Alex Bond’s Nottingham restaurant focuses on plant-based cooking and how a humble vegetable can be the star of the show. Katherine Alano checked it out
Alchemilla in Nottingham is the first solo venture from chef Alex Bond. Since opening in August 2017, the restaurant has been making waves with Bond’s unique style of plant-based cooking.
Bond has an impressive CV, having worked at Restaurant Sat Bains, also in Nottingham, and Turners at 69 in Birmingham. He was also named ‘Chef to Watch’ in the 2019 Good Food Guide.
The 50-cover restaurant is housed in a Victorian coaching house that had sat empty for 150 years. After many months of renovation, the space features exposed brick walls with sections divided by arches and sky lights that were accidentally uncovered during the refurbishment. The result is one of industrial grandeur, which at the same time succeeds in being unstuffy and cosy.
Living walls featuring moss and plants provide an organic feel to the space. “The living wall was a real obsession for me. We need to soften the space and moss was the most natural way of doing it. Basically, we’ve taken everything that was dirty out of the building and brought it back, but in a controlled way,” says Bond.
Nature is key to Bond’s ethos as a chef, and it was while running a number of pop-up restaurants across the country prior to securing a site that Bond and his team discovered a love of vegetables and how they can be the star of the show.
The chef stopped eating meat when he couldn’t be certain of its origin. After eating less meat as a family, Bond’s dishes developed, and he realised that, with some refinement, they could become restaurant dishes. “All the flavours were there,” he recalls.
He has also recently switched to a farm that can supply fully traceable organic milk and cream to the restaurant, highlighting his insistence on only buying animal products which he is satisfied will reach the highest welfare standards.
Bond offers a choice of three tasting menus: five courses at £60; seven courses at £70; and 10 courses for £85; as well as a kitchen table experience priced at £100. Wine pairings are from £40.
Bond describes the autumn cabbage dish as the “epitome” of what he does. “It’s not vegetarian; it’s plant-based,” Bond explains. “We focus on the vegetable; what makes the dish beautiful is that it is elevated by an aged-beef sauce.”
Bond makes the sauce from aged-beef trim from suppliers Lake District Farmers. Although it is a light sauce, it has an intense meat flavour that lifts the humble Savoy cabbage to another level. The cabbage is charred then pot-roasted in butter, thyme and garlic, and then intensified by deep-fried crispy cabbage leaves for added texture.
Bond’s opening course on the tasting menu – barbecue shiitake, “tasty paste” and cured pork fat – packs a huge flavour punch. The mushrooms are poached in teriyaki, while the “tasty paste” is inspired by a version in the Fäviken cookbook by Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson, with Bond replacing the beef flavour with black garlic, fermented wild garlic, roasted garlic, caramelised onion and seaweed.
“I like having that as the first dish as it sets the tone for the rest of the meal. There’s nothing delicate about it,” says Bond. “It’s super savoury, full of umami and vegan.”
For dessert, guests can expect equally flavourful plates which are both familiar and traditional. For instance, the toasted hay, bramley and burnt sugar is an exciting twist on the classic crème brûlée, using toasted hay-infused cream, served with a Bramley apple reduction, burnt sugar shards for crunch and apple ice-cream.
For wine, Alchemilla works with consultant Samuel Walker from Heel Tap Wines. A former sommelier with Restaurant Sat Bains, Walker has helped the restaurant showcase wines from lesser-known vineyards in Armenia, Greece, Turkey and China. In May, Alchemilla will open a new roof terrace, the Nyetimber Garden, in partnership with the award-winning English sparkling wine producer, Nyetimber.
With the growing rise of vegetarian and vegan food and welfare-conscious diners, Alchemilla is very much on-trend, although that is not what Bond necessarily set out for it to be.
“It’s a funny one, as I’ve never wanted to pigeonhole myself as a vegetarian restaurant. It hasn’t been forced, it had nothing to do with trends or the cost of protein. It was all down to my interest in vegetables!”
From the tasting menu
• Crab, chawanmushi, Jerusalem artichoke
• Celeriac cooked in goats’ butter, black garlic
• Risotto of grains, 36-month aged Parmesan, truffle
• Beef, mole, barbecue lettuce
• Autumn cabbage
• Hogget, barbecue leek, bagna cauda
• Venison, mushroom, spruce
• Toasted hay, bramley, burnt sugar
• Chocolate, miso, banana, lime
• Millefeuille of rhubarb, liquorice and tarragon
Alchemilla 192 Derby Road, Nottingham, NG7 1NF