If you’re one of those people who tend not to go out anymore due to the lack of bars that serve cocktails out of conical flasks, or that take the time to flavour match with Walter White-esque molecular precision, then The Alchemist is for you. And if you’re not one of those people, then it might just blow your mind. As the name would suggest, what happens here isn’t just mixology, but pretty much magic. What’s more, thanks to a new culinary collaboration with the sustainable fundraising social enterprise Foodinate, a heap of newly refined choices on the menu are diverse enough for the most discerning of palates and dietary preferences.
Venue and Atmosphere
Set in an area that was populated with tenement buildings and communal courtyards in the mid-19th century, The Alchemist pays a fitting homage to Spinningfields’ Victorian past as a district once “teeming with gin and ale houses”, with its neo-gothic graphics, exposed piping and on-trend industrial inspired interiors. In a glass-fronted corner building set back from the River Irwell, it’s bright, buzzy and very often bustling, however with high ceilings, a large bar area and plenty of room to move, there’s no danger of feeling cramped or claustrophobic. Behind the bar, tiered shelves decorated with bottles of every liquor imaginable form an imposing and entirely appropriate alchemic centrepiece, and bar stools spill into an expansive all-weather outdoor seating area complete with umbrellas and heaters.
In the heart of the corporate-cum-cultural hub that Spinningfields is becoming, there is, as you would expect, an undeniably after-hours office vibe. But that’s not to be sniffed at – it’s buzzing with that Friday-feeling, even on a Wednesday. Despite its slick interiors and largely corporate clientele, the atmosphere is remarkably un-stuffy, and friendly front of house staff are warm and welcoming from the second you step through the threshold. Tables are plentiful, so whilst there is a lot of life about the place, there is enough dining space so as not to feel rushed out of your seats - which is a good job, because you’re probably not going to want to leave in a hurry.
Food and Drink
As you might expect, what goes on here is, quite literally, alchemy. Drinks are delivered on trays with all manner of foaming devices, elaborate adornments and imaginative receptacles; this is not a place for the understated. It’s the Breaking Bad of cocktail bars, the Hogwarts of mid-week watering holes, and whilst it might not be for you if you’re after a quick happy-hour espresso martini, you certainly get what you pay for.
The comprehensive cocktail offering is divided by type on a veritable periodic table of tipples; there are fruity, creamy and fresh flavour combinations, all the way through to dark and serious spirit-led drinks for those after more of a headache in the morning. Particular favourites of ours were the summery, citrussy Garden and the Battenburg, complete with ‘almond air’, - and even the fruit teas arrive in complicated-looking contraptions that make the whole thing that little bit more exciting.
As for the food, they have every base, every taste and every dining combo covered. From the brunch menu that would impress any East Londoner to the sumptuous sharing platters and ridiculously tempting desserts, each item on the menu has been put together with precise consideration. If it all seems a bit bamboozling, fear not, as knowledgeable staff are on hand to make recommendations that ensure you pick the finest food and drink pairings for the most appetising experience.
Meat eaters will rejoice at the pork steamed buns and plethora of steak options, while for vegans, vegetarians and everyone in between the options are no less impressive. The (surprisingly, green) vegetable gyozas (£5.50) are stunning, and the fragrant keralan curry (£10.50) and cooked-to-perfection shwarma cauliflower steak (£11.50) both utterly divine and entirely satisfying. Take our advice though, and order a side of the salt and pepper fries - you can thank us later.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Diverse enough for after-works drinks, a special ‘do’ or a post-shopping afternoon pick-me-up, this is a suave, sassy dining destination that, for all its theatre, remains relaxed and inviting and not the least bit snobby. Head to The Alchemist in Spinningfields for imaginative flavours, friendly service and all in all, a seriously Instagram-worthy drinks experience. Overall verdict: 10/10 would indulge here again.