As a faired haired English rose (more prickly than elegant) fanatical about Christmas and blessed (cursed) with one pasty alabaster complexion, summer ain’t my favourite season. My repertoire of black jackets and chunky jumpers becomes redundant. I have to set my alarm 15 minutes earlier to allow for quarter of an hour’s worth of standing in front of my clothes rail starkers, wondering how the F I can make chenille work in 23 degree heat.
My hair develops a life of its own. I sunburn my forehead as soon as I push the curtains back and DO NOT get me started on the raft of airborne wildlife that suddenly wants to make my seemingly sugar-abundant bloodstream their watering hole. Roll on Christmas.
One of the very few things I can totally get onboard with when the sodding sun decides to put his hat on is when the beautiful Botanical Gin Garden reopens its doors.
As soon as there’s even a whisper of sun over the North West of England, you can better your bottom dollar that a good 70% of Liverpool’s population below the age of 40 will be flocking to the Botanical Gin Garden. Based in the Baltic Triangle, over the road from Camp & Furnace, a stone’s throw from the Baltic Market and neighbouring a popular skatepark, the Gin Garden is in good company. This is where the cool kids hang out when beer garden weather rolls around but as the name suggests, this al fresco bar is a celebration of the trendy juniper berry elixir.
You’ll know by now that I am pro-gin. I do love a G&T and have built up quite a collection of favourite distills over the past couple years but it’s always nice to get to a bar and find something new to try. While we were there we went for a Strawberry Beefeater gin and tonic, a grapefruit flavoured Gin in a Tin, a Warner Edwards Rhubarb Gin and tonic, a zesty gin-based slush and fruity gin and ginger ale punch which I’ve stupidly misplaced the name of. These guys sure know how to showcase the diversity of this popular spirit so for gin lovers, the Botanical Garden is a must.
It’s such a beautiful setting too. Simple but effective. Rustic but elegant. Although it is fairly small when compared with its gargantuan fanbase, you’ll almost always find somewhere to perch. Astroturf bleachers are the go-to for sun worshippers while sheltered booths and a new indoor seating area provide the perfect place to cool down. Don’t forget to take advantage of the complimentary water and sun screen if you’re here when the weather is good because this bloomin’ beautiful garden is one helluva sun trap.
As part of its offering, the Gin Garden always features a food-based pop up within its intimate efflorescent grounds. Last time I was there, if my memory serves me correctly, it was Little Furnace and their notoriously delicious stonebaked pizzas. This time it’s Oktopus with a more mainstream edit of their avant-garde menu. In the Liverpool restaurant on Hardman Street you’ll find European small plates spanning everything from Chikpea Panisse with Black Olive Caramel to Lamp Rump with haricot beans and Cavola Nero.
At its makeshift counterpart in the Gin Garden, the dishes take on a more casual streetfood style. From the menu of six we chose some Salt & Pepper Calamari with sweet potato, wild rice and charred lime (£6.50), some Buttermilk Fried Chicken in Honey & Harissa with roasted peanuts and ‘smacked cucumbers’ (£6.50) and a portion of Sweet Potato Fries (£4) on the side. Simple as they may be, the seasoned sweet potato chips with their delicious (but unfortunately anonymous) dip were the best of the bunch. The ideal morsel to nibble on when the drinks are flowing and you haven’t even noticed the sun has begun to dip. Perfect for sharing too.
Unfortunately, our fried chicken and the calamari wasn’t quite up to scratch. The ideas are all there and the concepts are on point – chicken with Harissa, honey and crunchy peanuts, yes please – but the execution what a bit of a damp squib. Or should I say damp squid. Sadly, the batter on the calamari lacked crunch and the chicken was more bone than meat albeit beautifully presented and perfectly photogenic. Had the squid rings been coated in a nice dry, crispy batter and had the fried chicken been more tender, our edibles would have been well on the way in the right direction.
Credit where it’s due though, the venue was packed to the rafters at this point with a queue snaking its way through the tables. So for an eatery that clearly prides itself on finesse, usual standards may have just been lost in translation. I’m not going to let my first encounter curtail me from checking out Oktopus’ restaurant to see what they’re really made of and nor should you. It goes without saying that I’ll be back to the Gin Garden for a tipple or two when the sun next shows its face and I’ll be saving space for a plate of sweet potato fries to myself this time.
I was very kindly invited to review Oktopus and the Botanical Gin Garden but all words, photographs, opinions, teeth, hair, boobs and nails are my very own.