Dinner & Gin Tasting Masterclass At The Botanist, West Bridgford
The Man Bird and I found ourselves back in West Bridgford recently as guests of the team at The Botanist, for one of their Gin Tasting master classes, followed by the opportunity to sample some dishes from their food menu.
We parked at the Bridgford road car park adjacent to the public library. There are plenty of spaces there and it’s really convenient for the selection of bars and restaurants in the area.
As soon as you walk into The Botanist you are transported to a wonderland-esque atmosphere; quirky and welcoming all at once. Never has a hashtag been more appropriate - #itstartedwithaseed is The Botanists signature tag, and you can almost imagine that the interior started this way too. A plethora of garlands (both flora and fauna varieties) sway from the ceiling beams, and ephemera from a by-gone agricultural age adorn the walls alongside other antiquities.
Eccentricity is more than embraced at The Botanist, it’s positively encouraged; and it’s this openness that unleashes the creative juices of its mixologists behind the bar, and the Chefs in the kitchens. Coming from a long line of eccentrics myself, I felt right at home as I perched on one of the stools at the bar sipping at my “The Botanist” signature cocktail. This drink is served in a very atmospheric laboratory flacon-inspired glass – all that was missing was the vapour streaming from the top!
The drinks menu is perhaps the prettiest one I’ve ever seen, and has an impressive choice of libations to keep even the most ardent party person IN mischief all night! Alex was strutting his stuff behind the bar and I watched, mesmerised. Later in the evening I got the chance to experience the magic behind the bar for myself – but more on that in due course.
Holly, assistant General Manager at The Botanist, rounded us all up and escorted us through to the back room where the Gin master class and food tasting was being hosted. As we followed her through the venue I saw the wackiest chandelier comprised of pots, jewellery, and knick-knacks; yet its randomness lent it a quirky beauty that you couldn’t help marvel at. The back room is very reminiscent of an old barn with its triangular roof, skylights, and exposed brick walls. I loved the “up-ended glass trough” lights; their modernity didn’t jar with the rest of the decor, surprisingly.
Several wooden benches and seats were laid out with glasses, a bottle of tonic, cutlery, and a range of drinks’ garnishes. We guests settled ourselves down and the lovely Eilish began to take us on a taste bud tour of an assortment of Gins. Apparently, the first recorded Gin recipe dates from the 16th century; who knew?! So with a brief overview of Gins and the distilling process, it was time to cut to the chase and try the first one, and it was the iconic Tanqueray Gin.
There was much oohing and aahing around the room as we all sipped at this; each Gin was sipped neat first, then tonic added to it, to see how this changed the flavour of it in the mouth.
Another little nugget of information that Eilish told us was that when ice is added to neat Gin, it attracts all the botanicals’ oils to it so that you get very little flavour in the mouth. Note to self – don’t add ice if I’m drinking the Gin neat! The next 2 Gins to try were Langley’s and Thomas Dakin small batch Gin; Thomas’ daughter was the first female distiller!
One of the kitchen team came in bearing platters of nibbles from the menu for us all to have as Eilish kept us regaled with “Gin”teresting facts and stories. I for one was glad to see some food arrive; it had been a while since I had last eaten and the Gins were beginning to tell on my empty stomach!. Charred Edamame Beans with Chilli, Garlic, and Sesame oil tasted gorgeous (and they’re healthy too), and His Nibs was an instant fan of the Salt and Pepper Onion Petals.
Along the table, the lovely Cherish and Greg (from Popsy clothing in Tamworth) were tucking into the delicious smoked Paprika- and Garlic-marinated Nocellara Olives. We were all happy with the food so far, and looked forward to sampling the main courses later in the evening.
Next up was Gin Mare, which was quite unusual in taste; very herbaceous with the extra dimension of Olives. Our penultimate Gin to sample was another commonly known name; Hendrick’s, and this Gin was named after the family’s rose gardener no less.
Our final Gin to try was one from Brockmans, and this one was one to be sipped neat. What a little beauty it was too, you got a fab hit of Blueberries and Blackberries from it (both used in the distilling of it) and I got a hint of Cherries on my palate too. As you can imagine, there was a good amount of humour in the air at this point in proceedings; but to be fair, there had been a good rapport between the various guests anyhow, and Eilish really pulled out all the stops bless her.
The master classes cost from £25 per person and last around 90 minutes. There are 3 different ones to choose from: Gin, Ale, or Cocktail, so there’s something to suit everyone. As with all this type of experience, it’s a case of the more the merrier (in more than one sense!). The Botanist recommends a minimum of 6 participants for these master classes, with around 12 being the optimum number for maximum fun.
So with the drinking part of the evening neatly wrapped up, it was time to turn our attention to the food part; Mikey is The Botanist’s restaurant manager, so he (and Holly) took over from Eilish. To begin with, I had the Tempura-fried Cauliflower, Tenderstem Broccoli, and Kale Manchurian with Sweet and Sour Sesame dipping sauce; The Man Bird opted for the Cumberland Scotch Egg with homemade Piccalilli. The next table along had brought their handsome Jack Russell terrier with them, and when the Scotch Egg came out, His Nibs suddenly acquired a new bestie!
The Botanist is a dog friendly venue; furry friends are more than welcome in the bar area (they even have treats for our canine chums!), and you may have them with you if you hire out the private function area where our Gin master class was hosted.
My Tempura veggies were totally delish; crunchy, super-fresh vegetables coated in a gossamer-fine batter and fried to crisp, non-greasy perfection. The dipping sauce was nicely piquant and complimented the delicate Tempura veg fantastically well. His Nibs was more than chuffed with his meaty Scotch Egg, it had a thick layer of Cumberland sausage meat surrounding a beautifully rich yolked egg. The combination of this and the tangy Piccalilli was just brilliant, and got the meal off to a great start.
