While my existence may appear chaotic, underneath I’m one of life’s planners; give me half a chance and I’ve probably already made a spreadsheet plotting it’s probability in great detail. While I try to bow to random spontaneity when the occasion demands it (rubbish, she hates surprises - TE), I like to read menus, I like to see dishes online, I like to plan what I’m going to have for dinner three weeks hence (and then change my mind at the restaurant, to try and feel as if I’m really living on the edge) which is what made a last-minute lunch booking at the Botanist, with only a cursory glance at the website, so out of character.
Still, I’d had a discussion with an enthusiastic work colleague who was also planning a visit, plus found out they were knocking 50% off the bill in January as well as offering a special Ginuary menu for those who were still prioritising enjoyment above hepatic function after the excess of Christmas, so what could go wrong…
By the evening I was already having a small sense of foreboding when, after looking at social media, I noticed there were very few pictures of food, but lots of glitzy cocktails, dazzling teeth and tans of a Trumpian hue. Now, I like a flaming fishbowl along with the rest of them, but I doubted its suitability as an accompaniment to my quiet Sunday repast.
It got worse when I did find pictures of the food and realised the conceit derived from their name meant that mayo was served in watering cans, garlic mushrooms and chocolate mousse came in a trowel (mercifully as separate dishes) and chicken liver pate arrived in a mini flower pot, complete with its own chutney-filled wheelbarrow.
Now, I’ve eaten a roast on a breadboard (with a lap-full of gravy), fritters from old spam tins and even barbecue ribs from a galvanised bin, but I started to feel a bit We Want Plates, especially as we were going for lunch with Stealth - someone who manages to be both far more spontaneous (believe me, she's not either - TE) but far more curmudgeonly (yes, I think both things are related).
Still, I was attempting to practice my edgy New Year New You abandonment and Stealth was trying to be more accommodating - read hungover and happy to leave the organising to someone else – while the long suffering Ewing was just hoping that our Millennial indignation was kept in check and we didn’t get too carried away with Ginuary, being as she was the designated driver.
On enquiring about Ginuary our waitress told us that, while available all through the month, it isn’t advertised on weekends ‘as they don’t want people to know about it’ (cunning -TE). Which perhaps explains why two of our G&Ts (we doubled up to make full use of the offer) initially arrived with no gin. Still, it would be churlish to complain too much at less than a fiver for a double and Fevertree tonic in this neck of the woods. It was also good to try a few hitherto unknown English gins, from Hunters, Langleys and Poetic Licence respectively. Stealth didn’t even complain about the basil leaves and cardamom pods floating in her glass.
After steeling myself for a starter that looked like it had been assembled in the shed, I actually found myself disappointed they had run out of the chicken liver pate. No matter, the calamari was crisp and well-seasoned and I still got a novelty watering can full of mayo for dipping.
The Ewing and Stealth made classic opening choices with a bacon-crumbed baked camembert and a scotch egg – both served on disappointingly prosaic wooden boards – respectively. The gooey cheese, served with apple slices and wholemeal toast for dunking, was particularly good. I can’t comment on Stealth’s pick, being an avowed oeuf-avoider, but if anyone’s in the market for a hot sauce hand model, get in touch.
Our mains bought a full compliment of proper plates, and very nice ones at that, with mine playing host to the classic roast beef dinner. Even my cauliflower cheese came in an eminently sensible enamel side dish. Pink meat, plenty of parsnips, crispy yorkie, well-cooked veg, glossy gravy and the aforementioned cauli; this was a properly first class roast in every respect. Even the horseradish had that sinus-clearing oomph that bought a little tear to my eye.
The Ewing and Stealth also kept up the bovine theme. My wife went for broke with a - well-judged - rare rib eye, chips and peppercorn sauce and Stealth picking steak and ale pie with peas and sweet potato fries. A pie which also gets bonus points for being a pastry product with four walls; no Casserole with a Lid here. Again, it was comfortingly rib-sticking stuff served in ample portions - clearly the Instagrammers hanging out here on a Friday night stick to a liquid diet.
Bucking the practical trend, my rice pudding with amarena cherries and honeycomb came in an old fashioned glass jelly mould. Which may have looked pretty, but meant I lost most of my cherry sauce to the indentations at the bottom of the glass, despite the valiant attempts of my probing spoon (this is why you have fingers - TE).
Freshly baked cookie dough, served in its own cast iron pan and topped with caramel ice cream was both as tooth-janglingly sweet and delicious as it sounds, but the strawberry on the cake, literally, went to Stealth’s skewer. After all the sensible tableware, I think it gave us both more joy than we’d care to admit to have desert served dangling vertically.
While they offer a range of various savoury skewers, ranging from lamb koftas to salt and pepper pork to jerk salmon – the sweet version impales berries with marshmallows and chunks of chocolate brownie (and a random piece of apple, which did cause some customary grumpy consternation), to be doused tableside in toffee sauce.
As they were out of vanilla ice cream, she chose a scoop of eton mess, swirled with meringue, fruit coulis and popping candy - ensuring our meal went out with a wiz bang, or an enthusiastic fizzle at the very least. Rather like our New Year efforts to embrace the new.