“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Newcastle’s brand new bar and kitchen The Botanist is a topsy turvy place. The dimly-lit lobby you enter gives little away as you’re ushered into a large lift and whisked up to the first floor…
Imagination is indeed the only weapon in the war against reality and that is exactly where The Botanist’s charm lies. Like some magical wonderland, The Botanist is what we’ve all been waiting for – pure escapism from daily life as science and creativity combine to create an adults-only playground of decadence and alchemy.
The fact that our Botanist for the evening looked like Mr Selfridge did nothing to dispel the childlike excitement that stirred in my stomach. There was something about his uniform with its crisp white shirt and smart waistcoat that was almost Edwardian and confirmed that we were indeed in some kind of time warp wonderland or secret bootleggers bar. (I swear I hadn’t even touched a drop of alcohol at this point). You can’t fail to notice the fake Sycamore tree towering high above you in the middle of the room, while strings of fisherman lamps gently light the bar. Tiny candles hang from the branches of the enormous tree and from a distance, look like stars glinting in the sky light above.
Aaron/Mr Selfridge gathered us around a quiet corner of the bar ready for our cocktail making masterclass. We quickly learnt the art of making an English mojito, an apricot and mint daiquiri, a rose mai tai and their signature cocktail The Botanist. Generously stuffed, mixed and muddled with an assortment of herbs and plant-like ingredients you feel were plucked straight from the garden, we were entranced. Suddenly, a simple whisky and coke or glass of wine wasn’t enough. Why drink something so simple when you can have something as magical as a basil and plum caipirinha? It was also pretty cool to hear the story behind The Botanist’s free pour policy and see first hand the quality you get for your money (cocktails start from around £6.95).
We all got to have a go at making our own drink, in between sampling each other’s (and most of the menu….)
After thoroughly enjoying ourselves both propping up the bar and behind it, it was time to retreat into the private dining room to meet Warren, a charming and exceptionally knowledgeable ale expert who had his hands full with 10 cocktail-loving ladies.
It took me a little while to put my finger on what I loved about the place so much, and suddenly it dawned on me. It’s the little touches that tie everything together – the incredible interior, the breathtaking view that jumps out on you as you walk from the bar to the seating area, the panoramic roof terrace and the beautifully illustrated almanac of beers laid out for us.
Sharing platters of freshly baked breads, cheese, meat and olives were passed around as we sipped our beers tentatively at first, before boldly declaring ourselves experts. As the night wore on The Botanist’s hospitality and charm never wavered, not even when we climbed up the spiral staircase to the roof terrace only to be blown back down by the wind and cold. (I’m told a retractable roof and bar will be installed come summer, making it a perfect al fresco dining and drinking area).
The Botanist is officially open to the public from tomorrow (15th December) and I couldn’t be happier. Having lived and worked in Newcastle for my entire life, it’s a joy for me to be excited and intrigued by what’s on my own doorstep. I had high expectations before I even set foot in the door, being fresh blood right in the city centre, The Botanist certainly has big boots to fill, especially with Jamies Italian, Hugo Boss and prestige jewellers ROX as its neighbours and it 100% does.
Welcome to Newcastle, I have a feeling you’ll be very popular The Botanist.