The Botantist Birmingham

Since the creation of the New World Trading brand of restaurants (created by Living Venture, the brains behind other brands such as Blackhouse and Gusto) branches of The Botanist have been popping up at an exponential rate. So now it’s the West Midlands turn, what is it all about? Another chain gastro pub, or has The Botanist got something special to offer?

Atmosphere

We arrived at the restaurant a little before 9pm to a buzzing atmosphere. The entrance of The Botanist comprises of a porch area, semi open, encased by ornate iron work. With the shabby-chic leather sofas, and open air setting, I can imagine this area being very popular in the summer (and with smokers!). From the entrance porch, you ascend a short staircase into the restaurant. When the door was opened we were hit by a lovely warm glow, and buzzing sound of live music with a side of lively conversation. Like many bars and restaurants these days, the decor uses a lot of reclaimed wood, miss-matched chairs and found items. Yes, we know it’s not very original, but with the unified theme of botany, and the quality of the composition and decoration, it really does work here. The mixture of curiosities dotted around the place, makes it feel like something torn straight from Around the World in 80 Days. Or perhaps like a scene from Mad Max.

Upon arrival we were shown quickly to our table and introduced to our (very attentive) waitress. Our table was on the far side of the restaurant which allowed us to get a nice look at the kitchen as we were led through. The open kitchen spans the whole back wall of the place and looked reassuringly organised and well thought.

Drinks

Cocktails are the speciality of the Botanist. Their extensive menu comprises of an assortment of  longs and shorts, gins, martinis and of course, their infamous Watering Can Sharers. For those who do not like a cocktail, there is also a good selection of wines, craft beers and non-alcoholic drinks. Being suckers for a gimmick, we went straight for a Raspberry and Sage Watering Can. Our cocktail came quickly and was poured into mini metal buckets with a generous handful of fresh sage. I can imagine drinking out of a metal bucket might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved the idea. The Watering Can was a good size and allowed our party of 3 to each have 2 reasonable servings. While the raspberry flavour really came through, we decided as a table that the sage flavour was a little lost. Perhaps crushing the herb into the drink would have worked better?

Later in the meal we ordered more drinks with our dessert. Espresso Martinis were not on the menu, but the bartenders were happy to oblige and 2 drinks arrived that were competently mixed and went down a treat. I love an interesting cup of tea, and couldn’t resist ordering a pot of Smokey Russian Caravan when I saw it on the menu. The tea arrived and I was instantly hit by its beautiful smokey aroma. The blend of oolong, keeman and lapsang sauchong smelt and tasted just like the inside of an old fashioned gypsy caravan. Everyone was intrigued by it (even our waitress), and it was passed round and smelt with great fascination.

   watering-can-ps

Food

The Botanist menu has an extensive range or crowd pleasing favourites. Again, like the decor, it’s something we’ve all seen before, but with botany theme carried throughout and the flawless execution of the food, it really works. The menu begins with a selection of Starters and Nibbles. For mains you can choose to go for The Botanist Deli Board (picking 4 items from an generous selection), one of the Home Favourites selection, a Salad, or something off the Barbeque or Rotisserie.

We began with the Pork Crackling and Home Made Scotch Egg. The crackling arrived on a little wooden board, complete with a miniature wheelbarrow of apple sauce. Wow. This, for me, was the highlight of my visit. The crackling was flavoured beautifully, with a satisfying crunch and no unpleasant gristle. The other two in my party were more than satisfied with their eggs, which were also well presented on floral plates.

For mains I chose the Malaysian Vegetable Curry. This was again, served pleasingly on a piece of reclaimed wood, in an oriental style bowl. The flavours of turmeric and ginger were authentic, and the selection of vegetables used complementary to the spices. The other main courses on our table were the Chicken Hanging Kebab and Gammon Cutlet. The Kebab was definitely a ‘show stopper’, served on a suspended skewer. Our waitress offered to pour the glaze, and we watched as the mixture of sweet chilli, ginger and garlic butter spiralled down the kebab to the bed of chips below. The Gammon Cutlet was a simple and well executed classic- nothing special, but some classic dishes like this really shouldn’t be messed with.

