Just before Christmas, The Botanist opened on the top floor of the old Monument Mall in Newcastle city centre. Since then, the Toon has been shouting loud and proud about this trendy boutique bar, with a social media frenzy and Instagram photos galore of Newcastle’s finest supping exotic-looking cocktails. I headed down with a couple of the LNOF lot on a drizzly January lunchtime to see what all the fuss was about, and discovered Newcastle’s latest offering seriously lived up to its hype.
The 'conservatory' style dining room
As a born-and-bred Geordie, it’s fascinating to see the transformation of Newcastle over the years. When I was a young’un, the top floor of Monument Mall was filled with a sad selection of jacket potato cafés, old-fashioned fish and chip restaurants and an American pizza diner that served soggy slices of Margarita (though this one had immense street-cred for its 1950s red leather booths). It was the place for teenagers to kick about on a Saturday before spending your pocket money in HMV and Miss Selfridge.
Today it is a world away from cheap and cheerful eateries, with 2012 seeing Monument Mall undertake a £15m revamp. The ground floor is now filled with designer shops and The Botanist is set over the top two floors, with high ceilings that create a stunning vast bar space. As the name would suggest, stepping into The Botanist was like stepping into a tropical wilderness. The dining room had the customary hipster aesthetic of rustic wooden tables and painted pastel chairs that made you feel like you were dining in the garden of an old English eccentric. The adjoining ‘conservatory’ had heavy wooden picnic tables, a beautifully tiled floor and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooks Grey's Monument. This is a seriously stylish venue. However, the pièce de resistance was undoubtedly the bar, which sat in the centre like a grand garden pavilion underneath the colossal Monument Mall dome that was twinkling with thousands of fairy lights.
'The Botanist' cocktail with elderflower liqueur, mint and lime
The cocktail selection was predictably cool and quirky, with the menu promising ‘interesting combinations of fresh fruit, purées and fresh citrus juice that are hand-pressed to make the most of what mother nature has to offer’. The Watermelon Martini was a highlight (served, somehow, with a gravity-defying slice of watermelon on the side of the glass), as was the Chocolate and Amaranthe Crush, which tasted like Christmas in a glass, but the traditional English Mojito was my favourite – crisp, fresh cucumber flavours and just the right amount of lime. The non-alcoholic cocktails were equally inventive and delicious and were all (naturally) served in chunky jam jar-type glasses.
Delicious side dishes
The food was fairly traditional, but served in The Botanist’s trademark trendy-quirky fashion - the pan-fried garlic mushrooms with crusty bread and truffle butter came served on a handsome garden trowel and the lemon mayonnaise came in a tiny watering can. The Hanging Kebabs were The Botanist’s signature dish and I opted for the halloumi, which came with a little ramekin of melted sweet chilli, ginger and garlic butter that sat on the metal frame for you to pour through a hole in the top to drizzle impressively down the kebab. Becoming quite accustomed to the Hanging Kebab, I chose the sweet strawberry and toasted marshmallow version for dessert. It was accompanied with a gorgeous rich chocolate sauce and the novelty made me feel both rather sophisticated (if I do say so myself) and like a complete kid again.
Our view of Grey's Monument
Upstairs there was a magnificent outdoor terrace, which managed to look artfully beautiful after-dark with its fairy-lit trees, despite it being a freezing January evening. The staff were a super-friendly and chatty lot and all wore braces (of course they did) and told us about The Botanist’s plans to open a bar on the terrace in a few months - and with a spectacular view of the Monument and Grey Street, this will undoubtedly be the city beer garden to be spending your summer in. We’ll definitely be back again. To find out more about The Botanist, you can visit their website: www.thebotanist.uk.com.
What We Ate
Starters: Pan-fried garlic mushrooms with crusty bread and truffle butter / Calamari with lemon mayonnaise / Welsh rarebit fondue with celery, crusty bread and spring onions
Mains: Halloumi hanging kebab with sweet chilli, ginger and garlic butter with couscous / Fish and chips with mushy peas and tartare sauce / Flattened rump seasoned with garlic and chilli salt
Sides: French beans with sautéed onions / Mustard seed and red cabbage coleslaw / Salt and pepper chips / Corn on the cob
Desserts: Chocolate and praline mousse / Strawberry and marshmallow kebab with Sailor Jerry chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream
What We Drank
Alcoholic Cocktails: The Botanist / English Mojito / Blueberry and Passion Fruit Martini / Chocolate and Amaranthe Crush / Watermelon Martini
Non-Alcoholic Cocktails: Grape, Raspberry and Elderflower Cooler / Forest Fruit Fling / Watermelon Dew