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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Breakfast at Spinningfields: Steak and Cocktails at The Alchemist, Manchester

I've never really understood people who don't eat breakfast. For me, it is simply one of the highlights of the day, and often the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning - after a tiresome ten hours or so of not eating ANYTHING, I literally cannot wait to break my fast and begin a new day of gastronomic pleasure.

Thus I was most interested to be invited to try the breakfast menu at The Alchemist; I didn't even know they did breakfast at The Alchemist, better known for its cocktail menu than its sausages, but they do - every day at the one on New York Street and at weekends in Spinningfields. Now, I'm not a massive fan of the Spinningfields outpost - it's an odd-shaped space and gets far too full for my liking, but I'd only ever been in the evening before and found yesterday morning that I much prefer it as a daytime venue. All those windows mean the place feels far more light and open than it does at night, and although still very busy, the atmosphere was one of relaxed bustle rather than deafening hubbub - and yes, I'm fully aware I sound about ninety years old when I say all of this.

Anyway, on to the food. If there's one nation that properly embraces the concept of breakfast it's the Americans, and the influence of our hungry friends across the pond is clearly apparent in the Alchemist menu. In other words, you couldn't eat it every day without quickly becoming the size of a house, but once you've been allowed steak for breakfast your sad little slice of Marmite toast will evermore appear wildly unsatisfactory in comparison.

You see my steak here - a 5oz sirloin cooked pink and served with two fried eggs and some hopelessly cute mini hash browns. This was a very generous piece of meat, and was well-flavoured, tender and beautifully cooked, with just a little of the tasty fat left along the side. The eggs were just as I like them, with crispy frilly edges but soft, runny yolks, and an obliging waiter let me pour tomato sauce over the whole lot without once intimating that this might be a little uncouth.

My dining companions were just as impressed with their own choices: respectively, The American (Belgian waffle with two eggs, bacon and sausage, plus hot maple syrup and butter), Eggs Florentine (two poached eggs, spinach, English muffin and hollandaise sauce) and Eggs Royale (as the Florentine but with salmon rather than spinach). No-one could find any fault with anything - the waffles were particularly commended for their fluffy-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside armadillo qualities, and the hollandaise was thought to be be superlatively thick and glossy, In fact, our only criticism of the whole menu was the relative lack of vegetarian options - our charming waitress explained that dishes could be adapted, but we still felt a veggie sausage or two would add more choice to the menu in this regard.

The menu is also to be applauded for its encouragement of a fortifying early morning drink in the form of a breakfast cocktail. All four of us loved the Breakfast at Tiffany's - a heady combination of gin, Cointreau, lemon juice and sugar, made into an entirely acceptable brunch item by the addition of marmalade. We also enjoyed the non-alcoholic passion fruit and pineapple smoothie, seen here with some pink grapefruit juice and a cup of coffee that was declared excellent (and which did arrive full - you see it here after it had been tested and declared excellent).

So, great food and drink, cheerful and helpful service and a convivial atmosphere. The only drawback I can see here is cost - we dined as guests of the restaurant, but it would be very easy to get carried away and run up a large-ish bill, as although the food is pretty reasonable (my whopping steak was £9.95), all those drinks would start to add up. Still, as an occasional treat it would be lovely; indeed, we are already planning a return visit. Just remember not to drink too many cocktails and then pop round the corner to LK Bennett, or it turns into a VERY expensive breakfast indeed...

- The Alchemist Spinningfields is at 3 Hardman Street, Manchester M3 3HF, tel: 0161 817 2950. Breakfast is served between 10am and 1pm on Saturdays and Sundays, when the sun is surely over the yard arm somewhere.

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