Sleek and fresh, The Botanist burst forth onto Xiangyang Bei Lu in a flurry of verdant activity, just as the owner’s previous – and ridiculously successful – ‘speakeasy’, Flask was forced to shutter. Almost a complete opposite to the latter, The Botanist is street-facing and open, featuring bar and lounge seating and large windows letting out onto a small terrace. It’s professionally executed and smooth; and a pleasure to hang out in; that is, if you can get a seat – there’s a no-standing policy here.
The menu opens with a short description of what a botanist is – flashbacks to high-school biology – before detailing that The Botanist’s bartenders specialise in plants, herbs and fresh products. The ‘Farm to Bar’ policy means that ingredients are carefully sourced from local markets and vendors, and directly from their vertical plant walls.
The opening menu is divided into four sections – Seasonal, Refreshing, Classics and Spirit Forward – and offers three drinks per category. From ‘Seasonal’, the #3 cocktail (90RMB) mixes a large dose of fresh juices (guava, lime, and pineapple) with rosemary-infused rum and honey. Served in a suave silver coupe glass and topped with rosemary and red petals, it’s a sweet drink – almost too sweet – with the overwhelming flavour from the pineapple juice overriding the more interesting inclusion of the infused rum.
The #11 cocktail (85RMB) uses Gordon’s Gin and Frangelico as a base, and is turned a bright shade of green from the addition of fresh cucumber and lime juice. Again, this drink is sweet, and we wish they’d added less Frangelico. Still, it’s refreshing, and its low-key presentation is a relief, especially considering what we order next.
Under ‘Classics’, the #21 cocktail (85RMB) is served in a Champagne glass covered with newspaper and topped with edible flowers and lavender. The in-your-face presentation houses another flowery drink, combining fresh grapefruit juice with rose tea, lavender bitters, Aperol and Prucia plum liqueur. It is Aperol and rose heavy, so fans of these ingredients will enjoy it, if they can get past the bouquet presentation.
Looking for something with a little more kick, we opt for the #33 cocktail under ‘Spirit Forward’. It sounds promising – offering fresh lemon juice, thyme, pear liqueur, rose water, Martin Miller’s gin and white wine vinegar – however what we’re served tastes almost akin to syrup. The vinegar doesn’t do much to cut through the sweetness, and (perhaps thankfully) isn’t apparent. Served in a light globe suspended from a metal holder, the gimmicky presentation of this cocktail will probably help push its popularity. And, although we’re initially taken by the drink, we soon realise that sipping from a light bulb through a straw is actually quite awkward.
After sampling from all sections of the menu, we’re not compelled to continue. With sweet and flowery concoctions tasting increasingly unbalanced as we work our way through the glasses, we can’t help but wonder if we’re perhaps not the target palate for these cocktails. This, and the 18:1 female-to-male ratio make us feel like we’re stuck in a scene from Sex and the City where good-looking bartenders serve drinks made to look like bouquets and flower-filled light globes. Hopefully the next menu iteration will provide a few more sour notes and a little more balance.
By Victoria Brownlee