Stan Graham visits The Botanist and enjoys the food, the wine – and a memory of pies gone by, reflecting on Leeds past; enjoying Leeds present.
My name is Stan and I am a breadaholic. Being a good food lover I have not yet resorted to delving through wheelie bins for discarded bags of white sliced but my addiction does mean that I have to make a weekly trip from Harrogate to Leeds for a loaf of malthouse sourdough from those wonderful bakers at Leeds Cooperative Bakery. Once I have obtained my fix, usually from Friends of Ham, my mind is clear enough to decide where I will go for lunch.
This week I needed to find somewhere local as I was in a bit of a hurry, so when I came across a couple of places on Boar Lane I just had to read their menus and make a choice. I promise that I will go to the other in due course. The establishment I chose was The Botanist as there were tables outside which looked rather inviting. When I got to them, however, the seats were stools which swivelled out from beneath the tables and didn’t look like the most comfortable place for a gentleman of advancing years to rest his bottom for the best part of an hour, so I ventured inside. Once ensconced within I realised that this was yet another cocktail bar which has an area set aside for food. I will not go off on one about cocktails again, although I will make reference to them a little later, but will concentrate on the food, which after all is why I write these articles.
I was shown to a table by a young man who said that he hoped that I would enjoy my lunch and that I would be served by Rheal. Being a nosy devil I don’t like being in the middle of a room so I said that I would prefer another vacant table near the wall in order that I could survey the whole restaurant. This proved to be no problem so I took my seat and prepared for a jolly hour of food, drink, the Telegraph crossword and people-watching. My only disappointment was that the person, and I use the term loosely, who set the Telegraph crossword seemed to be living in a parallel universe, so I had to content myself with staring at a black and white grid and watching my fellow diners whilst occasionally stabbing at the screen of my iPad, so that they may credit me with a little more intelligence than I deserved.
After a couple of minutes Rheal appeared with a menu and welcomed me to the establishment. With a name like ‘The Botanist’ you could be forgiven for assuming that this was a vegetarian restaurant. Nothing could be further from the truth. I had been lured, not only by the alfresco tables but also by the Deli Board from the menu, which gives a choice of four dishes from twenty-one items in this section for £10.50. I thought that I would test the kitchen by ordering my two lunchtime favourites of all time: Scotch eggs with piccalilli, and pork pie, which came with fig chutney. I know – pork pie comes with brown sauce; anything else is weird. The four items were completed by adding hand-carved honey mustard glazed ham and a Greek salad, a pathetic nod to my five-a-day. Regardless of whatever combination you order you get Fougasse bread. Not wishing to dehydrate during the meal I added a glass of Little Eden Pinot Noir at £8.50 for 250ml. The wine was sensational so that is all I need to say about that.
I was once dining with someone who remarked that she thought that I was an only child, and when I confirmed the fact she said that she knew because when we were having dinner I left my meat until last. She said that had I have had siblings I would not dare to do that as one of them would have pinched it before I got round to finishing it off. This observation came back to me as I was in a real quandary as to what to make the grand finale of the deli board. The ham was good but the slices were compressed which suggested that it was prepacked so that ruled them out; the Greek salad was in a small bowl and totally delicious with the leaves, tomato, red onion and feta dressed to perfection, but not in the same league as the remaining two morsels on my plate, or should I say board. The Scotch eggs were a masterpiece – a small egg, boiled to perfection with the yolk still just on the runny side of hard boiled and the sausage meat covering was warm with a crisp outer coating. Heaven. The pork pie was beautifully made but was a chef’s pork pie rather than a proper growler and the fig chutney accented the ethos of the place by being presented in a mini wheelbarrow – purleeze. I have been spoiled with regard to pork pies as I worked in Barnsley in the 1970s so we used to send the office junior to the local pork shop each morning to bring us all a pie with the jelly still warm and oozing out when we bit into its hot water pastry. Unfortunately Albert Hirst, the pork butcher in question, went out of business during the miners’ strike and I doubt that we will see its like again. It is really unfair to make a comparison so I will just say that that last two items on my plate were the pie and the egg. The egg won because piccalilli is real and fig chutney is showing off.
For once I declined dessert as I was full but had a double Americano coffee at a very reasonable £2.00 which was excellent. Anyone who is inclined to read my reviews on a regular basis will know my attitude to cocktails. As I was struggling with the crossword I decided that I should look a bit interested in the booklet on the table explaining the thinking behind the cocktail menu. I will give The Botanist my award for producing the most pretentious document it has ever been my misfortune to read! Thank goodness for the scotch eggs and the pork pie.