Hungry visitors to Newcastle city centre have never exactly struggled when it comes to finding a restaurant to sate their appetite. But competition in this corner of Toon is stronger than ever with the arrival of the Grey’s Food Quarter in Eldon Square.
The Botanist is now firmly-rooted in the shadow of Grey’s Monument, but does it still have what it takes to reel in diners? Judging by the crowds on a Wednesday night, it’s still as popular as ever. So popular, in fact, that you can expect a five deep wait at the bar on weekends.
You can bypass the hullabaloo of the main bar by booking into the restaurant. With Restaurant Week drawing in the bargain-hunters, we weren’t lucky enough to bag a window seat, but those who do can enjoy unrivalled views of the sweeping facade of Grey Street.
We asked to be moved from our central table, but no such luck, and we ended up being stuck between two large rowdy groups of diners - so loud they drowned out the much more pleasant sound of the acoustic musician in the bar. Shame because, from what we could hear, he knocked socks off your average pub singer.
Not the place to go for a quiet meal then, but The Botanist doesn’t pitch itself as such. Instead, the restaurant, which has a decor theme best described as garden house shabby chic, is more of an extension to the bar, meaning you can still enjoy the imaginative cocktail concoctions its mixologists whip up while you tuck into your meal.
Make sure to try the Thai chilli crush (£7.75), a blend of basil, apple and lemon juice with gin and fresh red chillis that really packs a punch.
For people who like a proper pint, there’s also a comprehensive choice of IPAs, trappist ales, ciders and more.
As you’d expect, the food menu’s an informal affair, all hanging kebabs and ‘quirky’ serving receptacles that would make the ‘We Want Plates’ brigade’s hair curl. For those who like their crudites served in a mini watering can and their dip in a dinky plant pot, however, try out the sharing platter.
We shared one for starters from the non-restaurant week menu and it offers plenty of choice of nibbles for a good price of four for £10.75. We chose the homemade Scotch egg with piccalilli, beetroot and feta dip with crudites, warm chorizo and lamb meatballs with smoky beans, all served with a large pretzel of bread.
The dip - despite the chipped plant pot presentation - was a beautifully smooth blend of flavours and the meatballs were a tender bite-sized delight, while the Scotch egg was just the right side of runny.
I also chose well with my main of prosciutto, watermelon and feta salad with tomatoes, olives and fresh mint. At more than a tenner for a salad (£10.95 to be precise) you want it to be good and it was. It arrived as a huge mound with sliver upon sliver of ham and plenty of cheese to make sure it wasn’t too healthy. The watermelon added some dew and helped make it a fresh and filling summer on a plate.
Service, was super friendly though a little slow at times. Maybe that’s because it was restaurant week, or maybe because The Botanist is still a blooming popular choice despite the new kids on the block.