By: Brooke Chenoweth
16 Arbuthnot Road, Central
Alchemy, a French Creations venue, is a hidden treasure on Arbuthnot Road, and it offers a dining experience quite unlike any other in the city.
The restaurant is divided into two separate venues. Alchemy Lounge upstairs is a lovely, classy space that was incredibly inviting on the cold and rainy night of our visit. We started with some divine signature cocktails: Buddha’s Tears is like Thailand in a glass, with vanilla vodka, coconut milk, kaffir lime, and a hint of chilli – a killer combination! The Mascarade, with Chivas 12, strawberry and mint, was consumed equally quickly.
While the menu in the lounge was tempting – a nice selection of casual, French tapas-style bites – we were very excited to try the restaurant, Alchemy In the Dark, a unique concept for Hong Kong. After our cocktails, we were briefed about what we could expect downstairs. The 850-square-foot space seats only 25 diners, who eat in the pitch dark, guided by visually impaired wait staff. After leaving our valuables (including phones) in a locker at the door, we were met by our excellent guide Michael, and lead to our table.
The lounge and bar area are beautifully decorated and the space is like a 19th-century alchemist’s study – understated and elegant. Downstairs, just as much thought has been given to the design but obviously in a less visual, more tactile way. The solid wooden tables have rounded corners, and the bench seats are plush velvet, which is comforting as well as being practical.
Created by chef Pascal Breant, the menu at Alchemy changes each week, but you don’t actually order from the menu; each dish is a surprise. You need to let the kitchen know in advance whether you have any allergies or dietary requirements, but otherwise you don’t have any say in what you eat – something I found quite liberating.
I won’t spoil it for future diners with details of what we ate, as the surprise element and the complete faith you have to put in the restaurant is all part of the experience. But I will say this: each course features small portions of different tastes and textures, and is designed to keep you guessing for the whole meal, relying on smell, taste and touch – we ate with our hands for the most part – to identify each tasty morsel. There were definitely a couple of things on my plate that I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to eat, and again it was refreshing to be forced out of my comfort zone. The wines that were served with each course were also very good and complemented the dishes perfectly.
When we arrived we were the only diners downstairs so the restaurant was not only dark but also extremely quiet. As parents of two small children, we usually eat dinner in a mess of noise and chaos, so we found the silence one of the most enjoyable aspects of the experience. As other guests arrived it was great to hear their responses to the food and the dark, and it managed to be both intimate and communal.
After dinner we returned upstairs to the light, feeling like we’d had a great meal and a bit of a rest! We were debriefed and given a rundown of what we had eaten, and there were a few surprises. What was also pleasing to see was that the food was as beautifully presented as it would’ve been had we been able to see it.
Without the distraction of phones and the usual hustle and bustle of a restaurant, we were focused on the food and each other in a way that we often forget to be, and it made for such a contrast from the usual Hong Kong dining experience. Sensational.
Must-try dish: It’s a secret!