Unique, imaginative, plant-based fine dining is how Alex Bond, chef patron of Michelin-starred Alchemilla in Nottingham, describes his restaurant. Sitting in the top 50 of The Good Food Guide 2020 and awarded four rosettes in The AA Guide, Alchemilla has defied the naysayers and set the bar for meatless dining.
Bond and his team offer five, seven, and 10-course menus with optional wine pairings, as well as a chef’s table experience where diners can get up close and personal with the Alchemilla chefs.
Though not entirely vegetarian, Alchemilla’s menus are vegetable-forward with sample dishes like squash, lovage, and smoked cream; tenderstem broccoli satay; and a blackberry, beetroot, and balsamic dessert. We speak with Bond about his unique staff policies and how he’s supporting the local community throughout this difficult time.
What did you think you’d be doing when you were ten years old?
The only other thing I’ve ever wanted to do was be a policeman up until I was about 12 or 13.
Most over-hyped food trend?
Most of the foraging movement. Some of it is amazing and interesting, which offers us some really cool ingredients that can’t be cultivated, but there’s a large percentage that’s tasteless or tough.
Michelin-starred, plant-based fine dining are not words you hear strung together very often. What makes Alchemilla such a hit?
We aren’t doing what we do as a gimmick or trend. We truly believe in what we do; we genuinely get excited about flavour profiles and so we treat vegetables with as much respect as most treat prime cuts of meat and serve this in a tasting menu format.
The way that your restaurant is set up really helps diners get a behind-the-scenes look at everything before it hits the plate. Why was this so important to you?
I wanted to give people a chance to see how their food is produced and to give the chefs a chance to see people really enjoying their hard work. I wanted to try and blur the lines a bit between front and back of house and make it all more accessible and less daunting.
What is one of the most common misconceptions people have about plant-based dining?
That they won’t be full or that it can’t be nice without meat, which is true—in the wrong hands.
What are some of your plant-based dishes that continuously shock people when they find out they’re meatless?
1. White asparagus, roasted yeast, lemon
2. Hen of the woods, yesterday’s bread, black garlic, buttermilk
Much of the attention on the UK food scene is centred around London. How do you convince diners to make the trip up north?
When you get lots of restaurants together, people get lazy. We just aim to do it better and be more interesting so that people will want to come to us.
Unlike other restaurants, Alchemilla closes its doors during the summer holidays and again for the Christmas season. Why did you decide to do this?
I want the staff, myself included, to have a holiday and have something to look forward to. It’s good to all go away and enjoy some personal time and come back reinvigorated together. I don’t want to work Christmas, it’s not what we do, and I have my children that I want to spend time with properly.
When not at your own restaurant, where can we find you grabbing a meal and a drink around Nottingham?
Zaap, Bar Iberico, Cafe Roya.
What are some of your biggest concerns right now with the current COVID-19 situation and how are you continuing to engage with your community and team?
How we get back to opening? What the landscape looks like when we do reopen? We are currently producing 800 meals a week for frontline NHS workers, hostels, schools and key workers through our local arm of Open Kitchens. We engage with our team on a weekly basis and make sure they are okay and ask if they need anything. I’ve also been making care packages for some people that are on their own in our community and doing food drops – this is bigger than all of us so it’s important that if you can do something, you do.