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The Alchemist, New York Street, Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield finds the new place more neighbourhood than necessity

Published on August 21st 2012.


The Alchemist, New York Street, Reviewed

THE ALCHEMIST part two has opened on New York Street. This follows on from The Alchemist part one which opened a couple of years ago in Spinningfields.

The giant profiterole looked like a rat had been run over by a tractor and squashed flat in a cowpat. It cost £4.95 and two of us couldn't finish it. The Belgian waffles at £3.95 were better.

The new one has scale.

The original is a tight squeeze, wrapped around a building corner. This is a much more comfy affair, a huge double-room, with plenty of space to spread and show off.

There’s a very large bar area too so maybe cocktail congestion will ease – a problem with the Spinningfields operation.

AlchemistAlchemist

The new outlet wears its theme of Alchemy on its ample sleeve with aplomb. There’s a fabulous cabinet of curiosities as well as the usual and splendid graphic design from Trevor Johnson.

Alchemy, by the way, is the medieval notion that base metals, for example iron, could be turned into gold through various magical methods.* 

Magical potionsMagical potions

In the Alchemist bars transformations take place in more traditional ways.

Here base materials in the form of money, are turned into food and alcohol. If you do enough converting with the latter then the results can be magical. 

On the Friday lunchtime of our visit the mood was upbeat verging on the enchanted and the place was packed.

East of Spring Gardens, Manchester lacks anything like this City of London, cocktail bar-cum-restaurant, and my oh my, how the office girls and boys seemed to love it.

Foodwise there’s nothing new in terms of what’s on offer with the menu. In fact its identical to the original, a round the world snatch and grab of nachos, patatas bravas, tagine, Thai red curry, Sunday roast and Yorkshire pudding, fajitas, koftas and fried chicken in a basket.

The latter for the sum of £9.95 came all spiced and heated and smeared in such a dark coat it looked like an incinerated version of KFC.

The flesh was fine but overall it was a poor dish. There should be a couple more pieces of chicken for the price in place of the mountain of fries and another mountain of mundane coleslaw.

Chicken in an awkward basketChicken in an awkward basket

The basket the dish comes in is shaped like a big hen. Cute but trying to get at the coleslaw needs the gymnastic qualities of Beth Tweddle. 

The beer battered prawn lollipops at £4.95 were as good as ever, fabulously juicy - good on their own or dipped in a sweet chilli lip-fizzing sauce.

Prawn lollipopsPrawn lollipops

A steak sandwich was much loved at £9.50, and came with decent gravy, mushrooms and onions. There was another overfacing mountain of fries though. 

The bento box of scampi (£9.95) was a picture and the star of the show in terms of presentation. The greens were welcome in a fried food heavy meal. Inevitably there were fries.

Bento scampi treatBento scampi treat

The giant profiterole looked like a rat had been run over by a tractor and then squashed flat in a cowpat (see below). It cost £4.95 and two of us couldn't finish it. The Belgian waffles at £3.95 were better, all cinnamon, sugar and vanilla ice cream.

Good Lord what on earth happened hereGood Lord what on earth happened here?

In fact they were the perfect encapsulation of what The Alchemists are all about. No surprises, but utterly competent. The new place is as smoothly efficient and as slickly cunning, as the original.

But with more elbow room and more fries.

A special mention should be made of our waitress on two visits - Kat. She was absolutely exemplary. Indeed as with any Living Ventures operation the whole team was superbly trained and selected.

The Alchemist needs to work on one or two things though, that chicken in a basket for instance. It should ditch it from the menu and use all those chicken shaped baskets as exotic moulds for Ladies Day hats. 

Rather than the chicken maybe I should have gone for the 30 grams of Beluga Caviar at £80 or the £7.50 fish finger sandwich. Something a bit more distinctive.

Waffling on happilyWaffling on happily

Speaking of Ladies Day, therein lies the cunning of The Alchemist. Indeed of Living Ventures. 

For booze I had a Palena Sauvignin Blanc at £6.50 and a Tarquino Malbec at £6.75. But really the whole drinks selection is about flirting massively with the females.

It overflows with ‘artisan’ cocktails, flowering teas, prosecco and champagne. There is no real ale in sight.

This is an old-fashioned tactic but works every time. Get the girls in suits in, and the boys in suits will follow.

