Unless you’ve been living under a rock or pay zero attention to The Chronicle’s almost weekly updates on the impending arrival of the Newcastle branch of The Alchemist, you’ll know that this week, the wait is finally over. I’ve just returned from the media and blogger launch of Eldon Square’s newest cocktail and casual dining venue, and boy, it’s a beauty!
The Alchemist is famed for its ‘molecular mixology’ – that’s super creative cocktails to you and I – and having had friends and family visit one of their other sites across the country and tell me how spellbinding it is to see their mixologists work their magic on the bar, I was super excited that our little corner of the North was finally getting it’s own. Taking up residence in Eldon Square’s food destination ‘Grey’s Quarter’, this huge bar and restaurant is a temple to the cocktail.
In what was intended as a night of casual cocktails, we actually ended up staying for dinner (props to the wonderful Sarah Hall for the hook-up there!) as their staff got to grips with the new venue and their new roles in Newcastle’s swishest venue.
This is the ninth piece of real estate for The Alchemist, part of the Living Ventures group, who also boast Italian chain Gusto and Manchester’s famous Australasia amongst their enticing brands. All of the Living Ventures brands have their own unique ‘vibe’, but none more fervently than The Alchemist. It’s decked in copper with decadent tiling, quirky nick-nacks and taxidermy adorn the shelves and there are two beautiful (and huge!) bars, usually seeping with dry ice from their show stopping cocktails.
We tried a number of said show stoppers, priced from £7.75 to £12.50 for a single cocktail, with sharers ranging from £20.50 (The Mad Hatters, served in a teapot with china cups, obviously!) to the pricier end of the menu at £37.50. I opted for a Bubblebath (£7.75), a bubbling concoction of Tanqueray, Aperol, Chambord, lemon, apple and err, FAIRY LIQUID, which was delicious but really hard to drink, what with all those reappearing bubbles. If you’re going for this one, you’re gonna need a straw.
Then there’s ‘The Colour Changing One’ (£7.75 – video here!) which erupts as soon as the liquid (served in conical flasks) hits it. This one was one of my favourites, fruity and actually quite addictive, even though it’s just Ketel One vodka with apple, soda and lime. That said, they do list ‘magic’ as one of their ingredients for this one, so I’m guessing it was magic that gave it the edge.
We ordered a couple of the White Martinez (£7.75) which was pretty much a Martini and had a real kick thanks to some powerful Vermouth mixed with Hayman’s Old Tom gin and lemon bitters. Not one for me, but if you’ve reached the end of a tough day and fancy a drink that’ll kick the shit out of it, this is the one for you.
My personal favourite, however, was the Lightbulb Moment (£7.95) which was another feast for the eyes. Our waitress was even wearing safety goggles when she made it, so there’s no messing about. This one is an aromatic and fresh mix of Tanqueray, Pimms, ginger beer, raspberry, lemon and mint, served bubbling with all the fanfare of The Alchemist’s famous dry ice trick. I had a couple of these and they were really tasty, so that’s my official recommendation.
We were seated in their beautiful restaurant area in a plush leather booth and served by the very friendly and efficient Becca, who was great despite clearly just getting to grips with her new gig. If it hadn’t been the soft launch, we’d be none the wiser. The menu is smaller than I anticipated, but since The Alchemist’s USP is cocktails, it’s good to know they’re not trying to be a master of everything.
There are nibbles, small plates (perfect for a sharer starter), main courses, salads, gourmet burgers and sandwiches and a bunch of sides. We decided, as ever, to go for a bunch of tapas plates (or Tapetisers, as The Alchemist fondly refers to them as) to get a good range of what’s on offer. All in the name of content for this very blog, honestly. My brother and unofficial sis-in-law had raved about the Lollipop Prawns (£5.95) after they’d visited the Trinity Leeds venue, so naturally, that was one of our choices.
We also picked the Salt and Pepper chicken wings (£5.95), the Pork Bon-bons (£5.25) and the Lemon and Chilli Squid (£6.25) which arrived served in copper pots and on slates etc., as you’d expect from such a hip and happening place. My favourites were the Pork Bon-bons, which were gorgeous little drops of succulent, smoky pork encased in breadcrumbs, served with a wasabi mayo dip.