There is an extensive range of main course choices on offer at The Botanist in West Bridgford, including Deli boards, activated Charcoal Flatbreads, Salads, Paella, Seabass, Curry, Pies, and Burgers – not to mention side dishes! The Man Bird decided to try one of the Hanging Kebabs, the Lamb Kofta version which is served with Harissa Jam and properly seasoned chips (which we swapped for the Salt and Pepper chips). I just fancied the 10oz Garlic and Rosemary Rump Steak, served with a salad of Sun-dried Tomato, fresh Rocket, Balsamic glaze, and Grana Padano cheese shavings.
My Rump steak was cooked exactly as I’d ordered and had been sliced to maximise the visual impact as it came to the table. The meat was juicy and full of flavour with just a gentle hint of the Garlic and Rosemary on the tongue. All the salad components were bursting with taste; sweet, salty, and sour – all of these were discernible to my palate, and they made a perfect partner to the meat.
I had also ordered a side of the Buttermilk Coleslaw, intrigued to see what it was. Instead of the thicker consistency of Mayonnaise, the coleslaw is bound with the equally creamy tasting Buttermilk but there is less of the tongue-coating that you get with Mayonnaise. You don’t lose any of the usual coleslaw taste, but it seems to be lighter in the mouth as you chew it, if that makes sense?
As you know, we love a bit of table theatrics, and when you order a Hanging Kebab at The Botanist you get to experience a bit of it. The Harissa Jam is warmed to melt it and the server carefully poured it over the hanging meat so that it dribbled down slowly over each piece. This not only looks good, but you get the smell of it too which increases your anticipation of your impending meal.
The Lamb Kofta was nicely spiced, but not ridiculously so that the flavour of the Lamb was drowned out; and the meat was moist in the mouth. There was also plenty of it on the hanging skewer. Salt and Pepper chips provided a great heat in the mouth, and were lovely and crispy. Some of the chips had got the Harissa Jam on them, which soaked in to them; these ones were soggier, but the combination of flavours was amazing!
Mikey came round to check how we were getting on, and I took the opportunity to ask if I could go and make a cocktail called “Velvet Green”. Now I have alluded to the fact that The Botanist is an off-beat venue in its approach to food and drink, and when I tell you what’s in this cocktail you’ll come round to my way of thinking. It fell to the handsome Alex to take me under his wing and show me the ropes, and he did top-notch job of explaining everything to me. Tanqueray Gin is shaken with green Apple liqueur, Kiwi juice, Lemon juice, cloudy Apple juice, and egg white (which niftily come ready separated in a container. Genius idea.).
I unleashed my inner Tom/Tina Cruise and shook the cocktail shaker vigorously – as well as shaking what my mamma gave me – much to the amusement of a couple of gents sat at the bar! Fortunately, I didn’t do the whole “fling the spirit bottles in the air” routine; can you imagine the chaos I’d cause doing that?! Once I’d finished adding my touch to the cocktail I handed the shaker back to expert Alex, for him to do the next bit.
This concoction is strained into a Martini glass, and then Chlorophyll (not Chloroform, that’s an entirely different beast!) is added carefully by pipette and sinks to the bottom, giving a wondrous multi layered drinky-poo. Chlorophyll is the green stuff that plants produce when they convert the sun’s rays into energy for their cells; so really when you think about it, you’re drinking a health drink, and given Gin’s history as a health tonic you get a double whammy. Win-Win.
Having made the Velvet Green I now had to carefully take it all the way back to the back room without spilling it! I had a sneaky slurp to empty the glass slightly and made my way back to His Nibs. When I sat down, it was time to decide what was for pud; The Man Bird had the baked Chocolate chip cookie dough with Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Toffee sauce, and I liked the sound of the melted Garlic Cheese pot with Charcoal croutes and Braeburn Apple.
The Boy Wonders’ pud was blooming big, and could easily feed two as a sharing dessert if you weren’t sure that you could manage a dessert each and didn’t fancy the chocolate fondue (although who wouldn’t like that too?!). Given the warmth of the cookie dough, the scoop of Salted Caramel ice cream had begun to melt, and this seemed to intensify its flavour. Lashings of rich Toffee sauce had been swirled over the top of the cookie dough and ice cream, adding to the luxury of this already indulgent pud.
My dessert was presented really nicely on a wooden board; the melted garlic cheese was housed in a little black iron pot, with the Apple and charcoal croutes arranged alongside it. A sharp knife for paring the Apple was also on the board, and I began to cut the fruit into segments ready to dip into the gooey cheese. I am a big fan of garlic, but by golly this is a pungent little number! Let’s just say that the entire Cullen vampire clan (Twilight films) could be stopped in their tracks by it!
That being said, it was totally moreish and not at all harsh in the mouth. I enjoyed the texture from the crunchy Braeburn apple, and also its sweet note which tempered the garlic nicely. The charcoal croutes didn’t have a strong flavour of their own, but the visual effect they had with their ashen colour was something a little different.
As is our usual custom, we had a couple of black coffees to end the evening. All too soon we had to say farewell to Holly, Mikey, Alex, Eilish and the rest of the team at The Botanist, West Bridgford; and we really didn’t want to go home, we could’ve stayed there all night. This venue also has live music every night, of all styles and sounds, making it a great place to come whatever your reason for doing so; the music, the food, the drinks. In fact, it’s such a sociable place you’ll be drawn to it like moths to a flame! Hot Wings flying high at The Botanist.