A promise of magic

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IT’S not every day you walk into an establishment and see wallpaper inspired by an alchemist’s book from the 16th century. But that’s what you get at The Alchemy Bar in Manuka.

This new bar/restaurant enjoys a great position, across from Public and – to open soonish – the Polit Bar.

Alchemy_screen (15 of 112)Over the years The Alchemy Bar has been many things (La Grange, Minque, The Cabinet). So do these new owners have the profound powers needed to put the chemistry back into the space? The combination of magic, science and spirituality of a true alchemist?

The main, curved bar still holds court, but has been transformed into a more contemporary look. The fascinating wallpaper is silver with black on one wall and black with silver on another. Black leather couches offer comfort and there is a separate, intimate space for small groups. The black back-lit wall near the kitchen adds a stylish touch.

But what about drink and food? Chef Joshua Sargent has worked at the Realm Hotel and, most recently, The Deakin. He has an interesting line up of dishes – breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Alchemy_screen (30 of 112)Lunch features 10 tapas items ($3 to $3.50 each). Off-the-bone dishes include tenderloin or sirloin ($25.50) and rib eye (from $30).

Salads include a sticky chilli pork belly ($17.50) and it’s great to see a traditional French onion soup ($9.50) on the menu. There are items from the sea and what The Alchemy Bar calls “classics” (burgers, nachos and the like), plus a list of pasta and risotto options.

The apple and prosciutto bruschetta with maple glaze was a great combo of crunchy, salty and sweet elements. The seared Japanese scallops, perfectly cooked, came with tangy green olive salsa and were lovingly presented with dipping sauces – chilli sambal, olive oil and balsamic, and plumb. However, we weren’t sure what to do with them given the tapas we ordered.

For mains, we were intrigued by the truffle cream spaghetti and meatballs with tomato sugo and grana padano, but ordered the oxtail tortellini in a ragout with balsamic ($18.50) and the saffron seafood paella ($19.50).

The tortellini was an exceptionally generous serve. The pasta was al dente and the ragout rich indeed. A wonderful winter dish. My saffron paella was high on flavour, with mussels (slightly overdone for my liking), chorizo, prawns and calamari ($19.50). It was a modern twist and so without the crunchy bottom I adore.

The Alchemy’s wine list is super reasonably priced (a pleasant find), but could be transformed to feature more varieties. With whites, for example, I’d branch out, and a local option would show support for the region.

At The Alchemy Bar, DJs spin action Friday and Saturday nights and you can relax with live jazz Sunday afternoons (2pm-5pm).

The Alchemy Bar, 17 Franklin Street. Open seven days. Call 6232 7272.

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Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson: Food reviewer for Canberra CityNews magazine since 2004, covering stories for true foodies to digest.

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