In just over three weeks (yes I’m counting, bite me), one of the hottest restaurants opens in Nottingham. I have written about Alchemilla Nottingham a few times here, and I don’t think it can ever be enough. I was lucky to catch up with Alex Bond, whose dishes make me want to weep with joy. Here is an exclusive Q&A – find out what his new menu holds for intrepid diners at Alchemilla, which fellow chefs he rates, and why dahlia ice-cream will definitely be on the menu.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef, and where does your love for vegetables come from?
I’m originally from York and I have wanted to be a cook for as long as I can remember. I don’t know why, I don’t have rosy stories of grannies who cooked or uncles that owned restaurants, I just know I wanted to be a cook. I’m obsessed by vegetables and their endless versatility. I don’t believe we should eat as much meat as we do, we aren’t designed for it. I live with my wife Anna who I have been with for 14 years and my daughter Rosa. I own an allotment where we spend most of our free time.
You host pop-ups, supper clubs and have built up an enviable portfolio at Turners, Restaurant Sat Bains, Auberge du Lac and Pool Court. Now you are opening up your own restaurant. How did that come to be?
I wanted to do my own thing, I have developed my own style and head chefs jobs where its truly yours are rare. I wanted to explore that. It is far from perfect but the only way to do that is pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone and testing the waters. I started the supper club to explore the possibilities of opening a restaurant and to allow myself some more time to find the investment and a site. Now two years on, we are on the verge of making that a reality.
Alchemilla is an unusual name for a restaurant. Who or what is the inspiration behind it?
Alchemilla comes from a plant called Alchemilla Mollis and has no relevance to anything other than the fact that I really like both the plant and the word. People have since done some homework on it and have told me that the word alchemy comes from Alchemilla because they believed that the water that settled on the leaves was the purest form of water. Just a cool coincidence I suppose.
What sort of restaurant do you want Alchemilla to be?
I want Alchemilla to be a place that people visit regularly. Where they feel comfortable in familiar surroundings. A place that serves food that is interesting and maybe slightly challenging at times but always does things for a reason. I want Alchemilla to be a restaurant that showcases how amazing vegetables can be and serves incredible high-quality meat and fish. In truth I want Alchemilla to be one of the best restaurants in the country.
What do you think of the dining scene in Nottingham, and what do you think Alchemilla will bring to the table?
I think Alchemilla can add diversity to an already vibrant food scene. I love places like Café Roya in Beeston that is doing something amazing.
How do you want people to feel when they’re tucking into your dishes?
I want everyone to feel happy when they eat. The thing I love about food, is how a great dish can just make you smile.
Have you always been passionate about food?
I have always wanted to be a chef.
What would you say to someone who loves cooking and wants to bring it to a larger audience?
I’d say just do it, what have you got to lose?
Can confidence in the kitchen be learnt? If so, how?
Confidence can definitely be learnt through repetition and practise, practise and more practise.
What inspires you in the kitchen and how long does it take to create a menu (starter, main dessert)?
I’m inspired by all sorts of things from nature to classical cooking to colours. I don’t do à la carte so menus can take varying amounts of time depending on the creative process.
Cookery shows like MasterChef and Saturday Kitchen are game-changers; it is now very fashionable to get creative in the kitchen. What do you think of this cooking / baking revolution?
I think the amount it’s on the telly is great, and although some of it is rubbish, it’s getting people cooking and not buying microwave meals. The more people understand about food the better. It pushes us as chefs because people expect more and we shouldn’t be afraid of that or arrogant that people don’t know. I think it’s exciting.
What cooking trends have you encountered this year? Any new ingredients you can tell us about, that you love working with?
I’ve been working with tulip and dahlia bulbs most recently, the latter made a beautiful ice cream. The tulip bulbs have potential but I haven’t managed to unlock yet.
What would be your last supper?
Toasted crumpets, butter, cheese, ham and coleslaw in that order followed by a tub of Häagen-Dazs Cookies & Cream and a packet of milk chocolate Hob Nobs and some Ferrero Rocher.
Are there any chefs that inspire you, or whom you admire?
I admire loads of chefs. I think England is teeming with talent at the moment but I feel the one to watch in 2017/18 is Gareth Ward at Ynyshir Hall. In my humble opinion he is Britain’s next 2 star chef. Also Chris Denney at 108 Garage is cooking some amazing food.
Food critics – are they friend or foe?
They are both.
Alchemilla will be launching very soon. Keep your eyes peeled here for updates and more sneak peeks.