Situated next door to the shocking pink newsagent slap bang in the middle of Trafalgar Street, independent food outlet Alchemy Fine Foods opened in October last year. The store is one of the most recent additions to the various independent shops in the North Laine, with owners Lawrence and Roger having reasoned that the area was lacking in local, fresh fine food stores when they moved to Brighton a little over two years ago. As a result, they decided to open one of their own, striving – wherever possible – to sell food that is natural, local and different from produce that might be found elsewhere. Upon stepping into the shop, I am greeted by the owners and their staff member Maria, along with a large counter of intriguing cheeses – ones that are hard to come by in other food retailers in central Brighton. Roger explains to me that at any one time 60-70% of their cheeses are from local dairy farms – Scrumpy Sussex, Seven Sisters, chilli marble, pecorino with walnut and smoked sheep’s cheese to name just a few of the incredible cheeses they have to offer at Alchemy. Local jams, chocolates, cereals, charcuterie, smoked fish and many other miscellaneous items also fill the shop. “Alchemy is the process of taking small individual constituent parts and making something greater with it,” Roger tells me when he explains how they were coming up with the name for the shop. It also explains what the shop accomplishes, whether it’s for a hearty meal, dinner parties or even a light lunch.
The food is not just fresh and local, but also predominantly preservative and additive free. When I speak to Roger, I ask him what he deems to be good food. He says it’s “good quality produce, where the ingredients are quality”. In other words, food that is not just natural but food which can be traced back to its source. It appears that the shop does exactly that, as the staff are on hand to tell their customers exactly where the produce comes from. For example, the majority of their charcuterie meat hails from Beal’s Farm in North Chailey, the pork coming from Mangalitza pigs.
A refreshing alternative to regular supermarkets, Alchemy also sells a fascinating range of goods, things I’ve not seen anywhere else. I was particularly impressed with a beer and horseradish sauce, so unique, and intriguing, as well as wasabi mayonnaise, avocado oil, chilli peanut butter and even caviar. The artisanal chocolate also comes in such a novel range of flavours like coffee and cardamom, and black pepper and ginger, as well as a classic mint flavour.
Alchemy does not just have a wonderful selection of produce on sale, but everything that is sourced outside of Sussex appears to be from its traditional place of origin. They have paprika from Spain, olive oils from Italy, Parma ham from the Italian city itself and pâté from France. Truffle products are also popular here, with truffle oil, salt, sauce and so on. Not dissimilar from the cheeses, I am told that customers come specifically for specialist items like the truffle range and a local Sussex farm’s own fig jam.
Not surprising, then, that the store’s stock is inspired by Roger and Lawrence’s distinctive eye for exquisite products as well as what their customers want, whenever those requests marry up with their own aims and values. On multiple occasions customers have come in searching for items, and following request, Lawrence and Roger have aimed to get such items at Alchemy. There’s even a range of South African products – Lawrence’s home country – like Biltong and buttermilk rusks.
The prices are surprisingly reasonable for an independent food store, and when I ask Roger if they have any plans to branch out, to Lewes or other parts of Sussex, he jokingly tells me they would “love to branch out and take over the world”. However he continues, in doing so, they would themselves become a chain, which would take away Alchemy’s core ethos.
With its kind, welcoming staff, and unique selection of local produce, the addition of Alchemy to the North Laine brings something individual to the table (quite literally). Whether customers are on the hunt for a quick snack or for something a bit more adventurous to spice up dinner, I can attest that a visit to Alchemy will leave them tremendously satisfied.
29 Trafalgar St, Brighton, BN1 4ED
Words by: Becky Waldron