The Octagon on Milsom Street was originally built as a plush chapel for well-to-do worshipers. The huge building, complete with underground vaults, had been empty for a couple of years until The Botanist opened there in March.
This bar group – which, in turn, is part of a larger parent group also responsible for The Florist, but not the identically named Botanist in Bristol – has gone big with this opening.
A kind of ‘concept’ venue, it’s all about the olde-worlde apothecary vibes. The main dining area is octagonal (duh), and stretches skyward to the height of three storeys, peaking in a central panel of glass in the decoratively corniced ceiling. The space, then, feels open and airy, but not as cavernous as it could, as it’s stuffed with bountiful greenery, mixed seating, knickknacks and glowing lamps, all iron frames and glass shades. A tree bursts out of the core of the circular bar, reaching up to the mezzanine dining area where we sit. Tall plants stand dotted about the space, while smaller clusters of foliage sit in brass racks.
The substantial cocktail menu, with the drinks printed all side-by-side, looks quite overwhelming at first. Luckily, the team seem ready to help out, so instead of wading through the list in order to quench my thirst – which is peaking after the speedy march I’ve just completed to make it here on time – I ask our server what she’d suggest and am given a couple of thoughtful recommendations. One involves some kind of aromatic dry ice experience, but in the end I go for the signature Botanist (£8.50) of Bacardi, vodka, elderflower liqueur, red amaranth, mint and jasmine syrup. It comes in a glass vessel that looks like it was taken from an 18th-century science lab, with purple leaves scattered over the crushed ice and a misty liquid in the bulbous bottom (which has to be accessed via a straw and is served with what seems to be a plastic one, surprisingly). It’s light and fresh and, while not all that complex in terms of flavour, enjoyable and readily slips down the hatch.
Across the table, a White Negroni (£9.95) sits looking clear and crisp, having forgone Campari for white port and been finished with a dash of elderflower cordial. It’s a nice, approachable concoction for those who find a Negroni a touch too pokey.
To nibble, we choose a couple of small plates and sharers. Fried gnocchi (£3.95) is made into finger food by way of two wooden picks and a truffle mayo dip – a good idea (though the doughy mouthfuls are maybe a little dense). The lavender, honey and sunflower loaf (£4.75) is a winner, sprinkled with crystals of salt and served with moreish whipped goat’s cheese butter, drizzled with honey. There are deli boards too (£12.50), made up of your pick of four small dishes.
I end with a Botanist Pornstar (£10.95) – a nicely smooth, fruity number, happily not too sweet – and a sneak peek at that basement bar, ominously named Beneath, which looks like a great after-dark hangout. It’s buzzy on this Tuesday lunchtime, with plenty of diners and drinkers creating a hum of atmosphere. With its thoughtful design, cool, energetic and friendly team and regular live music, The Botanist promises to bring new life to this one-time chapel
The Botanist, The Octagon, Milsom Place, Bath BA1 1BZ; 01225 632577