When my friend invited me to a blogging event at the Botanist in Chester I was very excited. I had never been asked to attend anything ‘as a blogger’ before.
The Botanist is owned by Living Ventures, and falls with in their ‘New World Trading Co.’ brand. There are currently five other Botanists in the country. I am used to reviewing for independent restaurants and coffee shops, but thought it would be an interesting comparison writing about a chain and asking a few questions.
We were escorted up two flights of stairs. There was a large wooden square table, which sits about ten. This is the sole table on this floor and you can hire it free of charge. It’s very popular with families, parties, craft groups and others that want a little more privacy.
I was thrilled to be meeting new bloggers. I haven’t actually met any bloggers in real life since Adam and I started writing. We did all the formalities and are obviously all now following one another on Twitter.
The woman who came up with the idea of a blogger evening was Jess, the business development manager. Some chains are very nationally focused. Churning our restaurants becomes about numbers and targets. By having a specific BDM for Chester, I felt it communicated that they a want to engage on a local level. This is why Jess was then busy organizing a fund-raising afternoon for Chester’s Baby Grow appeal. All the profits from tickets sales will go directly to the charity. They are also treating the first 25 Chester Half Marathon runners to a free pint of beer this Sunday.
Jess went on to explain part of the ethos for The Botanist, and about their extremely high customer service standards, which each staff member seemed very proud to embody.
Jess is passionate about her job. She’s all over on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. It’s part of her job to create engaging content, make regulars and give the Botanist a great reputation in the city. As a group we discussed how restaurants should engage with the public on social media. There is such a thing as too much, but also too little. For every comment which is made on Trip Adviser (good or bad) Facebook or Twitter, Jess replies personally. She always thanks her team, gives mentions and praises the team member who has served that customer. After starting out as host herself, she was promoted in house to her current position. There was something like a 70% record in the company of promoting staff in-house.. This makes for a happy, ambitions and valued team. Jess mentioned how you do end up feeling like family.
Anyway, the FOOD! We had a selection of starters: sardines in a tin with hot sauce, melted Camembert, pork scratchings with chili and chutney. And last but not least very rustically battered onion rings.
My favorite, rather surprisingly were the pork scratchings. Usually if Adam wafts a bag my way I cower in dread at the thought and the smell. These ones were very fresh. The spice of the raw chili added a great kick which could be tempered with the sweet chutney, which was served in a tiny wheelbarrow.
Oh and melted Camembert, we all know how good that is. Dip in bread, grapes or simply spoon it out. Wonderful.
Whilst delving into the starters I was being refreshed with an exceptionally fine and balanced rose Mai Tai. I have had trouble with rose in the past. I think it can be quite overpowering, and put you in mind of eating pot pourri. This, however, was divine. The sweetness from the almond syrup didn’t out weigh the tastiness of the Havana 3 rum, my favourite.
There is many an interesting cocktail to choose from. Would a RED PEPPER AND PORCINI MANHATTAN take your fancy? Or could it be the ORANGE AND THYME SHORT (with Appleton VX rum, Grand Marnier, orange juice, lime juice, vanilla syrup and fresh thyme)? Jess told us that there is a special kitchen in Liverpool where all of their cocktails are invented. I have visions of some Heston-like mixoligists. No wonder the list is ever expanding.
My husband was delighted to hear about the ‘Anthology of Ales’. This small book had beautiful illustrations and specific knowledge for all those considering themselves in the know about ales and world beers. You could (with enough booking notice) have one of the company’s experts come an do an ale tasting evening. A great idea for a stag.
And of course there are cocktail making classes available too. Each bar member is asked to learn the top 100 cocktails. They learn each one to off by heart to company spec. Knowing these fundamental basics allows then for greater creativity and know-how for when someone orders off the menu too. (Yes occasionally I am one of those people.)
The mains came and I was hungry. Fish and chips, chorizo and chicken pie, sea bass, Mongolian vegetable curry, lamb tagine and one of the most popular menu dishes, the hanging kebab.
This was a great way to eat. Order lots of food, place it all over the table and try everything. They have a bit of a reputation for the chips. The seasoning is rich and earthy.
I am a massive fan of lamb and tagines. I found the lamb very tender, the flavors subtle and the creaminess of the sauce good The Mongolian curry was spicy. Fresh chilies, bean spouts and spring onions abound. This a remedy to chase any pesky sinus issue away. The hanging kebab looked impressive. As the garlic butter was poured from top,trickling down, it felt like I was shooting photography for a Marks and Spencer food advert.
The home comfort dishes such as the pie and fish and chips did not disappoint. The average price of one of these mains was around £10.95. The Botanist don’t do 2-for-1 on mains or happy hours on their cocktails, as they don’t want to devalue their products.
Whilst chowing down on the mains we were entertained by some live music. The Botanist in Chester has three or four regular musicians and live music is played every evening.
One of Jess’s next ventures is reinventing the idea of ‘the pub quiz’, naming it ‘The Botanist Quizzical Assembly’. The 1st prize is a £50 bar tab! Instead of super intense niche knowledge, the quiz will be split into rounds of catchphrases, logical puzzles, guess the intro (by the live band), Star Wars, trending YouTube videos, whatever. There may be a little general knowledge in there too. It currently happens once a month (don’t quote me on this). Check out their Facebook for more info
I was very impressed (obviously) by the Botanist. I appreciate that this company is still applying a very local approach. It feels like a place which loves to be in Chester and champions many organisations and people in the city.
And now I know they have a kids menu. For one of the desserts the kids get served ice-cream in a bucket with a tiny spade. Surrounding the bottom of the bucket is sand (crushed up gingerbread biscuits on a board with marshmallow balls). Super cute. I will certainly be back. Me for the cocktails and lamb. Adam for the ale and hake fillets. Bookworm and the Chap for the sausage tower and, of course, the ice-cream.
Thanks to Jess and the team for a wonderful evening. Keep up the good work!
Disclosure: I was invited to this evening as a blogger. All food and drinks consumed were paid for by the Botanist. There was no obligation to blog about the experience. All views are my own.