Oxton’s Fraiche has made the Sunday Times Top 100 Restaurants list – with a bullet. Marc Wilkinson’s trim little village restaurant has crash-landed into the chart at number six. Quite an achievement after failing to make the chart, at all, last year.
It actually says more about the whimsical and throw-away nature of newspaper best-of lists (don’t get us started on them), than it does for Wilkinson’s Michelin-starred eatery. For, if anything, Fraiche is one of the city’s (no, region’s) most dependable restaurants: such is Wilkinson’s meticulous eye for detail, and his continued adventures in modern cooking.
Compiled by The Sunday Times in association with Harden’s Food Guide, the Food List is based on 80,000 reviews from 9,000 consumers.
But there are clouds on the horizon. Or are they just spun sugar and egg white foam?
A quick look at the businesses for sale website shows that Fraiche is actually on the market.
‘Stunning restaurant for sale, £425,000 or nearest offer’ the advertisement screams.
“This high class restaurant, originally founded by our client some nine years ago has established an outstanding reputation and has been awarded the prestigious 1 star Michelin rating”
“The business has a stunning 3/4 bedroomed apartment above the restaurant perfect for owner’s living space and perhaps a change of direction, and converting the rooms, to bring in additional income.
“We cannot recommend highly enough viewing this outstanding profitable business.”
We waste no time. Not in viewing, but in calling Marc.
“Congratulations!” we say, then, “What are you doing? Why is Fraiche up for sale?”
“Oh, I’m not going anywhere. I’m just testing the market,” he laughs.
We’d like to say we were reassured by Marc’s protestations. But we can also understand how knife-edge running a 12 covers-only Michelin restaurant in Birkenhead really is. Of how every penny Wilkinson must make is, surely, ploughed straight back into the kitchen, not in PR agencies and charity galas.
We ask how business is, Marc says he’s solid between now and Christmas. But, then, he’s also made no secret of the fact that, originally, he’d hoped to open up in Liverpool. But, of course, our city’s business rates were too expensive. Nice one, Liverpool.
That Wilkinson’s succeeded in bringing Michelin to Oxton (ahead of Liverpool, Manchester and anywhere in the Northwest save for Chester, Preston and Clitheroe) is a testament to one man’s talent, dedication and hard work.
“It’s what you put on your plates that counts. We’re in Oxton, so it was always going to be difficult to get noticed, and to get press here,” he says, “but from day one, I made a decision to spend every penny I had on the restaurant. I’ve seen too many bad restaurants employ PR to drum up exposure in the press, only to close down a couple of years later.”
The reason for his success? “I’ve always focussed on what a restaurant needs to do best: the food, and the service. I leave the rest to our customers.”
Let’s hope the market shows Marc a way to keep it that way. And keep it right here.