I don't imagine I'm alone in this view. In fact, the thought of giving my patronage to any of Living Venture's establishments rarely crosses my mind. If that sounds harsh, I don't mean it to be. We all have different tastes; The Alchemist simply doesn't press my particular buttons. This is no reflection on the staff (most of whom do an excellent job), rather on LV's aesthetic and attitude.
So when we were invited to review the menu, I'll freely admit I wasn't expecting to be impressed.
It was a Sunday, the day after our American supperclub, and one too many bourbons the night before had left both Anna and me with mild hangovers. Hangovers are like an amplifier to bullshit; things you might ordinarily overlook become irritating.
We are sat near the entrance, directly behind the host, which makes us feel a little uncomfortable, as though any tiny criticisms of the food or service might be overheard and relayed. Living Ventures is Watching You. That turns to be an irrelevant concern, as we realise no one actually seems to know we've been invited for a review. Our position is also annoying because it is a hub and a thoroughfare for other staff members.
The waiter had asked how spicy we wanted our Bloody Marys, which is encouraging, but upon tasting we find out that Tabasco is pretty much the only flavouring. I would venture to say it is the blandest cocktail I've ever had. Bloody Mary's are a personal drink, I get that. Some people like a little more Worcestershire sauce, some a good punch of lemon juice. But to send them out almost unseasoned is asking for trouble.
Starters are a small portion of the chicken caesar salad, which is perfectly adequate though missing a good anchovy kick, and chicken and spring onion pot stickers, which are rather nice, as good as I've had in all but the better Japanese places in Manchester.
|No, it's not an apple on the side of the plate.|
Anna goes for a smoked salmon bagel, which she regrets, mostly because she's staring at my steak. There wasn't enough cream cheese for her liking (but this, she concedes, is not really a criticism, as the bagel is brimming with smoked salmon) and the inclusion of lettuce in the bagel is a bit perplexing. Other than that, it's not bad.
My Sazerac is good, although (ex-bartender alert!) I don't think the recipe is open to interpretation where the Absinthe is concerned. Just a dash of the green stuff is obligatory. I like the cookie flavour of this iteration, which reminds me of a gingerbread Old-fashioned I once had.
There is no faulting the place's hospitality. Bearing in mind our servers hadn't even realised we were doing a review, ergo no schmoozing, they were all friendly and eager to help. The Alchemist's USP is not its fancy, show-stopping cocktails, nor its unpretentious service, but rather a desire to please everyone. It is the apotheosis of the phrase: Jack of all trades, Master of none. And that, I suppose, is the best compliment I can give.
Disclaimer: we were invited to review, and even though it took the team a little while to cotton on we were there for a freebie, a freebie it was. It should be fairly evident from comments made above that this - in no way - affected our honesty.