The Jolly Botanist – look behind the busy front for satisfying food

The Jolly Botanist is on Morrison Street, the bit just before Haymarket. We’ve been going there for gin and tonic since it opened. It’s usually very busy. On the one hand, that can mean fun, random meetings. On the other, it means I sometimes want to go somewhere quieter. And, for whatever reason, the only menu we’ve ever looked at it the – extensive! – gin menu. When The Jolly Botanist contacted us and asked if we wanted to review, I looked at the menu and thought, yes, we really would.

Moroccan lamb chops with mint yogurt, sweet potato and couscous.

Moroccan lamb chops with mint yogurt, sweet potato and couscous.

So what was it about the menu that intrigued me? I’d expected pub grub all the way. There’s nothing wrong with pub grub, don’t get me wrong. It’s perfectly suitable for a pub. The Jolly Botanist menu is more ambitious than that. Yes, there’s the burger, fish and chips and sharing boards. But there’s more too. Chickpea and coconut curry looked good, as did the seared sea bream. Mushroom gnocchi and quinoa sallad are great veggie options. Scallops with cauliflower puré is a classic, hazelnut crusted goats cheese an intriguing starter.

It was a warm day, the doors at the front were open and it was very busy. The dining section is at the back and is surprisingly protected and a little more quiet – you can hear the party at the bar and talk without shouting. We settled down with the menu. The interior is cheerfully quirky in a gin-appropriate Victoriana way. I enjoyed the engravings on the walls and the vines and leaves stencilled on the tables. Service as great: we were looked after with care and enthusiasm.

Sunshine and rillette

To start, I had the duck rillette and Christopher the mushroom paté.

Rillette – potted meat, basically (sorry, France) – is lovely when it’s done right. I got a generous helping of flavourful, well-textured meat with melting fat and crisp toast. A sweet onion chutney added a note of acid.

Duck rillette. A good way to start a meal.

Duck rillette. A good way to start a meal.

It’s rare that we chose things that are that similar as almost two patés. Christopher’s mushroom paté was creamy and full of umami, the toast well toasted, the tomato chutney again a good foil.

We drank a rosé zinf which had sufficient sweetness to deal with anything we could throw at it. (It’s pink season now.)

Pre-Easter lamb and risotto

For mains, I chose lamb chops with Moroccan couscous and mint yogurt. The chops were huge and rich with fat. I usually eat the fat but I got full quickly and left a sliver with some of the couscous. There was nothing wrong with the couscous, there was just too much.

A note of caution: portion sizes are very generous! We did have three courses each, but we only really needed two. (We’re so brave.)

Christopher had the vegetable risotto. We laughed when it arrived – it was that huge. Rice, tomato and chunks of grilled vegetables. Tasty! Christopher ate a good two thirds.

Then we had to sit and think for a while before we had dessert. Digest and contemplate. Desserts are classics with a twist. We passed on the lemon tart and the chocolate orange brownie.

Vanilla, strawberry and basil panna cotta: soft, milky, cooling.

Vanilla, strawberry and basil panna cotta: soft, milky, cooling.


The strawberry and basil panna cotta was soft and soothing, milky, creamy, cool. Christopher’s pear sticky toffee pudding was luxuriantly soft and covered in caramel sauce.

Sticky pear pudding: the crumb on that pudding was so light!

Sticky pear pudding: the crumb on that pudding was so light!


The Jolly Botanist

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Caroline and Christopher were invited to dine by The Jolly Botanist.

Gustave Doré is one of my favourite artists. Hence this porthole shot.

Jules Vernes was one of my favourite writers when I was a kid and I loved 20,000 leagues under the sea. Hence Ithis porthole shot.

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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.

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