Stan Graham strikes gold at The Alchemist, one of his latest ports of call in Leeds………….but he’s a bit tarnished when it comes to cocktails!
Recently I have been eating at street food stalls so I thought that I deserved a bit of a treat this week and get to use a knife and fork. I also wanted to try somewhere nearer the office quarter, therefore I made a beeline for Greek Street.
The eateries in this area seem to be a little more pricey than in other parts of town so I thought that I would give value for money by reviewing The Alchemist as it has two outlets; one here and one in the Trinity Centre. The large room acts as both a restaurant and a cocktail lounge and, as you would expect, is very tastefully furnished. There are tables with bench seats at either side as well as conventional tables and chairs. I sat at one of the latter type, set for two and situated in the window so that I could engage in my favourite pastime, euphemistically called people watching but actually just being plain nosey.
I don’t ‘get’ cocktails. I feel that they are like the proliferation of coffee concoctions which are basically different flavoured hot milk for people who don’t like coffee, so cocktails are alcoholic drinks for people who don’t like alcohol. I can go along with a whiskey sour or a dry martini, but the Delboy jobs which are all dayglo colours and fruit with names straight out of a Carry On film, ooh er missis, are more for effect than taste. Anyway, the best thing to do when you don’t like something is to shut up and not have it, so I did and I didn’t. What I did have in the drinks line was a complimentary bottle of tap water which had been placed on the table, and a glass of A Mano Primitivo which was unfortunately not free but £8.25 for 250ml. It was superb and completely without pieces of floating fruit or paper umbrella embellishment.
The weather on the day I called in was one of those English summer ones when it was hot and sticky but there was very little sun about so the water was very welcome, as were the cold, lighter dishes on the menu. I began with the intriguing Truffle and Parmesan Popcorn at £2.50. I had decided not to have anything too heavy so this was just the thing. It arrived as described, a mug of popcorn which had been infused with the aforementioned flavours. It was surprisingly good. Popcorn is one of those infuriating foods – I am moaning a lot today aren’t I? – which you can’t stop eating even if you don’t like the first mouthful. No such problem here and I will never go to a cinema which doesn’t have it as an option in the foyer. It would be a great accompaniment to a French or Italian subtitled film. !
My main course was Bang Bang Chicken Salad at £10.50 for the main course size, although you can get a smaller one for a starter or a snack at £5.50. The chicken was just as I like it: moist, not just breast meat and a good sized portion. It was also torn rather than sliced which I always think is proof, if proof were needed here, that it is real chicken rather than formed and pressed meat. A selection of red and green leaves surrounded the chicken which was on a bed of bean sprouts and topped with coriander and thinly sliced red chilli. The dressing was mayonnaise flavoured with Chinese five spice and gave the dish an authentic oriental tang. If I have one criticism it is that the leaves were totally bereft of dressing of any kind as the mayo was concentrated in the middle of the dish on the chicken and beansprouts.
I continued the theme of cold dishes through to the dessert, a salted caramel cheesecake as recommended by the waitress. It was £5.75 and absolutely delicious, being presented with a strawberry garnish and a scoop of creme fraiche and light as a feather. Perfect, as was the double Americano coffee £2.50.
The waiting staff were excellent all the way through the meal except that, when I was ready to pay it took quite a while to attract the attention of any of them. In their defence a few larger parties had filled up several of the bench-style tables so they were under a tad more pressure than is probably normal. When I had finished lunch I had to check my position on Google Maps as I needed to make sure that I was still in Leeds. What disorientated me was that the toilets were on the ground floor so I didn’t have several flights of stairs to negotiate. This must make it unique within the City Centre.
I have tried to work out where the name comes from as an alchemist was a person who tried to make gold out of base metals. I am sure that they will have no trouble in making gold but it will be out of good food, oh and drinks with sparklers in them.
Photography by Stan Graham