The chicken wings were also a highlight, with a subtle hint of sesame amongst the pepper and chilli, so I’d definitely recommend both if you’re a meat-fan. The prawns were good and served with the usual sweet chilli dipping sauce, and the most underwhelming plate of the bunch was the lemon and chilli squid – it was a little soft core for me.
Add a bit more zest and a heck load more chilli and this would be just up my street, but in fairness it was cooked really well and the batter wasn’t too chunky, so it wasn’t a total flop.
For mains, we chose the Cajun Chicken fajitas (£12.25), the Fillet Steak sandwich (£8.95) and the House Burger with beef, cheese and bacon (£7.95 for the burger and £1 each for the extras), along with a sweet potato fries (£3.95) and salt & pepper fries (£3.50) to share. My fajitas were quite the mammoth portion, so I slightly regretted all of those starters, but they were served sizzling and smelled amazing, so I eagerly tucked in.
They could have done with a little more seasoning and smoked paprika, but if you err on the side of caution when it comes to Mexican flavours, these would be just the right amount of spice and flavour. They come with little portions of guacamole, salsa, cheese and sour cream, and the chicken was covered in a cajun breaded crust, which I’ve not had before in fajitas.
The tortillas were soft and perfectly sized to just chuck in your palm and fill up, so I got stuck in before quickly realising how stuffed I was. At £12.25, they’re considerably cheaper than nearby Las Iguanas, so if you’re after a mid-shopping lunch that doesn’t break the bank, this is for you.
The Fillet Steak sandwich was served in fresh white bloomer loaf and the steak beautifully cooked, served with sautéed mushrooms alongside a little pot of onion gravy, which was an unexpected bonus. This one comes with normal fries but we upgraded them to salt and pepper fries which are £1 extra. Again, this one was excellent value and both my brother and his fair maiden said they’d opt for it again, so it’s worth a try if you don’t fancy shelling out £21 for a 7oz fillet steak.
Lastly, my boyfriend ordered the House Burger was exactly what you’d expect for a venue of this ilk. Two fresh beef patties served in a brioche bun with baby gem lettuce, red onion and tomato salsa. As I mentioned, he’d added cheese and bacon, the latter served crispy and the cheese melted over the whole stack.
His verdict was that the additions elevated the burger, so if you’re considering it on your next visit to The Alchemist, do bear this in mind.
There was no chance we were ordering dessert (standard!) so we got our bill for drinks we’d ordered during dinner, as food was complimentary since it was a soft launch. Speaking of other drinks, I’d also ordered the Foamy Negroni (£7.95) which was another highlight but was less of a show stopper/fanfare kind of drink. Negroni isn’t one for everyone, but this foamy take on the classic makes it much more palatable and fruity.
The Alchemist opens officially TOMORROW (22nd March 2017) and I imagine there’s already high demand for tables, so if this has whet your appetite and you’re looking to get your mixology on, check out their website for more information on their 40% off opening offer and the menu/booking etc. There’ll be plenty of activity on social media, too, as the brand roll out a number of soft and VIP launches to get their staff in tip top shape for busy service, so keep your eyes peeled for pics and videos of the action.
The Alchemist is an ideal setting for a night of PROPER cocktails and let’s face it, we’ve waited bloody long enough for our very own. It’s not cheap, admittedly, but you’re paying for the experience and theatrics of it all, and there’s nowhere else like it in the city. Out front there’s outdoor seating, and I for one can’t wait to sit outside in the summer on Nelson Street with a ice-cold Negroni. Oh and P.S. Keep your eyes peeled for news on their cocktail masterclasses, which will no doubt blow every other masterclass in Newcastle out of the water!
Thanks for having us, The Alchemist Newcastle, we’ll be back soon for more cocktail magic!
The Alchemist, Grey’s Quarter, Eldon Square, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7AP.
Big thanks to Sarah Hall Consulting for our invite and to the team at The Alchemist for their wizardry! All food was complimentary, along with the cocktails we sampled prior to dinner. As ever, all views are true to experience and all photographs are my own.