Dining at The Botanist

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sampling the newly launched menu at The Botanist, West Bridgeford. Before we begin, I must confess that reviewing restaurants is not my usual thing, I'd much rather rabbit on about the benefits of rabbit food, but it seemed like a wise idea to make an exception.
So if you aren't going to read anymore, let me sum it up: The Botanist is the kind of place where you can go with friends, family or colleagues. Cool, just on the right side of edgy and with a menu extensive enough that everyone will find something to tickle their taste buds.

Upon arrival, we were entrusted with a comprehensive menu of alcoholic beverages. Not knowing where to start, our ever helpful waitress, Becky, recommended the 'Pots & Planters' section for cocktails with a wow factor. The raspberry Disaronno sour was an especially triumphant concoction with dry ice delivering show-worthy amounts of smoke and a flavour akin to sour raspberry sweets.

For the purposes of this review, I was not going to be an easy customer. Although I'm not vegan, I recognise that our plant-based friends are often shunned when it comes to dining out so with that in mind, I based my selection on vegan meals.
My companion was not so easily convinced so he opted for meat-based options for the sake of balance.

The chosen vegan starter was a tempura-fried cauliflower, tenderstem broccoli and kale manchurian with sweet and sour sesame dipping sauce. It was substantial, crispy and the perfect finger-food to get the dining experience started. 
The guy opted for crispy calamari which was equally tantalising with plenty of flavour from the fajita salt and accompanying guacamole.

The mains followed in quick succession: for me a harissa aubergine steak with Israeli couscous, grilled baby gem and tahini and for the guy a flat iron steak sandwich. 
For the sake of total transparency, the harissa aubergine steak was delicious but the Israeli couscous could've done with a little (okay a lot) more flavour. The idea was great, I mean how many restaurants consider a totally different vegan main as opposed to putting some vegetables on a plate like an afterthought, but the execution does need improvement. Luckily there are plenty of other vegan options and the meat-based main of flat iron steak sandwich was a total taste sensation.

It's true that the best is often saved for last and for The Botanist's menu this was no different because the desserts were a thing of beauty. Sadly my original vegan choice of homemade banana doughnuts was not available so I found myself veering off course with a vegetarian peanut and chocolate brownie cake accompanied by salted caramel and vanilla ice cream. The guy opted for baked chocolate chip cookie dough with toffee sauce and salted caramel ice cream.
The desserts were good. Very good. Ok, maybe excellent. It would probably be worth visiting just for the desserts.

The positives are:
- the vibe is cool
-  the waiters and waitresses are very knowledgeable (Becky, our waitress was full of energy and made some great recommendations, which at the risk of sounding old, I recognise is a rarity these days)
- the music is awesome and the venue has been transformed with interesting botanical decor
- irrespective of your dietary requirements you will find something on the menu that ticks all the right boxes
- the cocktail list is extensive and some have a real wow factor

I admit I was picky but the vegan main I chose could do with improvement. Other than that it's a thumbs up.

For menus or to book a table, visit http://thebotanist.uk.com/

Rocket pesto, butternut squash, goats cheese

Big news: I'm in possession of a brand new, shiny Canon Eos 77 DSLR camera (that I have no idea how to use). This marks the end of an era of phone photography so to celebrate, I'm giving the trusty iPhone one last job having created this rocket pesto, butternut squash and goats cheese dish.
This recipe is the result of discovering a big bag of rocket that needed using up asap and there was no better way than to turn it into a delicious pesto. 
The quantities aren't exact but the recipe is flexible with no need to measure anything. 

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Ingredients (feeds 2)
For the pesto:
2 large handfuls of rocket
1 handful of cashews
100ml of rapeseed or good quality olive oil
Zest and juice of half a lemon
1 clove of garlic
A pinch of sea salt

For the salad
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into cubes
Rapeseed oil
Sea salt and black pepper to season
A pack of purple sprouting broccoli
Liberal amounts of goats cheese to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Drizzle the butternut squash cubes with some rapeseed oil and season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Roast until fully cooked (30 minutes approximately).
To make the pesto, put all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until roughly combined. Don't overprocess it since it should be a chunky consistency not a puree. 
Blanch or steam the broccoli.
To assemble, put the butternut squash and broccoli on a plate. Top with chunks of goats cheese and drizzle over some rocket pesto.

Choccy Flapjacks

These chocolatey flapjacks are such a treat.
They are super easy to make and are a good addition to picnics or as a healthier afternoon snack.
Plus, they look awesome:

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200g oats
grated zest and juice of an orange
1 tsp cinnamon
100g sultanas
100g Munchy Seeds Choccy Apricot, can be substituted with 50g each of chopped apricots and dark chocolate chips or 100g of chocolate chopped into small chunks
50g coconut oil
5 drops of vanilla extract
3tbsp agave, honey or maple syrup

Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper & preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Melt the coconut oil and agave in a small pan over a low heat, whisk in the vanilla and juice of an orange.
Put all of the ingredients in a large bowl and stir well to combine.
Press into the loaf tin and bake for 35-45 minutes until the top is golden.
Allow it to cool completely before slicing.

Noodle Bowls

On cold evenings (or days), nothing beats a warming bowl of noodles.
This quick to prepare dish is the ideal combination of warming spices, protein and those all-important carbs, because who doesn't crave carbs in winter? A sprinkling of sesame seeds, coriander (or parsley if you aren't fond) alongside sliced spring onions adds further flavour. 
I've featured 3 combinations but none take longer than 15 minutes from the time you start chopping to when you get to eat it.

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For the Noodle Broth:
300ml of vegetable stock
1 star anise (optional)
1 teaspoon of soy sauce or tamari
3 slices of ginger
60g of noodles, cooked according to packet instructions

For the topping:
1 spring onion, finely sliced
a few coriander leaves
1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds

Tofu Noodle Bowl
100g firm tofu, cubed
40g broccoli
1 small carrot, shredded

Salmon Noodle Bowl
1 salmon fillet, cubed
40g broccoli
a handful of spinach

Chicken and Mushroom Noodle Bowl
1 chicken breast, thinly sliced
50g asparagus
3-5 mushrooms, sliced

Put the stock, ginger, star anise and soy sauce into a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
If you are using chicken or fish, add these next, bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the vegetables and tofu (if using), pop a lid on the pan and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Finally, add the noodles, cook for another minute and it is ready to serve.
Top with coriander, sesame seeds and sliced spring onion.

Chorizo, butter beans & kale

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Weekday nights are usually an unfussy affair in my household. Lengthy recipes are replaced with quick and easy suppers that use few ingredients, after all, spending a long time in the kitchen following a busy day isn't always enticing. Sometimes, I just want to throw a few ingredients in a pan and be done with it 10 minutes later.
This combination of chorizo, butter beans and kale is one such recipe.

Ingredients (for 1 generous portion, multiply as required)
80g of a good quality spicy chorizo
2 shallots or 1 small onion, sliced
a tin of butter beans
1 clove of garlic, crushed
juice of half a lemon
1 bowl of chopped kale
freshly ground black pepper to season

Peel and slice the chorizo.
Heat a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the chorizo and onion and let it cook for 5 minutes until the onion softens and the chorizo goes slightly crispy. There is no need to add oil to the pan since the chorizo will release some fat. Season well with freshly ground black pepper.
Add the beans and cook for another 5 minutes.
Squeeze over the lemon juice, add the garlic and stir well to combine.
Stir in the kale, season again with freshly ground black pepper and cook for another minute until the kale wilts slightly.
It's ready to serve.