Tuesday, 15 April 2014

OUT AND ABOUT | THE ALCHEMIST

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.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

OUT AND ABOUT | BELGRAVE STREET FEAST PT. IV

Street feast pt. IV flooded the Belgrave Music Hall this Saturday with an ever expanding lineup of the North's finest street food vendors as well as a pop-up arts market and music. An event not just for the eaters like me but also one for families (and dogs too!) with lots of kid-friendly activities on offer.

I however was there for the FOOD!


I set off early to help Sarah from Noisette Bakehouse set up with her wonderful spread of cakes, which also meant I got first snaps of all the sweet treats on offer.

The hot cross bostock I had been lusting after since I heard it was going to be on the menu. It was an elegantly fluffy and light fruity brioche with a generous slaver of marmalade and flaked almonds which was extremely delectable!



With such a great array of traders to choose from and with a limited time period and stomach capacity I was eager to try as many newbies as I could.

After hearing great things about south east Asian traders Street Fodder, I headed straight to them for my first taster. I went for the wild garlic summer rolls which were made with wild garlic from their very own garden.

These were served as two rolls on a bed of fresh Asian 'slaw salad and a tamarind and chilli dipping sauce. These were lovely and fresh and were long and thin compared to the short and fat ones which I have eaten before from Pho. The sauce complimented the rolls beautifully and with the salad it made for a nice light and healthy meal.

They also had chicken satay and pork meatballs grilling away which looked and smelled amazing.


On the roof terrace was a neat little set up from Leeds favourites Hepworth's Deli with an interesting selection of variations on the scotch egg, as well as savoury pastries and quiches. They also had a salad station on hand so you could make a deli box of your choice for a more substantial meal. Cakes, macaroons and sweet treats were also on offer.


Next up was a dish from Tasty Thai Deli who are based in Newcastle. Their menu featured a selection of Thai classics. As a lover of Thai salads, my friend and I shared a plate of their satay chicken pieces with papaya salad.

I was however quite disappointed with this dish. The chicken was perfectly moist but lacked flavour and the salad tasted of nothing but chilli. I can handle my heat so that wasn't a problem but it ruined the taste or flavours that might have otherwise been in the dish. You win some you lose some!



On my wanders I also stumbled across Fu-Schnikens and Fish& who I have both had food from before. Fu-Schnickens were selling their Gua Boa and with a special new option for the event with a Salmon Bao (which looked incredibly tasty!). 

Fish& were selling their beach burgers (pan seared fish cakes made with cod, capers and parsley then slow cooked in a spicy tomato sauce) and sweet potato fries which was a bit of a change to their usual twist on the good old classic fish and chips.


The highlight of the day for me was Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! who reign from Manchester and were treating Leeds to Columbian arepa's and plantain 'nacho's.


The arepa's are flatbreads made from maize flour and are cooked on the grill then stuffed with fillings. I went for the Sobrebarriga arepa which was basically described as a beer steak sandwich... a combo that wins my heart hands down! Recommended to douse it in chipotle sauce I settled down to chomp into this handheld goodness. 

Not the easiest things to eat, this got messy pretty quickly but BOY was it good. The beef was lovely and tender (like a pulled brisket) and the arepa was lapping up the juice and soaking in all the beefy beer flavours... mmm! Despite being a street food snack this was incredibly filling and was the last of my street feast endeavors for the day.


Before I had to nip off (I had a train to catch!) I managed to fit in getting a few snaps of the fish tacos from the Belgrave's in-house Street Food Lab experiment for this month... The Taco Wall!

As a first time at trading these looked super impressive. I didn't get to try one of these (my stomach was not having it after that arepa!) but the presentation was very pleasing to the eye.


Yet another great belly busting street feast at the Belgrave Music Hall and you can find the next one on Saturday 10th May... see you there!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

OUT AND ABOUT | AMAZING GRAZE

Last weekend saw the return of Amazing Graze for its second year. Amazing Graze is a two day festival featuring an array of authentic street food traders taking inspiration from around the world.

Devised by Manjit’s Kitchen in conjunction with Leftbank Leeds, the event offers a space for all to come to celebrate all things good about the street.

Featuring traders new and old from Leeds, Yorkshire and beyond, the street food line up held many great surprises in store.


As per usual, Sarah from Madeleine Express put on an impressive spread of cakes but also trialed her new dessert menu to the public. With three desserts on offer, including a vegan cheesecake option there was something for everyone.

I had a little taster of the lemon madeleines with blueberry compote whipped cream and lavender salt crunch and also the honey almond cake dessert – both were really lovely but my particular favourite was the lemon madeleines. The crunchy addition to the whipped cream added a really nice texture and the whole dish just made you go MMM.



Next up I went for the Flemish beef stew from The Grub & Grog Shop. I had been eyeing up trying this stew for the past few weeks as it had been made specially in conjunction with the Lowlands Beer Festival where they had been serving it at North Bar. With just one stew left, a friend and I shared it and it was proper feel good food. It reminded me of the beef stew that my Mum makes, but the addition of the Flemish beer gave it extra body and umph. I would very much like the recipe for this one!




On to Manjit’s Kitchen, Leeds favourite vegetarian heart breakers with their delightful menu of Indian street food classics. A few new variations which I had not seen them serve before at previous events were on offer at Amazing Graze, including one of my favourite dishes… Bhel Puri. I leapt at the chance to try their take on it and I was not disappointed at all. Full of amazingly fresh flavours of ginger and coriander with a great texture form the puffed rice, pomegranate and tomatoes. A real treat and definitely up there at the top of the bhel puri list!




I also got a taste of their aubergine fritters which were served in a stack on a bed of salad and drizzled with a spicy sauce. Such a simple dish but tasty none the less. They were surprisingly light and fresh to eat even though they were deep fried.


 Newbie to the Leeds street food scene, Banh Mi Booth was also serving food. A friend tried their Pork dumplings and gave a very satisfactory nod and I was given a taster of the ‘No Name Vegetable Fritters’. I struggled to find any taste in the batter for these and as the name suggested these were rather unidentifiable, however the dipping sauces were very tasty and the fritters were obviously not meant to be eaten without them.



I was also given a taster of the Tortillas de Camerones…. From Las Paelleras, Spanish street food traders. Prawns in batter disk which were deep fried and served with a garlic and chili aioli sauce. These were a bit greasy to deal with but they were of course deep fried! The sauces were thick and rich and had a strong flavour. The shrimps inside the batter were delightfully fresh and I really enjoyed these.


Last but not least… we have perhaps the highlight of the whole weekend. Leeds favourite breakfast/brunch-meisters The Greedy Pig brought a rather controversial Nose to Tail tapas menu to the table. With 6 tapas dishes made with lesser used cuts of pig they created an air of intrigue and awe which no food blogger could resist!


After several recommendations I opted for the tongue tacos. These were extremely interesting with a fleshy taste but strong flavour. It was genuinely like nothing I had ever tasted before and with every bite I was more and more satisfied.

Other traders were also present however I didn't get round to fitting them in!


Overall, a great time at Amazing Graze and a massive thank you to Manjit and Michael from Manjit’s Kichen for organising the event and for the work that they do with supporting the street food scene in Leeds.