Sunday, 17 September 2017

Alchemy at Alchemilla

I'm always proud to think that Nottingham plays host to one of the country's finest restaurants and I've often hoped that one day another might come along and pique the interest of the Michelin inspectors. With the opening of Alchemilla, that hope may be closer to being realised.

Based in a refurbished Victorian coach-house and less than ten minutes walk from the city centre, Alchemilla is the brainchild of head chef and owner Alex Bond, who was previously a chef at, amongst other places, the aforementioned Restaurant Sat Bains. Before Alchemilla opened, the building in which it resides had been derelict for over a hundred years so this is no small investment and gamble for Bond. If its early days are anything to go by however, the gamble will pay off handsomely.

Upon entering the building the first thing you see is, unusually, the open kitchen where Bond and his team work their magic. Just past this is the main dining area, all open-brick arches and ferns on the walls; while off to one side is a more contemporary-looking bar area. Our group forwent any pre-dinner drinks though and settled straight down for the evening. We'd already decided in advance to go for the ten course tasting menu (they also offer five and seven course options) before caution and frugality were thrown to the winds as we chose the accompanying wine flight for our drinks. After some warm and crunchy home-made sourdough bread was polished off the fun and games proper began.

Our seven savoury servings ranged from good (the crab and kohlrabi, celeriac and mushroom and leeks, cheese and hazelnuts), to excellent (the cauliflower fungus(!), squid carbonara and duck and carrot) to "Oh my God that's heavenly." This was reserved for the black pudding, eel and beetroot. A slab of the softest black pudding I've ever tasted was covered by a small slice of smoky eel and smeared with a beetroot sauce. Puffed wild rice added a touch of crunch to finish the whole delicious creation off nicely.

Crab and kohlrabi

Duck, carrot, rhubarb and nasturtium

The three dessert courses were also top notch. Freeze-dried apple pie retained all its crunch and flavour when it thawed and was served with a warm poached apple; a crunchy chocolate tuille sat atop rich chocolate ganache and banana ice-cream while slivers of lime zest and a smudge of miso caramel added wonderful saltiness and zing; and finally blackberries and an almost-sour 'cultured cream' were matched with a deep and delectable beetroot sorbet.

Each of the ten courses was served with a well-matched wine and there were some real crackers - in particular the Beaujolais which accompanied the black pudding and the sweet Chateau Doisy-Vedrines served alongside the chocolate dessert. The final wine was a red Lambrusco, which was something I didn't realise existed.

Service was very good. We were there for a long time but never felt like there was too much of a wait between courses. Our wine waitress was excellent, taking time to provide detail about each wine and explain why it had been matched with the particular course. Similar explanations for the food were unfortunately missing however - it would have been nice to have learned a bit more about each dish, in particular the unusual ones such as the cauliflower fungus.

My only other grumbles are so small that I almost feel guilty writing them. There was no amuse bouche. (#firstworldproblems) You may argue that with ten courses you don't need an amuse bouche, and you'd be right; but it's always nice to feel you're getting a little something more than you paid for. Also we were sometimes left guessing which cutlery we should use for each dish, as a number of the courses were served in high-sided bowls and consisted of both solid and liquid elements. This is me being very picky however and none of the above detracted in any way from our experience.

The meal and wines represented really good value for money, service was slick, smooth and friendly and the environment was very smart indeed. If Alchemilla can tick all these boxes within two months of opening then the future really is bright and I can't wait to see how it develops over the years to come. I hope the people of Nottingham recognise they've got a real gem on their hands here - and I hope the Michelin inspectors recognise it too.

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