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The Alchemist review

Jonathan Schofield works out at Spinningfields’ best 2010 food and drink arrival

Written by . Published on December 22nd 2010.

The Alchemist review

In just ten days the Alchemist has become house bar and luncheon venue for Confidential.

The Alchemist has much to recommend it. It isn’t spectacular, or even particularly innovative, but it’s full of clever confidence and easy-going assurance. It's smooth folks.

From my desk I can see it winking at me saucily through hungry mornings.

Carluccios, the same distance away to the west, used to be the house bar and luncheon venue. Now from our second floor window you can spot Carluccios staff skulking under the terrace awnings, looking up at us sadly and shaking their heads. They seem to be saying, what did we do, was it something we said?

Confidential should go down and explain that it’s not them it’s us. It was time to move on. We needed a break. Especially since our eye had been caught by a good looking young thing nearby, one that’s prepared to do different stuff.

We're starting to like The Alchemist. It’s a City of London type bar in Manchester’s City of London type area and nothing wrong with that - very buzzy, busy and good for people watching. With finely crafted graphics from designer Trevor Johnson, a simple L-shaped design and good quality fixtures and fittings (I want that wall clock) it pulls people in and encourages chatter.

The Alchemist also saves on gym bills. The door is a heavy bronze-effect Old Testament affair of the sort that used to keep out armies in the days of Jericho and Babylon. It’s so heavy it provides a workout every time. My arm muscles have gone massive from eight visits, suddenly I can lift Shire horses with one hand.

The food is spritely bar type fare, well-thought out and attractively delivered, modish in that modern always-about-to-dash-away style. It suits the mood of the bar perfectly. The breakfasts from 7.30am look the part too.

I’ve sampled lots of bits and bobs on the menu. I’ve appreciated the beer battered prawn lollipops(£4.75), light with bite and good flavour, and the sharp crunch of the fries(£1.95). I’ve enjoyed even more the tasty tempura battered baby squid (£4.45), the edamame beans (£2.50) and the Old School Nachos with cheese and chorizo (£3.50).

All these starters or nibbles - call them what you will - are winningly presented. Bought in numbers they provide a satisfying range of flavours, to share and chat over.

As for the mains, so far I’ve had the burger (£8.45) with bacon and cheese and the grilled sea bass fillet with coriander rice and diced tomato (£13.95). The burger was very good, pink flesh full of juicy dripping goodness, with the bacon, cheese, gherkins and greens all adding something to the journey. The sea bass was more sophisticated yet just as satisfying with excellent rice.

I’ve had mixed reports about the special spicily coated chicken in a basket, served with fries, and salsa (£9.95): too dry for Gordo, just right for Pete Mitchell, the music man.

The pudding selection is limited with sticky toffee puddings, fudge cake, carrot cake and waffles.

On the last visit I went for the cheese selection (£8.95). This was unimaginative and poor. The Shropshire Blue was like Dairylea White. Tasteless. My recommendation would be keep it North West with the range and give four choices minimum not three. Three is stingy for almost nine quid regardless of the crackers and chutney.

The key here is to be flexible. Cheese has its good production runs and bad, another batch of Shropshire Blue might have been grand but this one was banal. They should be careful with that feature coffee machine too and check each drink is as strong as it should be. One batch on one visit was so weak it would have fainted if told about the Alchemist's weighty door.

These are easy to rectify. Another improvement might come by offering some of the nibbles as part of the overall meal price or kept closer to cost. Mixed olives for £2.50? Fries £1.95 extra to the burger? They should come as standard. Naughty.

Helen Ramsbottom, Confidential’s gentle, softy spoken, commercial director often prone to quoting poetry, adores the cocktails. She’s got a thing for the elegant chilli and mint daiquiri at £6.95. We’ve going to send in our cocktail detective Thea to review the list for the New Year.

Mention should be made of Victoria our waitress, a jazz-singing, novel-writing, modelling, brainbox - I think that’s her range of interests. And also of Charlotte, one of the start-up bosses here, who exudes a Bolton charm and does a good line in entertaining autobiography.

But then one thing Tim Bacon the head honcho of the Living Venture outlets such as Grill on the Alley, always usually excels at is well-trained, and well-chosen staff. Angus the manager here is another case in point.

