Thursday, 25 October 2012

Alchemy - turning food into gold?

When was the last time you called to book a restaurant on a Tuesday night in Brisbane, only to be told that they were completely booked out already?  Well, that was my experience this week when looking to book into Alchemy for our weekly outing.  After briefly considering going somewhere else for the night, we quickly set aside our disappointment and made the booking for the following night.

Alchemy, without doubt is physically the closest restaurant in Brisbane to where I live - it is literally just across the road and down some stairs.  Located in a prime spot on the Brisbane river underneath the CUA building or the 'Hopoate building' to the locals, Alchemy is a great place to spend an evening overlooking the river and Story Bridge.  Normally the restaurant is opened up to the elements with the floor to ceiling glass doors open all the way round, tonight it was very cold and windy so the doors were firmly closed.

Alchemy is another of my favourite restaurants and can be relied upon to provide an excellent experience pretty much every time you go. Alchemy is a multi award winning restaurant with a coveted Good Food Guide chefs hat. However, the reason I really like going to Alchemy is that chef and owner Brad Jolly is pretty much always in the kitchen and is passionate about the food that comes out of the kitchen.

Its been a few months since I was last there and was pretty keen to get in and check our their new menu. One of the things about the menu at Alchemy is the broad selection of items available, there are normally around 10 options each for entrees and mains and narrowing down your choice is always difficult.

Large slices of Octopus tentacle with chorizo and
sweet pepers 
After agonising over 4 or 5 entrees that sounded absolutely mouth watering, I went for something a little different, Confit Octopus, Chorizo and Tomato Vinaigrette with Olive Oil Mash Potato and Sweet Peppers.  There are a lot of elements that would stand alone quite well in this dish and I was really curious about how they would gel together on the plate.  The first thing I noticed was the Octopus was slices of tentacle and quite large, which were char grilled with a lovely crispy char around the outside.  Octopus needs to be cooked just right, either quickly or very slowly over a long time and this looked to be cooked slowly, then finished off on the grill.  It was cooked really well and was tender but still retained a little bit of a firm texture.  What was amazing on the plate was the olive oil mash, which was so light and fluffy that it seemed that it had been aerated somehow.  It was so light that I thought it would collapse when touched.  The chorizo and tomato vinaigrette was not overpowering, which was what you would look for with a very subtle flavour such as octopus.  The combinations worked really well together and were perfectly balanced when combined with the sweet peppers.

Soft and delicious buffalo mozzarella, but too much of
a good thing?
SC opted for the San Daniele Prosciutto with Buffalo Mozzarella and Macerated Tomatoes.  This was quite a pretty dish and I think the intent was to be quite light and summery.  The prosciutto was delicious and salty and worked really well with the mozzarella.  However, there was a bit of a problem with the balance of this dish, with the mozzarella being a bit overpowering and not enough acidity from the tomatoes.

The combination of flavours on in this dish are pretty classic and you would see them on  many a pizza and be pretty happy about it.  Some additional tomato would have balanced this out and it would have been perfect.

A perfect palate cleanser
After our entrees were cleared away, we were surprised with a little palate cleanser, a sorbet of green tea, with vanilla biscuit crumbs and a mint leaf.  It was lovely.

Main course for SC was Charred Seabass with Glazed Pork Strap, Sweet Pumpkin and Pork Jus.  There were a lot of sweet components on the plate.  The sea-bass was cooked to perfection with a lovely charred skin, which broke into delightful flakes.  The other major component was the pork strap, with a stunning glaze.  While the fish was meant to be the star, the pork outshone.  While the dish was pretty good, it was not without fault.  The pumpkin puree was a little overpowering when combined with the fish.  There was quite a bit of the puree left by the end of the meal.

Delicious combination of pork and sea bass, but
where is the colour?
Another thing that we noticed with the fish is that there was a lot of brown on the plate.  I would liked to have seen the dish contrasted with some colour, which would have made the overall presentation a little more appealing.

