Alquima and hitting the big time.
Readers, I’ve hit the big time. On Thursday morning I received an email from a PR asking if I wanted to visit and review a new restaurant, Alquimia, opening in Putney. He could arrange a ‘press visit’. As a decidedly rookie blogger, I panicked. Should I say no? Would this compromise the validity of my blog ? What if I hate the restaurant? After much advice and lip chewing I decided to accept, on the basis that if I couldn’t write a mainly positive review I would let him know. I also decided that I will write a disclosure at the bottom of each place where I haven’t paid with my own dime. I invited S along (this one, now back on the booze) – ‘Free food on Wednesday?’ ‘HELL YES’.
Given that the restaurant is located in Putney Wharf I thought it might suffer from being overly corporate, but it was actually surprisingly welcoming inside – the red walls and pine furniture were homey and relaxed. We were greeted by Adolfo, one of the three men who opened the restaurant; the other two, Sergio and Jose, are chefs. The wine list is made up entirely of Spanish wines – when the wine from the country whose food you are cooking is as good as Spain’s, there’s really no need to go anywhere else. I chose a bottle of David Moreno Blanco – a fresh, well-balanced, slightly apple-y wine.
I asked Adolfo to suggest which dishes we ate, on the proviso that the oxtail did not feature (I’m sure it’s delicious, its just one of the two foods that I actively dislike. The other being parsnips). First to arrive was the red tuna tartar, beautifully presented on a clear glass dish with a smear (sorry, I hate that word too, it brings to mind cold metal forceps, but I couldn’t think of another one for it. Suggestions below please) of guacamole and a neat line of tomato salsa. The tuna was spiked with ginger, cardamon, soy and spring onions – not what I was expecting. While the heart of this restaurant is clearly Spanish, it seems the chefs aren’t afraid to experiment with ingredients from all over the world. I loved the tuna – the cool soft flesh was lifted by the warming spices, tart soy, and the creaminess of the avocado. It was very cleverly put together. Our second dish was a plate of Paletilla Iberica with a side of bread and tomato salsa. The shiny, almost deep purple, slices of salty ham were simply presented and simply delicious. The bread was delightfully chewy although the tomatoes didn’t quite pack the flavourful punch I was expecting. I think they were having a lackluster day.
Up next was possibly my favourite dish of the evening – Galicean octopus. The octopus had been boiled, plunged into cold water, and then quickly char-grilled before serving. This double cooking means that it was squidgy on the inside with a crisp, smokey coating. It was served with slices of potato and sprinkled liberally with paprika (another whammy of smokiness) and olive oil. Our final tapas was a mixture of ham and chicken croquettes. We especially loved the ham ones with their crunchy skins and melty-meaty insides.
Adolfo kindly offered to serve us two main dishes between us, split into separate portions. Up first was cod with squid ink rice. The cod flaked away beautifully, the blackened rice had a slight nutty bite to it and it was served with a smooth and lightly spiced Romesco sauce. Our second main was Iberican pork “pluma” with nectarine and pineapple sauce. Pluma is cut from the neck of the pig, and, if this dish was anything to go by, an incredibly tender piece of meat. It had been chargrilled and was served with small chunks of pineapple and thin slices of purple potatoes and figs (perhaps a fruit too many?). It was another unusual combination of flavours.
We had our arm twisted into dessert and opted for a vanilla sweet bread with banana ice cream to share. And a glass of Enrique Mendoza, a sweet Moscatel wine. It was clean, not cloy, with a good richness and dry finish. The pudding was a cinnamon and clove scented wedge of milk soaked brioche. We were just about to leave when the waiter came over and said they wanted to bring us some shots. S has never said no to a shot in his life. We were given two glasses of a pink aniseed and grape liquor which is called something that sounds like Pachanan. Unfortunately by this point my senses were slightly addled, and the notes I took are not to be trusted.
I left feeling ever so slightly guilty for not paying (I’m not sure if I will ever get used to that) but nevertheless very full and content. All the staff were lovely to us, and from the looks of it to all the paying customers as well, although our service was perhaps extra attentive (leading to a couple of slightly awkward moments when S had to pause in describing the particularly salacious details of his love life). Alquimia do typical Spanish tapas dishes very well indeed, but it was the dishes that were slightly more playful, with bolder choices of flavours that got me genuinely excited.
I was invited to try Alquimia by Captivate Hospitality. Many thanks to Alquimia for their generosity.