The décor in The Alchemist is exactly what you'd expect from an ultra-modern cocktail bar - lots of copper trimmings, dark wood, and highly detailed pencil illustrations everywhere. It's clearly become a popular place to visit since opening as part of the new Westgate shopping centre, and there were at least two Christmas gatherings going on when my partner and I arrived there for Sunday lunch.
We started off in the bar area, with a couple of cocktails from the period table-inspired menu. I chose a Roses, a deliciously creamy cocktail with Baileys, syrup and real rose petals, that was strong and flavourful without being too much for my as-yet empty stomach. My partner, not much of a drinker, went for a non-alcoholic Strawberry Colada, which tasted like a cross between a milkshake and a particularly decadent smoothie.
Pre-drinks finished, we were soon shown to our table. Unfortunately, this was rather cramped, squashed between two other small tables with little room for us or the people behind us to manoeuvre - probably a result of the busyness of the restaurant. We looked through the menu while more cocktails were delivered to the tables around us, including several smoking, bubbling concoctions that fully lived up to the restaurant's name.
If you have specific dietary requirements, you won't go hungry at The Alchemist. There were several vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, and, when taking our order, the waiter checked whether we had any food allergies that we'd like the kitchen to know about. My partner was delighted to find that there were not one, but two veggie burgers available, and neither was the lazy option of 'Portobello mushroom in a tired-looking bun' sadly beloved of many restaurants.
We started by sharing a portion of seitan 'chicken wings', which were even better than I expected - very spicy, with a great texture that wasn't too far away from the real thing. The portion size was generous, and one serving was enough to split between two people.
For our main course, I chose chicken in a basket (the non-vegetarian version this time, although more seitan was an option), while my partner selected the Moving Mountains veggie burger. My chicken arrived in a very well-presented hen-shaped basket, with a side of coleslaw, salt and pepper fries, and a strong, tangy barbecue relish. The chicken itself was perfectly cooked - no grease, no gristle, no stray pieces of bone, just tender chicken in a crispy crumb. According to my partner, the Moving Mountains burger was one of the best vegetarian burgers he'd ever eaten - it seems that The Alchemist places just as much care and attention in creating flavourful dishes for their vegetarian customers as they do for the meat-eaters.
The service at The Alchemist was prompt and friendly, without being overbearing, and the allergy check from our waiter was reassuring - I'd feel comfortable taking my friends with food intolerances there for a meal. While a meal at The Alchemist is not a budget option, you get large portions of great quality food and excitingly-flavoured drinks for your money, in a fun and buzzing environment that has a great view from the Westgate's roof terrace across the spires of