The Alchemist has much to recommend it. It isn’t spectacular, or even particularly innovative, but it’s full of clever confidence and easy-going assurance. It marks another step up for Spinningfields in food and drink and another move away from the utterly tedious Giraffes and Cafe Rouges.

Damn though - I was going to talk about John Dee, the alchemist who lived in Manchester four centuries ago and attempted to turn base materials into gold and is said to have raised the devil...but hey, maybe that’s for another article. Maybe I’ll sit down in Carluccios over a coffee and write something. Show that I still care. That we can still be friends.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7/10 food
4/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address: The Alchemist
3 Hardman Street
M3 3HF
0161 817 2950

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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23 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

GordoDecember 16th 2010.

did have a stonking burger here earlier in the week; that chicken in the basket is just the breast, i would prefer a bit of leg and thigh as it happens, its too dry as is, and would prefer european spicing rather than North African. Tim Bacon has instructed his shock troops to make sure Gordo describes it as a cocktail bar rather than a restaurant, which is funny as it is a darn fine restaurant. Last time Gordo was in there were six cocktail drinkers and 120 people on beer and wine. Hate them cocktail drinkers, me, they cause bar bottlenecks.

WhitesidesOnsideDecember 16th 2010.

Why does Gordo look about 20 years older on his profile picture than he did on CDWM?

G CheeseDecember 16th 2010.

Great place, really interesting people watching and lovely staff, cheeseboard is rubbish though.

Paul HookDecember 16th 2010.

Been in there two times. I agree it's an asset for Spinningfields. Like it

FoodographicDecember 16th 2010.

My husband claims to be visited by the spirit of John Dee on occasion (usually after a few too many other spirits) so just let me know if you need a direct quote.

Paul MastersDecember 16th 2010.

EDITORIAL COMMENT: No idea what this means but it sounds very dodgy: so deleted

user38839December 16th 2010.

As a Spinningfields resident i've been in twice now and agree Alchemist is an absolute asset- away from the crazy/irritating waitress in Ha Ha, and the frozen food in Cafe Rouge. The food was great and cocktails superb. If I had one critisism it was the service was way too slow when we sat down, Sat nite 15 min wait before anyone asked us for drinks, and on Friday lunch it was the same. A one course lunch took 1:30mins!!! however it appears Gordo was dining so all the staff were fussing around him!! then congratulating themselves for a job well done when he left! V V funny but not so much fun for everyone else. But all in all a great start for them!!

ShellebelleDecember 17th 2010.

Food was lovely-had eggs benedict on my first visit here. It was nice to have somewhere relaxing and different to go for a late breakfast. Portions were very generous and the staff were a major asset. Friendly staff are hard to come by these days but thank you for a refreshing change. Have been here on two occasions now and although food and drinks were great, the wonderful staff were the best seller...thank you!

Jane BaxterDecember 17th 2010.

Haven't tried the food yet but popped in for a drink on a very busy Saturday night. It was supposed to be a private party but the staff kindly let us squeeze in. Despite being rushed off their feet with folks spending lots on drinks and food, as opposed to our quick pre-dinner booked elsewhere drink, we were given a very warm welcome and excellent service. Some of the nicest staff in town! Will definitely return to eat.

John NuttallDecember 17th 2010.

Only someone from Rochdale would want to lift a shire horse with one hand

munchkinDecember 17th 2010.

I agree, "what a breath of fresh air". Compared to the pathetic offerings on leftbank where frozen food, boil in the bag, ding and rotten dirty chain smoking chefs hanging outside appear to be the norm!

AnonymousDecember 17th 2010.

Agree about Leftbank. As for chain-smoking chefs, have a look down King Street West any time of the day or night

John15228December 20th 2010.

Great drinking venue. Hidden away from the out of towners as well. I think the food menu needs some work on it as the selection is poor.

noooDecember 30th 2010.

Burger, deep fried chicken, sticky toffee pudding ?
Thought Alchemist was a new concept for Manchester ?Nooooooooooo may as well be YAFI !
I'm gutted.

Ali McGowanJanuary 4th 2011.

Welcome and good luck to The Alchemist. The taps are cool. The drinks list is very cool. The pina colada was delish. The outside area with blankets is a great idea. The front door is ridiculous, but I love it (and we had to tell some people last week that it was, in fact open - they just needed to pull a bit harder!). And really, Spinningfields did just need something better than the run of the mill crap it currently has. I only venture through to get to Waitrose. But I'll now stop to savour more cocktails and be served by the lovely bar staff, who were indeed very lovely.

