Monday, 3 June 2013

Alchemy Restaurant & Bar - fine dining with a view of the River

Alchemy Restaurant has been one of my favourite restaurants for as long as I can remember.  I can't think of another dining establishment that has delivered fantastic food time and time again.  One of my best friends, who is notoriously hard to please when it comes to dining out also agrees, Alchemy is the bomb.  However, the last time I went to Alchemy (see post here), it wasn't quite as perfect as it usually is and for the first time, there were some elements that I didn't enjoy so much.

A strange and unusual thing occurred earlier this year and Alchemy lost it's coveted Brisbane Times Good Food Guide Chefs Hat.  I was actually quite astounded when the list of Chefs Hats was announced and Alchemy was not in the list.  The world of restaurants awards can be quite confusing at times with the Australian Good Food Guide still rating Alchemy with a Chefs Hat.  I was keen to get back to Alchemy after a few months and see if my last visit and the loss of the BT Chefs Hat were an anomaly or the start of something bigger.

There have been many times where I have talked fondly about Alchemy and its owner chef Brad Jolly and his wife Angelica Jolly.  When you talk quickly most people think you say Brad and Angela Jolie, but no, Alchemy is not run by Brangelina.  Brad Jolly has been one of Brisbane's best chefs, and one of my favourite chefs, for such a long time that it would be unthinkable that Alchemy would let it's standards slip.

It was a Monday night and I was meeting a couple of friends for dinner.  Alchemy is right on the Brisbane river and a few meters from my apartment, so I thought that I would get a head start on dinner, but was surprised to see the boys had beaten me to the restaurant.  There is a cool bar section where GP and BM were waiting for me.  I declined the offer of a drink and suggested we head straight over to the table.

Alchemy has always had an amazing menu selection and almost every time I have visited I have been torn with the multiple options that have appealed.  In fact, in the past, there have been times when I have just created my own degustation dinner by ordering five entrees.  The current menu still had around ten entrees and ten mains, but on this night there were only a few options that really appealed to me.  Unusual.  There was no such trouble for the lads, they were like kids in a candy store with the options and had their selections made in short order, so it must have just been me.

I think MB got the pick of the entrees when he opted for the seared scallops with diced cucumber salad, citrus oil and crustacean vinaigrette.  The scallops were very large and caramelised really well with quite a refreshing salad sitting atop.  With the citrus oil, this was more akin to a summer dish than a winter one.  I really love well cooked scallops, so had a pretty huge case of food envy when looking at the dish.

Not only was there quite a large selection of entrees, but quite a few appetisers as well.  GP decided to go a little lighter to start and chose the grilled octopus with smoked paprika and sherry vinegar.  When ordering grilled octopus, I really like to see the tentacles presented nicely, so you know what you are eating.  This dish tasted fantastic, but the octopus was hidden in the potato based sauce and hidden under the garnish.  This real lack of visual appeal detracted from the dish, which could have been amazing if it had been presented differently.

I had really high hopes for my entree of marinated quail with pressed figs, cherry coulis, asparagus and honey truffle dressing, but it fell just a little short of my expectations.  The quail had a fabulous flavour and was cooked really well, but it was not deboned, so it was really hard to eat.  I think it worked great with the cherry coulis, but I lost the flavour of the honey truffle dressing, so the balance was a little out for my palate.  Probably the element that put me off this dish a little was the circular toast under the quail, which became soggy really quickly and was really hard to eat.  I think this was a case of just an element or two too many.

There were a couple of specials on the night, as there usually is at Alchemy and one of them was seared tuna with an asian salad, which MB decided to try.  This was a very pretty and refined looking dish, with a real precision in the cooking of the tuna, the criss cross pattern in the fish was amazing.  The flavours of the dish were subtle, which is what you want with tuna, you really want the fish to stand out.  I'm not sure if it was supposed to be cooked this way, or it was a little over cooked, but the fish seemed just a little over to me and a bit dry.  Most seared tuna I have had before is moist and barely cooked, and this was not the case on this night.

