Kirribilli was clearing crying out from a new watering hole, judging by the crowd that’s already filled it’s latest local small bar on a Monday night. I’m early for my dinner, and thankful for it, putting our name down for a table. I’m shifted from bar, to table, to table by the friendly staff – still a little overwhelmed, but terribly grateful for the patronage, having only been open less than a fortnight.
The Botanist is the latest venture from the team behind Bondi Hardware – Ben Carroll & Hamish Watt. After a complete gutting of the old Milsons site, the refurb is all their own, drawing inspiration from Botanist, Gerard Fothergill, who spent the last years of his life not too far from this very spot – returning from his travels to open a book shop and become somewhat of a recluse. The place still has a bit of that Bondi-hipster cool about it, but I wonder if that’s just Movember.
While I wait for my date… I could be here a while – did I mention I’m meeting the White Rabbit? I check out the drinks menu – all listed like plant samples with ‘specimen name’, ‘variety’ and ‘origin’ with flora illustrations. And good news, they take bookings – well I assume they do by the chalked reservation names scrawled on table corners.
All the seating is at high top tables – they line one corner against upholstered banquettes and scatter throughout the rest of the room. Their wooden tops are thick and well worn – I like that all the wood everywhere (including the handle on the new glass front door) is weighty and beautiful and feels nicely ‘undone’. The walls are various shades of kahki and muddied greens and there are clusters of plants in pockets – yes it all speaks ‘botanical’.
Chef Justin Walshe (ex La Grillade, Bather Pavillion and Bondi Hardware) is in the kitchen. But don’t try and make sense of the menu – we go from Morocco (cous cous) to India (curry) to Italy (pizza) to all the things in between – because it’s a play on the silk and spice trade, taking us on a bit of a historical journey of discovery with Fothergill. Good food that’s all designed to share – just like everywhere these days, I wonder if we’ll ever be able to just order our own meal again? I hope not.
I can’t go past a slider and there’s a selection of 4 of $20 – we choose Butter chicken with cucumber & lime relish and minted yoghurt; Alaskan king crab, prawn and kohlrabi remoulade. I’ve left my phone in the car so White Rabbit is in charge of photography – she’s feeling the pressure, but the lights begin to dim as the night goes on, we have no choice but to use the dreaded flash.
We’re drinking a beautifully coloured rose – a Vinaceous ‘salome’ tempranillo rose from Margaret River, WA ($11/$50).
We share the Slow roasted spiced lamb shoulder with roasted capsicum, tomatoes, hummus, minted yoghurt and marinated fetta ($19). It’s nice, but there’s a bit too much going on. I think there are probably better options like the Mahi Mahi ceviche with avocado, coconut, radish and tomato and cauliflower fritters – next time.
And did I tell you it’s “say no to dessert in November”? I can say that now because it’s nearly December and when I think back to where I’ve dined and birthdays I’ve shared this month; The Euro, Gerard’s Bistro, Tetsuya’s, Café Sydney, Mr Wong, Cactoblastis, The Botanist and Baccomatto Osteria – I’ve said no to dessert and cake 8/10 times! That’s as good as not at all for me! Just making room for Christmas…
The Botanist – 17 Willoughby Road, Kirribilli NSW – 02 9954 4057