The Botanist

We’ve all walked past it in the pouring rain.  We’ve seen those poor, desperate people braving the elements as they cling fastidiously to their cocktails.  And we’ve all wondered what on earth it is about that place that makes just about everyone want to go there as soon as the weekend rears its shining head.  So, in true sheep fashion, I went to The Botanist.

Based in Sloane Square, spitting distance from the tube station, The Botanist has a location that most restaurateurs would die for.  Situated next door to Guy Pelly’s latest venture, Tonteria, although good luck getting in there since they won’t take bookings, The Botanist has the rich and famous as its continuous passing trade.  And, more importantly, it would take the average person about a week or so to read the cocktail list.

Forcing my way passed the intently focussed cocktail drinkers, I made it to the restaurant.  A haven of peace compared with the mania of the bar.  On the waiter’s recommendation we ordered whitebait for starters.  There was no way I was not going to take this recommendation.  The waiter not only had the sparkliest eyes I’d ever seen, he was also the friendliest waiter in the whole entire world.  Clearly loving every minute of his job, he found nothing too much trouble.  The service is one of the highlights of this beautiful restaurant.   We then ordered steak and fishcakes.  Nothing hugely exciting but then this is one of the charms about this surprisingly unpretentious place.  I also had no idea just how good béarnaise sauce could be until this one.

The pudding menu is sadly underwhelming and the bill the opposite.  Unsurprising given the location, and it’s certainly worth it,…but still a bit of a shock.

If you’re in the mood for wrestling through the crowds, then The Botanist bar is definitely for you.  Having tried a huge number of cocktails off their extensive list, I’m yet to be disappointed.  The food is classic and wholesome.  If that’s what you’re after, you could do a lot worse.

Waking up in Vegas…

I have seen ‘The Hangover’.  I have seen ‘Oceans 11’.  I have many a friend who dared the stag weekend or, worse, the marriage in Vegas.  So touching down on Nevadan soil for the first time I was very much under the impression that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

But I was wrong.

Nothing happens in Vegas.

Perhaps this was my fault.  Perhaps I should have been prepared with Vegas style date rape drugs and more money than I will ever earn in a lifetime.  But unfortunately, I was naive.  I, a Londoner born and breed, did not assume that finding clubs, bars, and even anything to do at all without the aid of narcotics would be a problem.  Again, wrong.

In the pursuit of a Vegas style weekend of the sort portrayed by Hollywood, I found myself outside XS nightclub in the Wynn hotel where I was staying.  It was closed.  Undeterred, I powered on to the next club and the next…they too were closed.  Now I should introduce a caveat at this point.  While I was searching for a ‘Vegas-style-weekend’, I had arrived in Vegas on a Monday and was staying until Wednesday.  Most of the night clubs are closed on a Monday and Tuesday and most of the shows are performed Wednesday through Saturday so I was at a disadvantage before I had even begun.  However, like New York, I assumed that Vegas wouldn’t need sleep.  In a casino-fuelled town in which clocks and windows allowing the presence of natural light are considered superfluous, why would anyone need to sleep?  Why would anyone even remember to sleep?  But apparently, even without the reminder of, you know, the dark, people remember to go to bed and furthermore they remember to close down their clubs, restaurants and bars before they go to sleep.  Entirely unprepared for these somniac tendencies, I turned up at restaurants at 10:00 to find them no longer serving.  So here I was in the gambling centre of the world with nowhere to eat, nowhere to go out and really nothing to do except continue putting my miserly dollar bills into the repetitive whir of the slot machine.  I did not leave Vegas in credit…I believe that’s sort of the point.

So while my Vegas nights left something to be desired, my Vegas days left much more.  Not much of a gambler, I decided the most cultural pursuit in this toy town would be a visit to the hotels.  I would not have considered it any sort of a challenge to walk the length of the strip and believed, naive again, it would be a pleasant way to spend one morning.  I had reasoned this without taking into account the 49 degrees heat…seriously, 49 degrees.  The few days I had chosen to spend in Nevada turned out to be the hottest Vegas had ever seen.  It was impossible, especially for someone as fair, pale and unaccustomed to the sun as me, to be outside for any more than about four minutes.  Persevering with minute-interval pauses in air conditioned shops, I made it as far as the Bellagio to watch the fountain show.  This, I have to admit, is entirely worth a visit, not only because the fountain show is spectacular but because from a glass fronted cafe that overlooks the fountains, you can also see a majority of the other hotels which saves you the desert-style trek to their front doors and a risk of dehydration, heat stroke and certainly an awful lot of sweat.

In Vegas’ defence, I must mention that a trip to the Grand Canyon (and, well, a trip out of Vegas) is well worth doing.  Don’t take the bus option.  This takes 14 hours and in 49 degrees heat this would almost certainly just kill you.  They run an expensive but worth every penny helicopter trip to the canyon where they present you with ‘Champagne’ and a picnic inside the canyon.  This natural wonder of the world is the definition of breathtaking and arriving in the stylish helicopter, hopefully with a devishly attractive pilot, is the only way to do it.  But as far as Vegas is concerned, you can shop, gamble and eat.  But you can shop at Harvey Nichols, you can gamble in Monte Carlo and you can eat, well I won’t patronise you with suggestions.  Vegas has nothing that you cannot find cheaper, easier, and certainly cooler elsewhere.  Save your money and limit the time spent in an aeroplane getting to this soulless no-man’s land.  Let whatever it is that happens in Vegas happen in Vegas but if you’re looking for a ‘Hangover-style’ holiday, I think illegal narcotics are the only option. Image