Alex Bond

Alex Bond

Alex Bond

After working with the likes of Sat Bains and Richard Turner, Alex Bond is blazing his own trail at Alchemilla in Nottingham, where his innovative dishes have made him one of the most exciting chefs in the country.

‘I don’t know where the cooking thing started, to be honest with you,’ says Alex, as he muses over the beginning of his career. ‘I remember being in year nine at school and I had to go somewhere for work experience, so, I went to a restaurant. I knew I wanted to go to a restaurant but I don’t have a real reason why!’

Alex’s seemingly random decision led him into the kitchens of some fantastic chefs. After a fruitless year at college doing an advanced vocational certificate – ‘hated it, barely went,’ he chuckles – Alex wound up at Rish in York with Gavin Aitkenhead, who had been the head chef at the then two Michelin-starred Winteringham Fields in Lincolnshire. ‘I was the acting head chef when Gavin arrived,’ says Alex. ‘I had no idea what I was doing, I was just cooking classical dishes from books. Then Gavin came along and showed me how to bone out trotters, how to prep sweetbreads. If I wanted to try something, we’d get it in and he’d show me how to do it, it was amazing. He’s a great guy.

'He taught me to say ‘yes chef’,’ he laughs. ‘I used to call him dude before that.’

With a new appreciation for classical cookery, Alex moved to Pool Court in Leeds and worked under Jeff Baker – a less familiar name, but a fine chef who worked with Pierre Koffmann, Anton Mosimann and Nico Ladenis in London before moving back up north. The kitchen served a brasserie and a Michelin-starred restaurant simultaneously. ‘It was mad,’ Alex laughs. ‘The checks would line up, you’d be pushing to get all the food out for the brasserie and then you’d have to stop and be really delicate with a fine dining dish for the restaurant.’ A couple of years at Anthony’s, an excellent El Bulli-inspired restaurant in Leeds, followed, and by the age of twenty-four, Alex already had nearly a decade of experience in top restaurants under his belt.

His next move was a big one – arguably the biggest step in his career, to the restaurant that has had the most profound impact on his cooking. Alex went for dinner one evening at Restaurant Sat Bains and had a meal that ended up changing his life. ‘We ended up staying and having a drink with the guys in the kitchen,’ says Alex. ‘Sat used to live opposite the hotel where we were staying so he gave us a lift back. They used to do lunch back then too so we booked a table for lunch the next day, went back and ate everything on the menu. I just loved it, and I knew I wanted to work there.’

Alex wrote to Sat to ask for a job and got a trial shift, which he promptly passed. His time at Restaurant Sat Bains was the most formative of his career – he joined an all-star brigade that already included the likes of John Freeman, Paul Foster and Gareth Ward and he freely admits that it totally changed his approach to food. ‘The inquisitiveness is infectious,’ he explains. ‘It’s what drives that restaurant, and it stays with you after you leave. Sat teaches you to constantly ask how you can make something better – not just dishes but also yourself. It’s a big picture philosophy that keeps you grounded – it’s a hard thing to challenge your own ego but learning how to question yourself without berating yourself is important. It gives you perspective. Nobody else I ever worked for gave me that.’

Alex left after two-and-a-half years at Restaurant Sat Bains. He worked at Auberge du Lac, Wild Rabbit and with Richard Turner at Turner’s in the years after, but it was the lessons learned at Restaurant Sat Bains that really defined the next stage of his career.

At Alchemilla, tucked under the arches of an old brick coaching house in Nottingham, Alex conjures dishes that sit on the cutting edge of British food. He uses a wide range of techniques – from dry-ageing and curing to fermentation and pickling – to coax incredible flavours out of ingredients you think you know. Particularly vegetables, as it turns out; though he serves meat and fish at Alchemilla, Alex takes particular pleasure in pushing vegetables firmly into the spotlight on his menus.

‘I used to do a lot of marathon running,’ he explains. ‘I just used to eat loads of chicken breast, green vegetables, rice, because that’s what you eat. After about three years I had this moment of clarity – I realised that I would never serve something like that, so why was I eating it?’ Alex’s wife Anna is a horticulturist, so the pair started to investigate alternative sources of protein, and new ways of cooking these ingredients. ‘We just started cooking our own vegetables at home and it was born from that.’

Case in point is a wonderful dish of ceps, aged beef and Marmite. The combination of ingredients on its own sounds great, but Alex employs various tactics to elevate this into a superb restaurant dish. Three different varieties of mushroom are cooked three different ways – ceps are sautéed, field mushrooms are confited in beef fat and white mushrooms are sliced and served raw – and the kitchen makes its own Marmite in house using leftover sourdough. The dish contains beef, but only in the form of an emulsion that is made using leftover beef trim. ‘We age all our meat in-house,’ says Alex. ‘When you age meat, the outside of the beef dries and goes mouldy. You can’t eat that because it’s all dried out, but that’s where all that cheesy aged flavour is, so when we trim it all off we infuse it into an oil and use that to make an emulsion.’

Alex’s delicious food has rightfully earned him a number of accolades including a Michelin star in 2019, but perhaps more importantly, it makes him a lodestar for modern British cooking. His food is born from practicality and sustainability as much as the pursuit of flavour; nothing goes to waste at Alchemilla and Alex’s dishes all have a touch of alchemy about them, taking something that many would throw in the bin and turning it into gold. That Midas touch is just a part of what makes him one of the country’s most exciting chefs; if British food starts to follow the path that Alex is charting, we’ll all be better for it.