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As Ben Mounsey takes the helm at Manchester’s Grafene restaurant, Jan Clarke discover the taste of things to come for this young, ambitious chef. 

Ben Mounsey has recently taken up the role of Head Chef at one of Manchester’s leading restaurants and cocktail bars, Grafene.

He has shown his culinary colours from the get-go with an innovative lunchtime menu giving diners the opportunity to sample his dishes, and explore his creativity. I was lucky enough to be one of the first to try his menu and I caught up with Ben, once the busy lunchtime service was over. For me, a good chef can translate their personality and bring memories and emotions bubbling to the surface, as you dine. Mounsey does just that.

His lunchtime menu consisting a series of small plates, entitled ‘British Tapas’, is full of traditional and recognisable northern flavours, evoking feelings of familiarity coupled with pops of ingenious surprises. This reflects exactly the young man I met. A northern boy full of drive, who is not afraid of hard work and who lives and breathes his passion for his work. Grafene’s British Taps has a series of dishes full of robust flavours executed with a skilful, delicate touch.

I asked Ben where the inspiration came from for his menu. Ben explains, “I wanted to reflect modern British life coupled with British eccentricity and infuse this with warmth, humour and a sense of fun.” Mission accomplished. This menu includes an eclectic combination of ingredients which challenge the diner’s perception of familiar foods. The result is a celebration of classic flavour delivered with an absolute attention to detail and modern simplicity yet at the same time full of playful charm and delight.

Using seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, Ben’s menu currently includes bitesize homemade sour dough slices of Manchester rarebit which pack a smoky flavour punch of Lancashire gouda cheese and Henderson’s relish. I defy any man not to succumb to the burnt ends of brisket with peas pudding and roasted onions, while the intensity of the bisque served with crab, devilled brown meat and radish left no doubt as to the level of skill and care that goes into his work. Standout dish of the day was the soft, melt in the mouth, rendered duck leg contrasted with a sharp and ingenious beetroot piccalilli.

As I talk more with Ben he reveals that he is not a chef who takes himself too seriously.

There is no pretence with Ben or his cooking, just a joy and appreciation of good food. This sense of fun shines through with a menu that offers plays on local culture such as a Stone Roses inspired ‘Sally Cinnamon’ popcorn dessert together with a specially crafted accompanying cocktail menu featuring the ‘Forever Strong – Mancunican’ full of bourbon and dark chocolate liqueur. Ben has a constant drive and desire to grow his skills further and tells me, “I always have a notebook with me and my mind is forever buzzing with ideas. I like to explore the different layers and processes I can introduce into my dishes. I can play around with an idea for ages before it becomes a fully formed dish – and there’s always ways to adapt it.” He continues, “Here at Grafene I want to evolve the menus and be adventurous, delivering creative British dining that will challenge the taste- buds.” 

He explains further, “For example my ‘brownie in a bowl’ dish includes a series of technical processes which achieve different textures. I really wanted to ensure the dish delivers the essence soft, rich gooey centre of a brownie combined with the flaky, thin crusty top while at the same time elevating it from it’s simple tray bake origins.”

As we discuss the day’s dishes in more detail his passion is clear and I find myself running to keep up with his creative thought processes. Mounsey is delighted to be taking up the mantel offered by owners, Paul and Kathryn Roden to run the Grafene kitchen and make a mark on the Manchester and north west restaurant scene. It’s a great career progression which has seen Ben learn and work in some of the north west’s esteemed restaurants.

With ten years’ experience in the restaurant industry, he is a graduate in culinary arts management and joins the Grafene team from The Lawns, a fine-dining restaurant within a family run 4-star hotel in Thornton Hough.  Here he was responsible for creating a unique fine-dining experience that achieved the three AA Rosette status. Ben has worked in restaurants and hotels around the world, including a sous chef role at Mark Wilkinson’s Michelin starred Restaurant Fraiche. 

Having met Ben and enjoyed his dishes, his appointment at Grafene makes for a great fit. This restaurant’s namesake was inspired by the innovation and dedication in the pioneering work by scientists at Manchester University to isolate and extract the graphene crystal. Qualities this young chef has by the bowlful.