Restaurant will move to another home, while new owners transform the current site
Modern British fine dining restaurant and bar Grafene will offer its final service in Manchester on Saturday.
The 190-cover restaurant opened in July 2016, after a £1m transformation of the tricky site on the thoroughfare between King Street and Chapel Walks - formerly Brasserie Blanc.
The new (as yet unnamed) business will be launched at the end of February
Confidential spoke to owner Paul Roden who confirmed that he is currently awaiting the final signatures on an agreement with a new team. “I can’t share anything definitively in terms of names and new positions, but we’re currently in negotiations to sell the business of the restaurant, so Grafene will cease to exist in its current form on Saturday night.
“We’re in the process of concluding a deal for us to have some involvement with a new business which will be along the lines of a high quality gastropub food with live entertainment and real ale. So same interior, same high-end quality, but with a much broader offer which we think will better suit the scale of the unit and the Manchester market.”
After a brief transformation, the new (as yet unnamed) business will be launched at the end of February. “Negotiations have been going on for a reasonable amount of time and we felt now was the right time to make the move.” Paul will remain a passive investor in the Manchester restaurant.
“The team that are taking us over are used to doing quick turnarounds and the style of the venue will be maintained, so it’s not like they’re ripping the place apart, they’re just amending the offer,” confirms Paul.
Paul and his wife Kathryn Roden also own award-winning Peak District hotel and restaurant Losehill House and had hoped to bring some of the success of their countryside venue to Manchester city centre. But trading conditions proved to be trickier than anticipated in such a highly competitive area.
The original all-day menu ambitiously aimed to attract customers from breakfast through to lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, with a daily-changing a la carte menu, a seven-course tasting experience, bar snacks and ‘Grafets’ - a selection of small British tapas plates.
But maintaining a strong, consistent lead in the kitchen proved difficult. Grafene’s original head chef Damien Cunliffe was replaced after seven months by chef Stephen Moore who aimed to offer a selection of modern British dishes in a high-end but unfussy style - but he left the role after only twelve months.
In March 2018, Grafene excitedly announced that they had hired Ben Mounsey who had previously worked in restaurants and hotels around the world, including Restaurant Fraiche on The Wirral. There he helped to achieve four AA Rosettes, retain the restaurant’s Michelin star and achieve The Times Best Restaurant of the Year accolade.
Hopes were high and after only two months, Mounsey helped Grafene achieve two AA Rosettes. However, Mounsey and Grafene parted ways in November 2018 leaving then without a strong lead over the busy Christmas period.
“The situation in regard to chefs is always going to be a balance between managing the expectations of the market and trying to deliver a product that successfully matches that requirement,” admits Paul. “Sometimes that matches the goals of the chefs and sometimes it doesn’t.
“That unit is a big unit, so to offer fine dining across over a hundred covers is something that’s very difficult to achieve in Manchester. We’re very proud of what we have achieved over the past two and a half years, but it hasn’t come without its challenges.”
“I think the politics and the PR had driven us higher upmarket than we originally intended. It’s fair to say the expectation was that we were a Michelin starred wannabe and we never were. But that’s how we were pigeonholed from day one and I think we’ve been struggling with that misconception ever since. The new format will be much more similar to what we’d originally intended.”
But then wouldn't hiring a chef like Ben Mounsey only reinforce that….
“Exactly, we played into that,” admits Paul. “The initial concept was not to deliver as high-end a concept as we ended up delivering, both through Steve and with Ben. Delivering on the expectations of the city wasn’t necessarily the most sensible thing from a commercial point of view.
“Ben’s a very passionate guy and he was very committed, but in the end he just felt he wasn’t able to continue to deliver on the quality and the experience in that unit – and I think its probably fair to say that he felt he wasn’t being fully appreciated by the marketplace.”
But it’s not the end of Grafene, it’s simply a new chapter, explains Paul. “We’re moving Grafene to the Peak District by renaming our restaurant at Losehill House. 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.”
We’re looking forward to visiting Grafene in its new incarnation. “Well you’ll certainly get better views”, laughs Paul.