The other special, which is not really a special but the signature dish of Brad Jolly was the slow braised beef cheeks.  This dish is one of those institution meals around town, almost everyone has tried it and everyone who has tried it, loves it.  It's such a decadent and rich piece of cooking and on this night GP fell in love with it.  The beef was so very tender, it fell apart at the slightest touch and combination with perfectly smooth mashed potato, bacon bits and rich jus was the perfect winter meal.

I made a rookie mistake on the night with my order of risotto with lemon and crab.  It was one of those crazy moments when I ordered a main sized entree instead of a proper main.  Every time I do this the dish comes out a little out of balance.  This was the case with the risotto here, with the extra large serving being a little dry and with the balance of flavours that were just not right.  There was too much lemon flavour for on the plate for me, which took away the subtle flavours of the crab.  To be fair, once I cleared out the edges of the risotto, it was much more as you would expect from a risotto.  I didn't hate the dish and ate about two thirds of it, but I certainly have had better risottos at Alchemy (I still have beautiful dreams about the beetroot risotto with duck breast).

Time for desserts and GP went straight for the white chocolate and mango panna cotta with pistachio and kaffir lime sorbet with no hesitation.  The panna cotta was actually quite a bit more rustic looking that what I was expecting, you normally see a very simple presentation with the Italian favourite.  The flavours worked really well and there was a nice contrasting texture with pistachio nuts surrounding the panna cotta.  The panna cotta had the right amount of 'wobble' and on the whole GP really enjoyed the dessert.

While GP had no hesitation with the panna cotta, I equally had no hesitation in ordering the apricot souffle with candied orange ice cream and apricot tuille.  I love the way souffles are presented at Alchemy in a copper pot that usually has the souffle exploding over the top.  The souffle had risen perfectly and was one of the better souffles I have had for a while.  The apricot flavour was nice and subtle, not too sweet, and contrasted nicely to the ice cold candied orange ice cream.

It was another meal finished at Alchemy and it was time to reflect on the evening.  When we first arrived it was very quiet and I thought it would be a rare night where Alchemy would not be busy, however within an hour of being seated the place was pumping.  It's been my experience that Alchemy is one of the busiest restaurants in Brisbane most nights of the week and to see a full restaurant on a Monday night was excellent.

When I think of the food at Alchemy, I usually think of perfection and for the second visit in a row I can say that it fell just a little bit short.  It was the little things, for example, usually when eating at Alchemy there is some beautiful soft aerated butter sitting waiting to be spread over the complimentary bread.  On this night, the butter was pretty much rock solid, not at all what I expected.  Also, there were some elements in the food that were not quite right, the toast in the quail entree; the slightly over cooked tuna and the out of balance risotto.  These are little things, but when you are looking for perfection and have high expectations, they all add up.

The service on the night was superb as usual and we were well looked after and the meal flowed without delay.  There used to be a fairly stable wait staff at Alchemy, but I have noticed the last few visits that many of the regular wait staff that I used to enjoy engaging with seem to be all gone.

I think it was a little harsh that Alchemy lost its Brisbane Times Good Food Guide Chefs Hat this year, but in the cut-throat market that has become the Brisbane dining scene, it's the little things that make a difference.  I don't think Alchemy is in any danger of being less popular and I am sure it will always do well, but I would love to see that consistency and striving for perfection return.  Perhaps then the Chefs Hat will return as well.


MB go the affogato for dessert 
Just testing out the new camera!
Just about a full house by the time we left
Fancy a drink at the bar?  Great cocktails at Alchemy
Alchemy has a very good wine list and selection.  You can try the legendary nitrogen bomb here too!

Alchemy Restaurant and Bar on UrbanspoonAlchemy Restaurant and Bar


  1. I don't think you're being harsh - just fair, considering you're a semi regular. Maybe that's why the hats was dropped. That afogato looks good. Vast improvement in photos (mine are still rubbish).

  2. Thanks Fiona, well, I have a shiny new camera to take photos with :) They are coming out great now!



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