Magical Potions Shine On The Alchemist’s New Menu
I think it was Sartre who said if you sit in a Parisian café all day you will eventually see the whole of Paris pass by, well the Alchemist in Spinningfield's a lot like that.
The three Viva blondes air-kissed and waved at most of Manchester as we enjoyed the sunshine and a re-booted Spring/Summer menu in one of their chic white-wicker booths - the perfect place for people-watching including the tattooed ladies with the dogs the size of small horses which VivaLou wanted to ride (she didn't sadly).
As the name suggests Alchemist, part of the Living Ventures group, is renowned for its potions, weird science and theatre, especially when it comes to cocktails and their new season collection sees 11 additions, including a couple of tweaks and updates on old favourites.
Cocktails start from £6.95 and average around just short of eight pounds. We kicked off with a Kir Royale for me where the new bit is a magic potion poured into the fizz that adds the sweetly-juicy kir flavour by cascading in a marble-type effect. It tasted like a very good Kir Royale but looked much prettier.
VivaEms and VivaLou both opted for the Cinnamon Apple which is almost like a dessert in a glass with its white chocolate foam (something of a signature here, I have it before and it is utterly delish), VivaEms wasn't too keen but VivaLou was like the cat who had got the cream, lapping it up.
At this point we thought it a good idea to have some food as we didn't want to be under the table too quickly what with the whole of the city stopping to say hi - including Sam the traffic man who never left and is on the best diet in the world if it really does allows him to have vodka-laced milkshakes.
The food here is part bistro, part gastro-pub with a bit of Asian and new jerk chicken presumably in answer to Turtle Bay, the recently launched Caribbean eatery. (The jerk was off, as in finished so we never got to taste and compare).
Proper starters are from £4.50 (if you ignore the olives and edamame beans which are in no way proper starters) and there are five newbies. We ordered four of them, ignoring the veggie platter which looks great but would have been just too much to swallow.
To wash it down, it was cocktail time again. This time I went for the Hot and Cold Espresso Tini which came in what looked like a school milk bottle if you're one of the pre- Thatcher ‘ milk snatcher' pupils and can remember those.
One side was white and frozen and the other coffee-brown, an espresso poured in made it bubble and sigh, making faint plopping noises. It tasted like a wonderfully alcoholic Frappuccino but did manage to splutter all over my white dress, not a good look.
VivaEms had the new Bubble Bath cocktail which looks camper than a camp thing in camping site. It's pink, very pink and somehow the Alchemist's alchemist have created enormous bubbles for this gin and chompard based-beverage. We all tasted it and loved it. You do want to dive in it, but it would be a bit sticky.
VivaLou's Lychee and Lavender cocktail was as it sounds, a perfumed delight if that's your bag and very chic to look at.
Onto the stomach-lining and the Pork Crackling was like the poshest pork scratching's ever, little bites of intense piggy flavour with an apple dip to snack away on while the Chicken Satay Skewers came with a re-vamped peanut sauce that's more of a soupy/custard texture and frankly I could slurp it all day.
The Sticky Pork Ribs were a gooey, lovely, hearty gobful but our favourite starter was the Prawn and Coriander in filo pastry which showed Alchemist can do delicate flavours as well as the in-your-face ones. Simply gorgeous.
Then it was inside for the show-stopping Rising Mercury cocktail (£20 but you get two cocktails out of it). This is the almost performance-art side of Alchemist as the equipment, which looked vaguely gynaecological mixed with what you think a mad-scientists bachelor pad would look like, covered half the bar.
Cameron, the Aussie bartender, who was quite dreamy, shook, rattled and rolled whilst simultaneously igniting flames, pouring test tubes and dry-icing like it was going out of fashion at a dizzying speed to end up with two plastic beakers of drink.
This didn't look promising after all the theatricals but actually this was our favourite cocktail. A real summer drink, a wonderfully refreshing brew of intense citrus and blackcurrant. Very quaffable and perfect for the season.
Onto the new mains (from £4.25) of which there are nine new ones. As I said, the jerk was off (stop sniggering) which was a shame as we all fancied that.
My Thai Red Curry, which you can have with or without chicken, was serviceable but too bland for me. A little bit of a so-what dish. VivaLou's Tandoori Mackerel, which we had all been a little wary off, was however a revelation of wonderfully, charred and intense flavours, a real tasty morsel.
VivaEms got the new salad, which she wasn't looking happy about but then adored her Sugar Cured Duck, which combined plumply-pink breast with a delicate and gorgeous grapefruit salad. Summerly delicious.
There are new puds (two to be precise), but we didn't have the room by then awash as we were with cocktail delights.
The Viva Verdict: Great cocktails that have both style and substance, with the perfect Summer pew to watch Mancunians at play and tasty, reasonably priced dishes. But it's the drinks that have got that thing.
The Alchemist is open for morning coffee, brunch, lunch and dinner offering everything Living Ventures are renowned for – excellent service, innovative cocktails and great food.