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The Alchemist, Glasgow, restaurant review - style over substance at this new cocktail bar

Rosalind Erskine visits the latest edition to Glasgow’s bar scene.

Published: February 19, 2023

Glasgow’s cocktail scene is going from strength to strength, with two bars - The Absent Ear and Lunar - making the Top 50 in the UK list for 2023.

Then there’s El Santo’s newly opened hidden margarita bar, The Spiritualist and Crescent in the west end. You’ll also get a very nice range of drinks at the bar in Porter and Rye.

While it seems Glaswegians are well served, there’s apparently always room for something new, which is why The Alchemist opened its second site in Scotland, after launching in Edinburgh at the St James Quarter in 2021.

Located in a former office building on George Square, the reported £1.6m bar opened in December last year and offers an eye-watering number of cocktails along with food.

Unlike clever speakeasy, The Absent Ear, the Alchemist is easy to find thanks to its almost Harry Potter inspired logo and loud soundtrack. We popped by on a weekday in February to find it pretty busy.

We managed to get a table in what was classed as the ‘darker bar area’ though the layout seems a bit confused as it’s not very clear what’s the restaurant and the bar.

The friendly staff set to work explaining the extensive drinks menu, and told us to look out for cocktails with an eye emoji as these are the most Instagrammable as they come with dry ice or some other kind of theatre.

It’s not what I look for in my martini but I get it, people buy into an experience and from the lunar-themed decor to the loud but not overpowering music, it seems the Alchemist is geared up to provide.

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Though I’m not sure, on first impression, who’d choose to eat their dinner here, instead of just dropping by for some drinks. After taking our time over the menu, I chose a Mezcal meringue (£9.50) and my friend went for a smoky old fashioned (£9.50).

My drink was topped with huge meringue style foam, which made it difficult to drink but when I did make it to the bright yellow liquid, it was sweet and very much like a lemon meringue pie.

The smoky old fashioned came in a lab-style beaker into which smoke was funnelled by our waitress who welded what looked like a small blowtorch. It was then poured into a short glass with a large piece of round ice.

While it tasted pleasant, it wasn’t cold as you’d expect from a stirred down drink, and the addition of the smoke didn’t help matters.

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On to the food menu, which is a confused mix of Asian dishes, such as gyoza, bao buns and katsu curry, British pub grub, such as fish and chips and chicken in a basket, and American classics such as burgers and sandwiches.

For starters we went for salt and pepper squid (£7.75) and vegetable gyoza (£7). The four bright green gyoza were served with what looked like sweet chilli dip, which, on tasting, had a lot of lime added to it.

This unfortunately overpowered the subtle taste of the veggie dish. The fried squid was served in small chopped up chunks and it came with a gelatinous looking miso mayo.

While there was a kick from the pepper in the batter, this wasn’t the most memorable start to a meal and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was frozen squid.

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For mains, I plumped for the remix rice bowl (£11.50), which was under the lighter bites and my friend chose the French dip sandwich (£14.75).

The sandwich (which was presented with spears of rosemary through the bread, which were then set alight with the same small blowtorch used for the drinks) was underwhelming, served on cold bread with the accompanying sauce like thick gravy rather than jus. Inside there was wilted rocket and American cheese.

Again, another confused mix of flavours and not what’s expected of this classic sandwich. The rice bowl consisted of Jasmine rice, crispy glazed tofu, kimchi slaw, pickled watermelon, edamame, nori crisps all topped with a crispy fried egg.

The individual parts were nice, with the nori crisps a highlight, but I expected a wider range of flavours given what was there. It felt like a slightly underwhelming homage to bibimbap.

Finally dessert, which we kept light and shared the yakitori caramelised pineapple (£8).

This was another one for Instagram as it was served on a smoking stand, on a grill with a side of rum syrup, pina colada foam and a pumpkin seed snap.

The pineapple was nice and fresh, and went well with the syrup and foam, which was essentially whipped cream with lime zest. Some coconut would have created more of a pina colada taste.

The Alchemist is clearly catering to an audience who want to be wowed and have an experience to capture, and the interior and sheer number of cocktails are eye-catching. But sadly it appears to be more style than substance.

The Alchemist

Unit 2, George House, George Square, Glasgow G2 1EH

0141 674 2394

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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