Brian CJanuary 4th 2011.

Disagree with Nooo about some of the menu items being there. I thought them handy because you can have a decent lunch in a great place for little money or dine out properly in there when the mood takes you.

JenniferJanuary 18th 2011.

Ended up in here on Sunday evening after a failed attempt to go to the Mark Addy (they were closed). Stumped, hungry and NOT fancying Cafe Rouge or bloody HaHa, I remembered reading a positive review of The Alchemist on here so a Plan B was born. Anyway, we were tentatively impressed. Very pleasant, relaxing decor and decent service. Bloke was very happy with his chicken in a basket and my steak was served rare are requested for a change (you might say it's a rare occurrence, heh). It's not fine dining but sometimes you just want a drink, chat and something decent to eat.

Looking forward to going back for brunch and cocktails, though possibly not on the same occasion :-)

Mark MottramJanuary 23rd 2011.

I love this place. Went in on their 50% off food January deal for a quick snack and a drink with the missus. Ended up spending 8 quid on food and 72 quid on great cocktails. Fun and friendly.

AVOJanuary 24th 2011.

I've also been for dinner this evening on the 50% off food offer. The service was impeccable and all of the staff were really friendly. Unfortunately, a few things let the venue down on my first visit. The rocks glasses for the water were filthy with lots of greasy fingerprints on them, the bread was stale and crumbled when trying to apply the butter. Also they were out of Malbec and I had to order different bottle of red however both bottles appeared on the bill which had to be addressed with the waiting staff. Overall a nice venue with a few minor teething issues which need to be ironed out. I'll probably go again in a month or so as I wouln't want to write it off at such an early stage.

KuiksilverFebruary 1st 2011.

I have been twice to this venue for dinner. The place is great, it is hidden away and I really love the setting. The staff is nice and professional.

Now my rant would be on food. why is the food so salty? I understand that it may be subjective but I really find it too salty.
the choice of food is debatable but I personally like it... if it wasn't that salty and well cooked. The fried chicken was overcooked and tasted quasi-burnt and again too salty.

I want to say one thing: salt can be added later, but you can't remove it. I have never heard people complaining that the meal was lacking salt; you just grab your salt shaker.

Also it would have been nice to have an apology and not the "what the heck?!" look.

I do not regret doing it as I would like to see the Alchemist becoming a gem in Spinning Field so that why I think we need to make it clear when things are not going well for them to improve.

Way to go, I will definitely go back even if they might hate me.


David PlattMay 29th 2011.

Wish I could be more positive about this place but unfortunately I can't. Bar staff great, drinks ok had better. Sat at a nice comfy couch in the window running up a high bill only to be told in no uncertain terms by a stuck up jobs worth bar manager, with the people skills of a Gestapo colonel, that our seats were now reseved and we would have to stand up to finish our drinks! We expressed our disgust and were basically told it was tough! Had the seats been reserved when we got there there would not have been the issue but they obviously wanted us to sit in the window so the place looked full. On leaving the bar the aforementioned bar manager made a point of sarcastically wishing us a good night as we left. Had I been her boss she would have been sacked on the spot for the way she treated us and the other patrons that were sat opposite us, who were also unceremoniously removed from their seats.
In the case of the alchemist it's not what you know it's who you know so unless you do avoid at all costs! You have been warned.

Will not be returning and will be advising all of our friends to avoid this place. Never have I been treated in such a way

Beauy EssexJuly 7th 2011.

This place rocks, it's only problem is it's a victim of it's own success - full of 'way-pleased-with-themselves-car-key-waving-gold-amex-(theonewiththefeenotthedecentone)-schmolex-wearing SUIT twats'!
other than them i love it! Staff (most) of them are frickin awesome - natably the overworked and undead looking half the time, ELLIOT! he's always got a chilli-round-his-chops welcoming cheeky smile for you - hospitality is great - and RACHEL in the restaurant always has you laughing coleslaw into your de-frickin-licious chicken in a basket.
alchemist - champagne - laughs with staff - and chicken in a frickin basket - perfecto!-

Paul HookJuly 7th 2011.

Dear Beauy, now tell me. Would that be 'street talk'?

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