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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Botanist Comes to Deansgate, Manchester: Mini Wheelbarrow-Sized Handbags at the Ready

So, first things first: does Manchester city centre really need another Living Ventures venue? Whilst I have a lot of time for a number of Living Ventures restaurants, a quick look at the online menu for the new Botanist on Deansgate ahead of the launch do last week left me thinking that maybe we didn't, particularly as the food menu here is very similar to that of the nearby Oasthouse just down the road at Spinningfields. In the former Label premises at what people of my age might class as the "wrong end" of Deansgate, the decor at the new Botanist is, by all accounts, the same as others in the Botanist stable (I hadn't been to one before but know a few people who are regulars at the one in Alderley Edge). So really, what's the point?

Well, two things. Firstly, perhaps being at the "wrong end" of Deansgate, in an area packed with uninspiring chains and bars beloved of hen dos and stag parties, is a pretty clever decision - true, some of it might be based on nostalgia (the restaurant is located on the site of Living Ventures boss Tim Bacon's first Manchester bar, JW Johnson’s, back in the 90s), but there is simply nowhere else in this part of town that I, a lady of increasingly advanced years, can imagine going. There is live music every night, usually piano- or guitar- based, and featuring songs of an appropriate mood and vintage for someone who likes to pretend that time has frozen somewhere around 1997 - a definite bonus in my opinion.

Secondly, there is the cocktail menu. In recent years I have become heartily sick of the cocktail and increasingly choosy about both where I drink them and which ones I am prepared to drink - too many are sweet, sickly, over-priced concoctions that just don't interest me at all. The cocktail menu at the Botanist is quite simply the best I have seen for years - at first, it looked off-puttingly lengthy, but on closer examination I found I was pretty keen to try almost all of them (and, to be fair, I did have a noble attempt at this). My favourite so far is the Apple and Rosemary Sling, recommended by our knowledgeable waitress as a good palate cleanser for a girl too full for pudding - and the combination of rosemary, Olmeca Blanco tequila, Hayman’s Sloe Gin, apple juice, sugar syrup and lime juice was indeed perfect: long, refreshing, not remotely sweet and with the taste of decent tequila coming through very strongly. Second place went to the Peach and Basil Margarita with its fresh basil, peach purée, Olmeca Blanco tequila, lime juice and apricot liqueur, but I enjoyed everything I tried - I can't pretend that at typical city centre cocktail prices of £6.95 - £7.95 a go I could afford to drink many on a night out, but I would go back just for these alone (and have already been inspired to raid my herb garden to knock up my own Botanist-style drinks at home). And yes, you will notice a markable decrease in the quality of the cocktail photography - in itself I reckon this is a glowing testimony to the generosity of spirit content.

Food-wise, the place is more than decent. I'm not sure I would go here just to eat, but would definitely end up being tempted if I was in for drinks. The food is beautifully presented - my starter of Chicken liver and rum pâté with plum and apple chutney (£5.95) arrived with the pâté in a little plant pot with ginger crumb "soil" on the top and the chutney in the world's cutest mini wheelbarrow. It's easy to knock this kind of styling as a little contrived but I rather like the commitment to the theme shown here - and whilst the pâté could have done with a little more oomph flavourwise, I thought this was a great dish for the price. For main, I had half a chicken, fresh from the rotisserie, served in a crate with BBQ sauce and "properly seasoned" chips; the chicken was lovely (I want to use the words succulent, tender and moist but can't quite bring myself to use such a combination) and the extra sides I greedily chose (deep-fried onion "petals" and mustard seed and red cabbage coleslaw) were both excellent. Again, a good value dish at £9.95 - my only complaint being that the chips were a little salty even for me. I still ate them all though, and that is of course the only reason I drank so many cocktails afterwards.

- The Botanist Manchester is at 78 Deansgate, Manchester M3 2FW. I was invited to the press lunch and was not asked to pay for my food or drink, and have yet to dine there at a peak time - but service was excellent and I would be happy to pay the prices on the menu on another occasion.

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