I’ve now been to The Botanist in Newcastle A LOT. From their first opening night in December, through their big swanky launch party in January and more recently, as a place that already feels at home on the Newcastle restaurant scene. I’ve taken some time and recovered from all the celebratory prosecco, the cocktail masterclasses, ale tasting lessons and one-too-many free bar hangovers and now, NOW, I’m going to fill you all in.
Y’see I wanted to wait until it had all calmed a little. Until the bustle around those little doors behind Jamie’s had quietened down somewhat and the hype surrounding Monument’s latest venue had cleared. I wanted a normal evening to taste everything sober and really get a feel for the staff and the space, and maybe get a few decent treehouse photos in daylight – in the calm after the initial storm. Except that… the calm hasn’t happened yet. The bar that is quickly becoming one of the jewels in Newcastle’s crown has yet to see a quiet night. It’s still as busy as it was the first month they opened and it’s almost just as hard to get a table. Congratulations little cocktail gardeners, you’re a hit.
I’ll let you in on a little secret; The Botanist is currently *my* favourite bar. It’s still all very clean and doesn’t feel like somewhere I’d want to get rowdy (see: Alvino’s) or somewhere to dance the night away (see also: MSA) but for civilised drinks with the boy or the girls it’s perfect.
The space is barely recognisable – the old Monument Mall interior has been completely ripped out and, as with all of the Living Ventures hideously expensive refurbs, no attention to detail has been spared. The ‘shabby chic’ decor isn’t exactly my cup of tea (think
hipster rustic chunky wooden tables, trendy jam jar lights, lots of shrubbery, dowdy pictures of flowers and plenty of English eccentricity) but there’s a cosy, intimate feel, a relaxed buzz and some of the city’s best views of Grey St. With the gentle sounds of a live guitar strumming along to a talented vocalist somewhere in the background of the deceptively large venue, The Botanist is a lovely place to spend a few hours.
In the next few months we’ll all be able to head outside as the roof terrace opens with another bar and a retractable roof to really make the most of that view and I haven’t even mentioned the enormous sycamore tree that dominates the area in the centre of, and above, the bar. Dripping in tea lights and looking like everyone’s dream childhood treehouse, the fake tree draws your eye up to the beautiful glass dome in the roof which now twinkles with a thousand tiny fairy lights. The Botanist’s bar is an excellent place to start your night because at the beginning of an evening you can appreciate all this effort and you actually want to TASTE your drink. And believe me, you’ll want to taste these beauties.
As for the food; it’s not bad. It’s not what they’re best at but it certainly tastes nice and ticks a lot of boxes. The menu is varied – perhaps too varied. There doesn’t seem to be much of a cohesive theme and you’ll find Thai curry alongside a beef and ale pie. But it’s worth noting that both dishes are pretty tasty and, though I must confess that nothing blew me away, it was certainly a cut above the glorified pub grub I’d feared.
They’re doing that naff hanging food on giant skewers thing that we’ve seen before and I don’t know why that offends me so much but it does. It just seems gimmicky but I’m still willing to let the quality of the food speak for itself and overlook the showy skewers. It’s also worth noting that on each occasion I’ve been the staff (particularly a girl who’s name I think was Daisy) couldn’t have been friendlier, more knowledgable or cheerful.
The real success is definitely the drinks menu though, which on the whole feels like it’s had a lot more thought put in to it. Service is generally a little slow but I’m happy to put that down to the fact that most of the clientele are ordering complicated botanical cocktails, which FYI start at around £7.
Between our drinks aficionados for the masterclass evening, Aaron and Warren, we learned plenty about the branding, the methodology, the spirits and the ales. Warren taught us a thing or two about the Botanist’s ale menu and took us through a tasting of each page. I knew very little about beers and lagers so this was all new to me and the learning was going quite well until we all realised we were far too pissed to take in any more information.
I’m no stranger to a cocktail though and, despite the fact that the free-pouring took some getting used to (I was thoroughly rubbish) I enjoyed my brief stint behind the bar. Thanks to Aaron for the chance to whip up an English Mojito of my own. Personally I thought mine was much better (and more gin heavy) than his but lucky for him I already have a day job. Apparently very few venues are actually allowed to free-pour their drinks and it certainly makes the occasion more theatrical.
Just another trick under The Botanist’s belt. Quality and a very strong brand identity are working well for the chain and I certainly hope the rumours of an Alchemist opening up in the city in the not too distant future prove true. Maybe then the two month waiting list will dwindle and I’ll actually be able to get a table for dinner one weekend.
Some of these visits were paid for and some were complimentary. The cocktail and ale master class were FOC as part of the launch extravaganza at the end of last year.
All shoddy photos are, as usual, taken by me. In my defence it was mostly very dark and I was mostly very squiffy. Thanks to Warren, Aaron and all of the staff at The Botanist for their everlasting hospitality.