserie Blanc site, wedged awkwardly between King Street and Chapel Walks.
Baymond Blanc couldn’t make it work and it was empty for a long time before Paul and Kathryn Roden came along and spent £1million transforming it into an ambitious fine dining restaurant and bar.
‘Doomed site’ is usually labelled at such closures, but we’d suggest a major contribution combined uncertain financial times with the opening of The Ivy before Christmas, latest in a line of heavily backed arrivals.
“The big boys hoovering up potential custom thanks to sheer novelty value certainly hit us as did the departure of our head chef, Ben Mounsey in November, which we hadn’t expected,” Paul Roden told us.
“Up to October we had been doing well on the busy nights – Saturdays we we were up to 100 covers, unprecedented for fine dining in the city – but across November and December the less busy nights were very quiet. We couldn’t compete against the big opposition, but we are very proud of what we achieved.”
And so they should be. Ben Mounsey had been the jewel in the Grafene crown when he arrived in March 2018, with his Michelin-starred background as sous chef at Fraiche in the Wirral. It hadn’t quite worked out with previous chefs and an original all-day menu from breakfast through to lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, with a daily-changing a la carte menu, a seven-course taster and an array of British ‘tapas’ called Grafets.
We were won over by young Ben’s innovative cuisine, twice giving Grafene five star reviews. Two because of the rapid transformations of the menu, which earned the restaurant two AA rosettes. We remember fondly, while still quite puzzled, one ben creation called ‘Sally Cinammon’ popcorn, nimixtilised melon, granola (below).
Now in its place expect high quality gastropub food and live entertainment when the venue reopens with the same fittings and a new name at the end of February. Paul and wife Kathryn will be passive partners in this venture – “a much broader offer which we think will better suit the scale of the unit and the Manchester market.”
The couple will now concentrate on their core business, Losehill House hotel in the Peak District’s Hope Valley. Its acclaimed Orangery restaurant will be renamed Grafene.
“That way we can maintain the brand that we are very attached to and it will give us the chance to give a higher profile to the restaurant there. We want to pitch this as a positive. Grafene will continue but in a new location and that is exciting going forward.”
Grafene, 55 King Street, Manchester, M2 4LQ.