Upon first noticing that Ha Ha Bar and Grill on Bristol's Berkeley Square had been boarded up, I must admit that I was a little disappointed. I had been a regular visitor and enjoyed many a meal or post-work beverage at this venue and subsequently, I was rather keen to find out how this space would be repackaged. So, via the venue's Twitter promotion, I proceeded to sign myself, (plus a couple of eager accomplices), up for the launch of Mitchell and Butler's; 'The Botanist', the new occupiers of this site…
Date and Time: Thursday 7th April 201, 18:00
Name of Establishment: The Botanist*
Location: 20a Berkeley Square, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Introduction of a new venue to Bristol's Bar/Restaurant scene
My first impression of The Botanist was certainly a positive one. After collecting flutes of pink prosecco from the main dining room, (a light and airy though unmistakably grand space), our party of three made a beeline for the aptly-named, 'Potting Shed'. This area was quite different from the rest of the venue and particularly appealed due to the cosy and relaxed ambiance created by plush carpet, comfortable seating and colour-changing lighting. I noticed that here, garden-themed, wood-effect wall art had been generously hung which reflected the botanist theme. It felt quite separate from the buzz of other areas - rather like a potting shed would be, which I thought was a nice touch. However, I was told that this corner would normally function as an area for dining which made me wonder how the mood would be altered once tables were added to an already cramped space. That aside, I liked that you could see the bar from this angle and with that, the enthusiastic attitude of the staff.
Despite the number of people that they had to attend to, the staff ensured that our glasses were never left empty. As well as this, each top-up was issued with a smile and any questions we asked were answered in a friendly and informative manner. As we were attentively fuelled with drinks all evening, we were able to sample a range of tipples and thus, I can report that The Botanist serves a variety of good-quality wines and spirits. Martin Miller's gin* muddled with freshly-squeezed lemon juice and lightly carbonated sugar water was a crisp and refreshing combination and the complimentary mojitos and caprihinas hinted at a promising cocktail menu. The favourite in our circle however, was the Italian Perla Rosa prosecco which had a deliciously delicate sparkle. I anticipated that this would be a little expensive to order on a regular night out due to The Botanist's Clifton pricing but the website states that each Thursday, prosecco will be priced at £15 a bottle which is pretty reasonable in my opinion! A couple of real ales (Doom Bar and Bath Gem) are also served, along with bottled cider, larger and Crabbies' curious alcoholic ginger ale!
Tasters from The Botanist's menu were imaginatively served as canapés throughout the evening. There were a couple of low points such as the arancini risotto balls which were a little greasy and served on a slice of tomato which did little to excite the palate. However, the majority of the tidbits were well received, The Boy particularly liked the contrasting flavours of the smoked salmon with pomegranate molasses and enjoyed the mini portion of fish and chips with tartare drizzle, (minus the addition of several rouge capers!) I thought that the dolcelatte and red onion marmalade tartlet was delicious - a real treat of sweet and rich, cheesy flavours which just melted in the mouth. Later in the evening we sampled hot appetisers; the Luganege Sausage was meaty and seasoned to perfection and the steak, although too pink for my taste, was described by The Boy as 'wonderfully rare and tender' as well as 'the best he had tasted'. Sweet canapés consisted of bite-size chocolate brownies with clotted cream and finished with a white chocolate curl, (so good I had to go back for thirds) and miniature scones which had a lovely texture and were packed with fruit. All in all I was impressed, and expanding the kitchen, which we were told was to better accommodate cooking locally-sourced ingredients from fresh, was obviously a good move.
I did have a little look at the main menu to gauge what to expect on a day-to-day basis and confess I was a little confused by the arrangement. There seemed to be such a variety of dishes (from 'Mediterranean Mezze' to 'Battered Haddock and Chips') as well as a number of dishes which were almost too fancy - more in keeping with the concept of fine-dining which I'm not sure worked alongside other such options as '2 Pizzas for £10'. Perhaps in covering all bases at the onset of its presence in the Bristol scene, The Botanist is attempting too much rather than focusing on less and achieving more.
In conclusion, I was expecting rustic charm from a venue called The Botanist, defined as, 'a person who specialises in botany' - the study of plant science. I had already considered this theme a little unusual for a bar/restaurant located in the middle of Clifton's social playground and upon spending an evening here, think that although this theme had been supported in places (in the comfy 'Potting Shed' area for example), it had not been consistent throughout. This also transpired to the menu as alluded to above. However, I did have a fantastic evening - the staff in particular are to be commended in regards to their passion for service and for that reason, I'm sure that The Botanist will move from strength to strength in achieving what it has set out to do which for the moment, has perhaps not been fully decided upon.
And now for the second opinion:
The Boy gave The Botanist 8/10 and when asked to describe the venue in three words, chose 'Opening- Night Delight!'