Alchemy is an ancient spiritual practice which is shrouded in mystery. Its practitioners, alchemists, believed everything contained a universal spirit and they sought to turn lead into gold, a quest that has captured the imaginations of people for thousands of years.
They believed in a mythical substance, known as philosopher’s stone, which had the power to heal, prolong life and change base metals, like lead, into precious metals – such as gold.
Similar philosophies have driven some modern-day alchemists to turn ordinary ingredients into spectacular cocktails.
And thus the exclusive chain of restaurants/bars, called The Alchemist, was born. It has spread from its Manchester roots into the UK’s major conurbations, including London, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham and Newcastle.
Its website states: ‘We’re masters in the dark arts of molecular mixology and demons in the kitchen. Our mixologists create every cocktail with an obsessive eye for detail, presented in vessels orchestrated to add a devilish dash of theatre, they bedazzle, bewitch and set the scene for everything we do.’
The chain has a reputation for mixing fine cocktails, but how does its food measure up? We combined a trip to Newcastle Theatre Royal to test the water.
Situated just inside the entrance to Eldon Square, next to Grey’s Monument, the venue is handy for a pre-show bite to eat.
It was like walking into an ancient chemist’s, with high, wooden shelves stocked with a trillion potions, or so it seemed.
Loud jazz-funk music added to the pumped-up atmosphere but meant an intimate, peaceful meal was probably out of the question. We soldiered on, though, with son in tow as a celebration of his exit from teenage years and ridding of the associated angst.
Having been escorted to our table, we were offered some pre-meal nibbles while we perused and deciphered the menu, and opted for olives, which actually set us back £3 for the pleasure.
That, with a bottle of Spanish tempranillo, at £23, one of the cheapest available, and a pint of Heineken helped the decision-making run more smoothly.
The edible concoctions looked as complex and fascinating as the liquid variety, so, in the end, we plumped for a sharing platter (£20), dubbed Social #1, to start.
It included a selection of chicken wings, nachos, pork bon bons, mac ’n’ cheese bites, battered prawns and California rolls.
Each of the items bought separately were around the £6 mark, so it seemed a decent deal.
They arrived in a wheel of many flavours – a kind of quirky tiered cake stand. The chicken wings were hot, hot, hot, with a decent dose of chillis combining with the fruity heat of sriracha sauce.
The pork bon bons came with chipotle mayo and a smoky jalapeño flavour. And the nachos were smothered in cheese, salsa, guacamole and sour cream.
Even the macaroni cheese bites had a kick to them. By contrast, the California rolls were a more subtle crab, avocado and cucumber combo. It was an explosion of tastes that we’ll not forget in a hurry!
Out of curiosity, we had added prawn lollipops, with sweet chilli dip (£6.50), which turned out to be the same as those in the selection but on very long cocktail sticks and more of them.
Phew! We could really have done with an hour’s break after that. But onward!
Tandoori seabass fillet, with sautéed vegetables, (£13.50) caught my eye earlier and added yet another dimension to the taste cocktail, with the rather exotic bed of courgette, red pepper, onion, carrot and Romanesco broccoli. Although there was only one fillet of fish, it was rich enough to be very filling.
Mrs L went for a more conservative fillet steak sandwich with fries (£11.25), which appeared under-dressed in comparison, and son chose katsu chicken in panko breadcrumb served with crispy kale and rice (£12.50), which he devoured effortlessly.
Both dishes received an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
WATCH FOR THE ADDED EXTRAS
It had not been a cheap date by any means – our bill topped £100 for three people, and that’s without delving into desserts, but we came away from The Alchemist pretty stuffed and satisfied.
I would recommend you study the menu and note what accompanies each of the dishes. We had opted for an extra portion of chips at £3. Some of the burgers, for instance, look to be reasonably priced until you add on the extras.
There is quite a wide choice on the menu for vegetarians, including a version of the starter selection for non-meat-eaters.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Pork steamed buns + hoisin......£6.25
Crispy lamb ribs......£6.75
Vegetable gyozas (v)......£5.50
Salt & pepper squid......£6.50
Broccomole & houmous (v)......£6
Feta & pesto filo rolls (v)......£5.50
Cajun halloumi burger (v)......£8.50
Avocado & poached eggs (v)......£8.25
Cajun chicken wrap + fries......£9.25
Chicken in a basket + fries......£12.50
Moroccan lamb rump......£16
Jerk chicken + dumplings......£12.25
Beetroot risotto (v)......£10.50
Seared tuna loin......£16
7oz fillet steak......£24
Baked lemon cheesecake......£6.75
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Use of local food......none listed
Value for money......7
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: Global dishes offer a real mixture of flavours.
Contact: 0191 261 1112 or https://thealchemist.uk.com/