Full from our mains, we shared a dessert between us- the Banana and Coconut Kebab. Like its meaty relative from our previous course, the kebab was served on a skewer, this time suspended above a bowl of ice cream. Toffee sauce replaced the glaze, and accompanied the other two flavours well.

scotch-egg-ps  malaysian-vegetable-curry-ps

pork-crackling-ps

Pricing

Raspberry and Sage Watering Can £24.95

Pork Crackling £3.50

x2 Home Made Scotch Egg £5.95

Gammon Cutlet £12.50

Chicken Hanging Kebab £10.50

Malaysian Vegetable Curry £9.95

Properly Seasoned Chips £2.95

White Cabbage Coleslaw £1.95

Banana and Coconut Kebab £4.95

x2 Espresso Martini £6.95

Pot of Smokey Russian Caravan Tea £3.50

Total (for 3 people):  £100.55

Overall

Overall I really enjoyed my experience at The Botanist. On the face of it, everything the Botanist serves up has been done before. A lot of the dishes can be found at most good gastro pubs, and the cocktails are no better than any of the other established cocktail bars Birmingham has to offer. However, the combination of crowd pleasing food and drink, a quaint theme and flawless execution, makes the Botanist a really likeable place to visit. I would more than recommend an evening here, and will certainly be going back for seconds.

This review can also be found at

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Rico Libré – Tapas in a Quirky Setting

Marketing itself as ‘very tasty food in a quirky setting’, Rico Libré is the latest boutique restaurant to hit the Digbeth food scene. Formerly a ‘greasy spoon’ known as the Barn Street Diner, Rico’s has transformed itself into an urban tapas experience. Having grown in popularity among the city’s ‘foodie’ types, I was keen to see that it was all about.

Atmosphere

I visited Rico’s on a Friday evening in January for after work food and drinks. Our party of six was booked for 6.30pm. Sitting on the border between Barn Street and Milk Street, its lime green frontage (on which is prides itself) is not hard to miss. The symmetrical round topped windows and foliage around the door give the pleasing feel of a small independent café in rural Spain. Upon entering the establishment, what we were greeted with was entirely unexpected. The restaurant is small, with around 40 covers in total. The main dining area backs onto a semi-open kitchen, and there is a small side room seating about 8 people. The low polystyrene tiled ceiling littered with posters gives the odd impression of a teenager’s bedroom in the 1990s. The rest of the décor comprises an eclectic collection of oddities.  A wonky Che Guevara canvas borders an old Beetles shot. A plastic sumo wrestler figure sits on the window sill next to us. I’m not going to lie I found it all a bit surreal. I did, however, love how the place felt like you were visiting your mad auntie’s house. I was half expecting someone to jump up and start playing the (probably out of tune) piano in the side room.

ceiling

 Food

Rico’s menu consist of a small selection of starters, 14 standard tapas dishes and some tapas specials.

To start we ordered Pan De Bara (bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar), Pan De Ajo (garlic flatbread) and the Brie and Grapes. To be honest, I found the starters a little disappointing. One of our party had visited Rico’s the week before and said our portion of Brie and grapes was a bit on the skimpy side. The bread provided looked like a supermarket baguette. The garlic bread was certainly nothing special.  I was starting to wonder why the place was so popular. Then the tapas arrived…

As a party of 6, we ordered all of the standard tapas dishes on the menu. We chose to order our food in 2 sittings. I honestly cannot fault a single dish. The calamari was well executed- not a rubber band in sight. The Pescado Blanco Frito (battered white fish) came with a beautiful light batter that melted in the mouth- it was not greasy at all. An all-round favourite of the table was the Chicken Livers with Chorizo and Red Wine. It was rich, flavoursome, indulgent.

white-bait       dishes

Drinks

One of the real plus points for the money conscious diner is that Rico’s is not licensed. They do not charge corkage either, but ask for a minimum spend of £14 per head on Fridays and Saturdays- very reasonable. A selection of soft drinks are available should you not wish to bring your own.

Prices

Starters: £2.50

Tapas: £4.50 per dish, or 3 dishes for £12

Specials: £5

Desserts: £3.50-£5

Overall

Overall, Rico Libré is well worth a visit.* Bear in mind, you’re not about to witness a polished performance. They’ll probably have to ‘break out the emergency chairs’ to get you all round the table, and they may forget to bring you knives, but stiff upper lip fine dining is not what this place is about. With the combination of homespun surroundings and friendly waiting staff, the place is warm and welcoming with added quirk around the edges. And most importantly, the food is probably the best and most authentic Tapas in the city. Buen provecho!

*My only negative point would be dining time. After only an hour and a half we were politely asked to vacate out table (despite wanting to order dessert) to make room for another booking. The website does state a strict ‘time slot’ for your meal, but in my opinion this does not fit with the lazy style of Spanish Tapas dining. Our party would have happily spent the evening leisurely grazing through their lovely menu, but instead had to continue elsewhere. Not ideal, even if we were given a discount for the inconvenience.

This review can also be found at

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