The main I chose was Duck Breast with Cherry Puree, Confit Garlic, Caramelized Endive and White Wine Jus.  I was really interested in the way this dish was presented, it just did not look pretty on the plate.  This is unusual as most of the meals I have had at Alchemy have yielded beautifully presented plates of food.  It looked a little like a dead starfish!  Also, visually, there was too much brown on the plate.  Its hard to tell from the photos, but there was some additional colour with the addition of beetroot.  Once I started cutting into the duck, it was clear that the duck was over cooked.  You really want to see a lot of pink with duck breast and there was only a smidgen of pink on the lower half of the duck.  The skin was lovely and crispy and there was a richness of flavour when combined with the cherry puree, which was quite amazing.  The puree was sweet and tart at the same time and when mixed with the beetroot and white wine jus was very very tasty.  I have to admit to being confused by this dish, on one hand the duck as overcooked and it didn't look all that appealing, but boy, it tasted great.  I am sure it would have gone to another level had the duck been perfectly cooked.

The cherry sauce was tarte and a perfect foil for
the sweetness on the plate, but its very brown
As with the rest of the menu, there were plenty of options for dessert and we agonised over our selections for some time.  One item on the dessert menu jumped out at me straight away and no matter how appealing the other items were, my eyes kept climbing back to the Hot Chocolate Marbre with Crunchy Honeycomb and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.  This dessert has remained a constant on the last few menu changes at Alchemy, so I was sure I was onto a good thing by choosing this.  Wow!  The marbre was simply presented on the plate with ice cream and looked like a large cupcake.  My spoon easily cracked through the crunchy outer casing and inside was hot, steaming and gooey chocolate sauce that oozed out onto my plate wonderfully.  The combination of the hot sauce, cold ice cream and crunchy sweet honeycomb was a taste and texture sensation to behold.  This was definitely the star of the night and by the time I (just about) licked the plate clean I was completely satisfied.

When cracked open, the marbre reminded me of those
chocolate self saucing puddings I had as a kid

SC chose the Apple Cinnamon Donuts with Soft Chocolate Ganache and Caramel Ice Cream.  The notion of the traditional donut with a hole in the middle is thrown out at most restaurants and that tradition was in evidence at Alchemy.  Three crunchy-on-the-outside and soft-and-delicate-on-the-inside donuts came decoratively presented on the plate with similarly sized caramel ice cream and ganache balls, all tied together with a caramel sauce and cream, given some texture with biscuit crumbs.  SC really enjoyed this as it was fairly light compared to my marbre.  The ganache was dark and rich, with a little bit of tartness to combat the sweetness of the ice cream and donuts.  There was nothing on the plate at the end, save of a little green garnish.
Donuts without the hole
While both desserts were delicious, the trend of the evening continued, with much 'brown' and an absence of any other colour.  Sometimes this happens when running through a menu for dinner, the items selected often have a theme and tonights theme must have been 'brown'.

There was something slightly off about our experience at Alchemy tonight.  It started off with some new wait staff who needed to read the specials off a cheat sheet but also carried over to some uncharacteristic errors on some of the dishes, like the slightly over cooked duck and the lack of balance in the mozzarella dish, along with some clumsy presentation along the way.  If I had to put my finger on it, I would wonder if Brad was in the kitchen on the night....  The menu was fairly new and had not yet been updated on the Alchemy web site, so I am wondering if there is still some tinkering to be done in the kitchen.  I can't fault the flavour profiles of the dishes I had and SC was being a little critical about her entree, but these small errors are really unusual for such a fantastic establishment.

My title for this post is Alchemy - turning food into gold?  It actually started off with an exclamation mark (!) in my head before the meal started, but changed to a question make by the time I had finished writing.  I really enjoyed the tastes but was a little disappointed with the presentation.  I am going to chalk this one up to a very rare, slightly off night in the kitchen.  Alchemy remains on of my favorite restaurants and one that I will continue to frequent often, the food is just too tasty to do otherwise.


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