Before you read this I would just like to say that I should not have accepted to do this review.
About a month ago I was asked to come for a complimentary meal with a guest by The Alchemist to review the menu at their Leeds branch. I was a little dubious at first, mainly due to it being quite an expensive restaurant (not somewhere I would usually go or be able to afford to eat at).
Being a chain as well, albeit a smaller one than most, I felt out of my comfort zone before I even stepped foot in the door. I did however go because I have been invited on previous occasions by friends and had rejected (mainly due to the price) and because I have heard mixed reviews and wanted to see what it was like for myself.
Arriving at The Alchemist on what was a Wednesday evening at 6pm, the bar was full to the brim of suits and city types. We were greeted by their host after hanging around by the counter for a few minutes and asked if we had a booking. I told them my name and it came up on the booking screen with "reviewer" next to my name.
Seated to a table, my friend and I sat down and were shown the menu's for food and drink. Almost instantly we were asked for drinks before even approaching the drinks menu. We felt quite pressured by the waitress to choose as it appeared she wasn't budging until orders were taken.
My friend and I asked for her recommendations, which ended up being a Dead Red Zombie and a Big Al's Porn Star. She also asked us if we wanted any nibbles, caught a bit off guard we scrambled to the food menu and before we knew it we'd ordered some Edamame Beans.
The cocktails arrived pronto. First up was my Dead Red Zombie, a cocktail from their 'Molecular Madness' range which in the description said it was "Guaranteed to put some sparkle in your life". It arrived smoking with some dry ice formula and was rather pretty to look it. It was extremely tasty and sweet and didn't last very long (cocktails are like juice to me) and was priced at £8.75.
My friend ordered the Big Al’s Porn Star which was priced at £10.00. The Alchemist's twist on a Porn Star Martini. This was a concoction of pineapple foam, Reyka vodka, Passoã and fresh passion fruit with a sprinkling of popping candy and a shot of Prosecco on the side.
Both were extremely good (although I am no cocktail connoisseur) and we were thoroughly impressed by them.
Almost as soon as the drinks were placed on the table we were greeted by the Edamame Beans (£2.95). A gigantic portion which were lightly coated in sesame oil and sea salt and served with a soy sauce dip.
These were a little too greasy for my liking but I enjoyed the concept and popping open the shells. We also set down to order some starters and our mains.
No more than five minutes later did our starters arrive. I had ordered the Chicken and Spring Onion Pot Stickers (£4.50) which came with a sweet chili and soy sauce dip. Four pot stickers arrived with lovely presentation and a dip which resembled the same as the one which accompanied the Edamame Beans.
The pot stickers themselves had a good texture and were melt in the mouth. The filling however was nondescript and bland. Obviously these are meant to be eaten dipped in the sauce but it would have been nice to have had a good flavour in the dumplings themselves.
My friend went for the Crispy Baby Calamari served with lemon mayonnaise (£5.50). Again, beautifully presented. My friend enjoyed this starter and said it was good for calamari.
Once the starters had been finished our table was cleared. We were sat right next to the open scene kitchen tucked away to the middle of the restaurant. We saw what we thought were are two mains sitting on the serving counter and joked about how they were our meals.
In the mean time, we ordered some more cocktails and both went for the Passion Fruit Daiquiri at £6.50. We were greeted with yet more delicious cocktails. These were lovely and fresh, served with a half slice of pomegranate.
Again... about five minutes later our sides arrived. We had ordered the French Beans (£2.95) and the Salt and Pepper Fries (£3.50). Following this, the two dishes that had been sat on the serving counter for a good seven minutes (the ones we had joked about) were in fact our meals.
Wanting something not too heavy and a nice mid-week meal, both my friend and I had ordered salads off their menu.
The Sticky Beef Salad (£10.95) I had ordered was described as being served 'Asian style' with beansprouts, ginger and chili. What was put in front of me was in fact a bed of lettuce leaves with a few beansprouts scattered on top and then your average Chinese takeaway equivalent of crispy chili beef and a birds nest of deep fried vermicelli noodles.
My friend went for their Bang Bang Chicken Salad (£9.25) which looked promising. However on taste it lacked any distinct flavour and was extremely disappointing.
Feeling a tad let down by the 'big talk' I had heard surrounding The Alchemist our table was cleared. Presented with a dessert menu, I was not even willing to go there so we settled for a final cocktail each.
My friend opted for the Strawberry Cup (£7.95), a mix of Green Mark Russian vodka, strawberry liqueur, fresh strawberries, mint, lemon juice and sugar topped with ginger ale, whilst I continued on my passion fruit stint and went for the Passion Fruit Mojito (£7,25). Again, no faults on the cocktail front with two very delicious and extremely drinkable cocktails served.
We asked for the bill. The meal was free as a complimentary invite to review the restaurant and my immediate guilt set in. £86.55 in total. A fee which to me seems extortionate for what we had just eaten.
If you are looking to go to The Alchemist then I highly recommend going for cocktails as they were indeed superb, however I cannot vouch for their food. Looking back now I see it was an unfair test of the menu seeing as both myself and my friend ordered salads, however that is usually what I would order if I was eating out mid-week and would expect good quality from wherever I chose to eat.
In conclusion. As cited at the very beginning of this post - I should NOT have accepted to do this review, but I did, and I am indeed sorry and have learnt my lesson.