The Alchemist part two will be another Living Ventures success. You can see versions opening in Liverpool and Leeds - maybe even in the place's spiritual home of the City of Sin, London's Square Mile.

The place is ripe for replication.

Certainly it’s hit the mark on New York Street. 

But The Alchemist is an asset for the area rather than a destination. It’s neighbourhood rather than necessity. The office locals will love it. 

Indeed, one of its advantages is that a weary and thirsty commuter from Sale and Timperley can probably wait until his tram is actually stopping at the nearby Mosley Street platform, before downing his lager and bounding aboard. It easily wins the closest bar to a tram stop award.

"I'll just knock this back and still make that tram."

*Manchester for several years hosted perhaps the most celebrated British alchemist, John Dee, who remains a regular feature on guided tours of the city. He was the central character in Dr Dee, An English Opera, from Damon Albarn, premiered at last year’s Manchester International Festival. Prospero in Shakespeare’s Tempest is said to have been based on him too. He failed with turning iron into gold - instead he managed to conjure up vast loads of fries. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE. 

The Alchemist, New York Street, City. 

Rating: 13.5/20 

Food: 6/10
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 3.5/5

PLEASE NOTE: 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, we get carried away.

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

Mr RattyAugust 21st 2012.

'The giant profiterole looked like a rat had been run over by a tractor and then squashed flat in a cowpat.' Brilliant

Claire LeamanAugust 21st 2012.

The cocktails are to die for & the smokey bourbon is smokin!

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 17th 2012.

The Flaming Rosemary Last word is quite good,but too sweet; this is a problem with most interpretations of Classic Cocktails.The average punter has little idea what a Cocktail should taste like.Read "The fine art of mixing drinks" by David Embury.

Justin MooreAugust 21st 2012.

French Martini's, Strawberry Daiquiris, Cosmo's and Mojitos are my fav.
I had the Chicken in the Basket dish last week and was disappointed - I'm glad it's not just me. The red thai curry looked amazeballs though.
Thank goodness The Alchemist have opened at this end of town - we needed something like this near Piccadilly! Yay! :-)

Campaign Against AmazeballsAugust 21st 2012.

There is a campaign against the use of amazeballs you know Justin. People caught using it are going to have wear that basket like a hat for a week.

AnonymousAugust 21st 2012.

I think it will have to up its game considerabley before it can be considered as a serious alternative to Yates's Portland Street.

Charlie ButterworthAugust 21st 2012.

Yes and the vast cocktail range at the Britannia. I believe the latter do Cheeky Vimtos no less. The Alchemist hasn't got a chance

Coolin SpoonAugust 21st 2012.

Forget about the dead rat why have they put a boiled egg with a waffle? Did the chicken basket lay it?

AnonymousAugust 21st 2012.

alchemist food is rubbish but the drinks are very well made. the opposite can be said of grill on new york street, I found the food to be well made but the drinks to be rubbish.

1 Response: Reply To This...
paulAugust 21st 2012.

CorrectaMundo

AnonymousAugust 21st 2012.

I recently trialled the new Alchemist with a group of friends and whilst the cocktails were fab the food was less than average.
I am a real lover of steak and ordered medium rare steak for my main - however it came out blue! When the waitress came back to check on our food I quitely asked if they could cook it a little more for me. Unfortunately when it came back it had been chargrilled and was literally black and inedible. I could not be bothered to ask again as the rest of my party by this time had nearly finished their meal! I left the steak and when they took the plates away and the waitress could see I hadn't eaten it, she kindly said she would take it off the bill.
This was appreciated... until the bill came with the steak on anyway! We were using the 50% off voucher during their soft launch and if I am honest it terms of the food I would be reluctant to even pay half price for it again!
Great for post work drinks and a cheeky cocktail but I would much rather eat at home that waste my money on a meal there again!

Shannon_DAugust 22nd 2012.

The food at both Alchemist's leaves alot to be desired. I wonder how they'll alchemise their reputation on the food....

AnonymousAugust 23rd 2012.

I have chicken in the basket all the time and it doesn’t taste like it’s been incinerated to me, it’s just the colour of the coating - the meat is juicy and succulent inside!  Love it every time!

Lorraine ByrneAugust 23rd 2012.

We have the chicken in a basket at the Spinningfields' Alchemist all the time and its delicious. I don't think you could eat more than they provide you with - we also love the coleslaw there. Maybe New York Street just need a bit of time to bed in.

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