our commentsAt 6:30pm on an unbearably hot Thursday evening, the bar at The Botanist was already three-quarters full and well-dressed Sloanes and suits were spilling out on to the pavement and perching on the sills of open windows clutching cocktails and cigarettes. The bar staff take their time over each drink, despite the crowds, and the end result is exquisite. The Sloane No. 7 is an elegant blend of Plymouth gin, fresh blueberries and sugar syrup, topped up with champagne and served in a chilled flute. The bar itself is equally slick, with smart wooden floors, brown leather chairs, chrome tables and bright yellow bar stools. Conversation is difficult, but the people-watching is top notch. The dining room is a sunny, neutral space with cream banquette seating and impressive light fittings that hover above the tables like glowing UFOs. The rear wall showcases back-lit illustrations of the flora and fauna discovered by Sir Hans Sloane on his travels, and there are spiky plants on each table to complete the botany theme. It's all very well thought out and you get the impression that the owners, Tom and Ed Martin, really did their homework when they made the move from East End gastropub to Chelsea diner. The refreshingly concise menu was whisked away as soon as we had ordered and quickly replaced with warm bread and butter served on a chilled rock square. The wine list is equally comprehensive and yielded two reasonably priced glasses, including a smooth Languedoc rosé To start, pan fried tiger prawns were plump and juicy, served on thin square crisps with a cooling red pepper and cucumber salsa and arty drizzles of vivid mango puree. The flavours worked so well that it seemed effortless, and the presentation was polished but not pretentious. Cornish crab and avocado cocktail was refreshing, not overly mayonnaised, and lightly seasoned to allow the sweetness of the fresh flaky crab to take centre stage. For me, it was a little bland, but my companion disagreed and cleared the plate. My main of roast halibut arrived perched on a bed of spring greens and salty lardons, surrounded by a subtly delicious bacon cream. The Palourde clams certainly looked good on the plate but didn’t bring much in the way of flavour to the dish. My companion enjoyed the generous portion of roast suckling pig with apple compote and calvados jus, which was served at the table in a tiny copper saucepan. Feeling full, I somehow made room for the soft chocolate pudding and vanilla ice-cream, which was perfectly molten in the middle and sinfully sweet. The whiskey crème brulee, though well executed, is slightly dull by comparison and we agreed that the Knickerbocker glory arriving at the next table looked much more exciting. The food is several notches above the gastropub fare that the Martin brothers have perfected elsewhere, and the prices - given the location - aren't ridiculous. The Botanist's only flaw is the appalling acoustics. It’s brutally loud, both in the bar and the dining room, so you might find yourself polishing off three courses in record time, rather than lingering over coffee. The service, however, is flawless and our waiter was both witty and efficient without any unnecessary fussing. The neighbouring Oriel and Chelsea Brasserie should be worried, because The Botanist is proving to be seriously stiff competition. For a lazy weekend brunch, early evening dinner or cocktails after work; this is by far the best option on the Square at the moment.
KP - July 2008
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