By Alice Scott

An Alchemilla Marathon

Alex Bond’s Alchemilla is a restaurant mid-boom. The story so far is one of an impregnable Chef Restauranteur who built a restaurant (somewhat literally) by hand, which he opened in Summer 2017. We meet him crowed with three AA-rosettes, a Michelin recommendation, a 53rd position at the National Restaurant Awards and as The Good Food Guide’s Chef to Watch for 2019. There are many more strings to Alchemilla’s bow, but as it plays us a merry tune, we chat to Alex about his uphill struggle to finesse his restaurant identity.

Alex Bond in the gardens of Alchemilla

photography Fjona Black

The building, a crypt-like, formerly abandoned Victorian Coach House, was a surprise in itself:

“If I’m honest, what I thought was that I’d take over a restaurant that had failed, or an empty space that we could put a restaurant in. I had no idea that this was going to happen. A friend came to me with a space that had been empty for over 100 years, so it was f**ked. I didn’t know in God’s green earth how I was going to be able to afford to do it up. I had no funding, no backing.”

He attained backing, but not enough of a budget to invest in a coherent brand model and seamless collateral. Instead, Alex spent the following 12 months donning many hats to get the place open. Architect, interior designer and web developer, you name it:

“There’s three of us really who sat down and designed the restaurant. We made a couple of bad choices when it came to materials, so we’ve had to start again with that. Then there’s things you don’t think of as a new restauranteur… like a cloakroom. We opened in August and it was hot. When it got to October somebody came in with a coat, and I remember the waitress who’d been given it turned and looked at me and was like ‘Chef’? Oh f**k, where do you put a cloakroom in an open plan restaurant?”

A live moss wall inside Alchemilla

photography Fjona Black

Then there’s the £700 website that Alex describes as “wobbly” and “baggy”.

“I had endless things like that. I had good joiners, and builders and the people doing the logo design were good, but it was juggling all those balls that led to mistakes.”

At the end of Alex’s first night, he’d been awake for 70 hours.

“Because the joiners hadn’t finished in the kitchen we couldn’t prep during the day. So my Sous and I went in 6am Sunday morning and went to bed at 4am on Wednesday morning. We worked with the builders during the day, and cooked all night for two days straight. I’ve run marathons before. You know that at the end of a marathon it’s done, and all that training and hard work is over. But opening a restaurant is like finishing one, and then having another 10 to go.”

Then, just seven months after opening, Alex came to a landmark moment. They were finally starting to breathe again when they came 53rd in the National Restaurant Awards, 2018. Alex knew that this achievement, alongside the glowing reviews they were receiving from national press, would bring in new customers, and that their first port of call would be his ‘wobbly’ website. Time to bring the brand together:

“We started with a website that was terrible. When you put it on your phone it wouldn’t fit on the screen. It was baggy! I had endless things like that; lists upon lists. And that £700 website did the job for a little bit, but the first thing people do when they read about us in the national press is go to our website, and if they’d have gone to the old website, they wouldn’t have come to the restaurant.”

Alex Bond's tattood arm leaning on concrete pillar

photography Fjona Black

Alex reinvested the money that he made in his first year back into the brand, making tweaks to the interiors including the kitchen floor and chefs table, updating the website and expanding the team:

“We’ve reinvented everything that we made to make it what it should be and correct the mistakes. I’m not an interior designer. The first year was about getting it right quickly.”

Today is about growing the brand from this place of strength. Alex has always been incentivised to reintroduce his customers to ingredients, especially vegetables, that they think they hate. With that in mind he's finishing off the roof terrace with its own seven meter greenhouse, living wall and seating. The restaurant’s roots are planted to brave the onslaught of attention that will continue to flood their way.

Wishing Alchemilla all the best as a finalist in the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards 2019.