No-one wants to feel like they’re predictable, as though some marketing person can assess your habits from a distance, combine them with your vital statistics and label you like a Christmas turkey. But of course they can. Everyone is a ‘consumer type’ regardless of any secret tattoo, fetish, or a desire to eat fish finger and Marmite sandwiches whilst skipping backwards down the high street shouting ‘I’m a banana’ at random (just me then?)
Anyway, my foolish desire to be (in the words of Peter Andre) a ‘mysterious girl’ might be why I may have, quite possibly, been a tiny bit sniffy about ‘Living Ventures’ and their slow takeover of Manchester with their formulaic bars and restaurants. Their portfolio includes The Alchemist (crowded, cocktails, chips), Australasia (beautiful faux fur coat, no knickers) and ‘temporary’ pop ups The Oast House (not been yet) and Yacht Club (missed the boat) in Spinningfields, Manchester city centre. They also own the Blackhouse and Gusto chain of restaurants. Oh they’re all quite shiny and happy and full of people, but a bit on the safe side?
It was half term, midweek. The kids were at grandmas for the day and the husband had taken a day’s holiday. I’d had a meeting in Cheshire that over-ran so we needed to find somewhere for a reasonable lunch around 2pm. If you lose the gamble on a British kitchen being open midweek after 2.30pm you could end up having a pack of pork scratchings for lunch, which was not the ‘quality time’ we were after.
I’d seen some recent photos of the latest Living Venture (under their New World Pub Co.) The Botanist in Alderley Edge. Lots of shiny, happy, orange, Cheshire people with very white teeth and PR girls with cartoon eyebrows and that ‘messy bun on top of the head you do before you get into the shower’ hairstyle that’s become very popular. I knew it would be of a decent standard and that it would be open for food all day, so we thought we’d try it.
It’s on the mid-terraced site of an old wine bar, across from a car park that charges only 80p for 2 hours parking *casts withering look in the general direction of Manchester city centre*. Walking into The Botanist is like walking onto the set of ‘Disney does Midsummer Night’s Dream’ or walking into the window display of a really good department store in springtime. My husband describes it more like a cross between his auntie’s potting shed and the garden department of IKEA. I think between us we paint a decent picture. It was reasonably busy for a Tuesday at 2.15pm with a mixture of families, groups of girls, business men and ladies who were just finishing their lunch.
Part of the formula is that they have appointed an interior designer who not only loves what they do, but is really good at it. In fact, getting an expert in is how they do everything. On every table is a hand illustrated ‘Almanac’ detailing all 40 or so of the carefully chosen bottled beers and ciders on offer. They have included some local breweries such as Macclesfield’s Red Willow and Manchester’s Marble but also international brews like Duval, Chimay and the big hitting Delirium Tremens. Of course they also match individual drinks with glasses, so my Swedish Koppaberg elderflower and lime cider came in an ice packed glass tankard (Scål!) and the pint of Red Willow ‘Wreckless’ came in a proper ‘Albert Tatlock’ handled 70’s beer mug. There’s also a huge involved list of cocktails.
The food menu is exactly the same as that of their sister pub, The Oast House in Manchester. There’s a rotisserie BBQ and lots of mix and match platters but, they only go and list the desserts first. What a marvellously ground-breaking, but simple idea that totally appeals to my sense of humour (ie. greed) but of course their marketing people would know that.
I do wish they would show as much pride in the provenance of the food as they do with the drink though. The blue cheese offering is a good quality but obvious Stilton rather than a carefully sourced cracking North West blue and the charcuterie is all Italian when they have the excellent Cheshire smokehouse within 5 miles who’d be happy to cure meat to order for a group as big as LV, I’m sure.
To start, the ‘Alderley Egg’ was their attempt at the generic Scotch egg. Nice timing on the yolk, decent sausage meat to egg to crumb ratio, served in a fried shredded potato nest. I had home-smoked duck Waldorf salad. Simple, well executed flavours and textures. Fresh apple, juicy grapes, toasted walnuts, crunchy celery, light mayonnaise. Just what I wanted (as only their marketing people would know.)
Manchester is currently the Northern outpost for ‘Burger wars’ and my husband reckons that Living Ventures Oast House version stands up well amongst the competition, so he ordered one and was happy. I wanted one too but had to keep up the pretence of being ‘on a diet’ so had a chicken kebab hanging from a novelty hangy thing. They had less problem swapping the chips for salad than I did and my husband ‘helpfully’ removed the accompanying garlic butter before I embarrassed myself with it (- don’t ask.) On The Botanist theme, both starter and main course salad contained edible flowers, filling my mouth with an unexpected gorgeous floral, vegetative dimension.
So it was all going well, I had to begrudgingly admit that they had got me pegged and we were having a fine time when something unpredictable happened. We were unexpectedly approached by a waiter saying ‘would you like a free cocktail?’ Sorry what now? ‘The bar is training, they’ve made this sorrel and orange cocktail, would you like to tell us what you think?’
These people are geniuses. They are powerful, they know EVERYTHING. How could they know a free spontaneous midweek afternoon cocktail would please my very soul? How could they know this and then follow it up with another in the form of a Martini glass full of creamy dill infused alcohol, when I didn’t even know that was what I wanted? Would this aniseed flavoured bully of a herb work when infused with cream and powerful alcohol? Yes*rolls over in complete submission*and now I don’t think I can live without it.
We went outside for a breath of fresh air (ie sober up before picking up the kids.) They have a gorgeous all weather walled beer garden out the back, with blankets and ashtrays. Basically the social groups I know that this place would cater for are: My vegetarian smoking sister in law, my pescatarian profession Hale dwelling friends, the school mums, my mother and her visiting London based friends, my fussy husband, the girls.
Look, I know we lucked out on the whole ‘free cocktail training timing’ thing but they really do train their staff heavily (research shows photos of staff, pre-opening, shaking invisible cocktail shakers in a village hall, drilled like army cadets) to a level of care and service that many independents don’t. What can you do? In conclusion, they win. I will be back and I have a whole list of people to bring with me *lies prostrate, shiny, happy and slightly drunk*
The Botanist: 15 London Road, Alderley Edge, Cheshire, SK9 7JT
Telephone: 01625 865 637