Friday 27 May 2016

Rediscovering Manchester #2 - The Royal Exchange (The Studio) // The Botanist

Despite living in Manchester most of my life, I've never felt particularly bonded with it. I prefer the other two cities I've lived in, Liverpool and London, and I've never felt like a true Mancunian; despite being very proud of being Northern.

But I'm back here now, and here I'm staying for at least the foreseeable future. So I decided I would give Manchester a chance; I would visit places, revisit places, wander around, try and get a feel for the city I've called home for over 20 years. And because I never do anything without an ulterior motive, I figured this would also make an excellent blog post series. You can read the first instalment here

I've been to the Royal Exchange before of course, but I've never seen anything on its smaller stage: The Studio. When I saw they were showing an adaptation of Nothing by Janne Teller, a Danish Existentialist novel I love, it was a winwin situation.

The Studio is a much smaller stage than the main one, though still in the round. The seats are unreserved which made me feel inordinately nervous. The Studio is accessed through a cute 'waiting room' with some old theatre-style seats and some quirky displays. To my dismay, people did NOT queue up nicely, but piled through the door to the theatre as soon as it opened. The seats are free-standing, and on 3 levels. The first level has seats with short short legs, and seems undesirable for those with long legs, and the back row seats are tall, like stools. The middle row is just right (Goldilocks style) and we managed to bag seats here. The seats are staggered enough that you should be able to see over the head of the person in front of you, unless they are very tall and you are very short.

The Studio seems to put on more experimental theatre, similar to that shown at The Young Vic and Nothing fitted perfectly with this style. The cast were all young (the book features teenage characters) and were all brilliant. It was carefully and cleverly adapted and I felt it worked well in the more basic space.

After the play we headed to The Botanist for some food and cocktails. I've had this on my list of places to go since I moved back, and it being a 2 minute walk from the theatre made this the perfect opportunity to finally visit. We were seated immediately and pleasingly given a table for 4 with only 2 of us, and it's always nice to have the extra space when there's the availability. The Botanist is a chain, with venues mostly in the North of England (Ha, London!). The first thing that struck me about The Botanist was how beautiful it is, how quirkily it's been decorated, and the sheer attention to detail (and commitment to the theme). It had a definite garden/shed/conservatory feel (depending on which part you were in) and a gorgeous chandelier. I'm a sucker for decent decor, so I was sold on The Botanist from the off.

The main reason I wanted to visit The Botanist was their cocktail list. I'm a huge fan of botanicals in cocktails, and The Botanist has an extensive and varied list that really excited me. After much umming and ahhing, I went for the Blackberry Fizz (Blackberry purée, rosemary, Bombay Dry Gin, Hayman’s Sloe Gin, apple juice, lemon juice, sugar, topped with soda) and my friend for The Botanist (Ketel One vodka, Bacardi Carta Blanca rum, elderflower liqueur, red amaranth, mint, jasmine syrup, lime juice, topped with lemonade) which admittedly was nicer. I liked mine, it was fruity and sweet and slightly herby, but I would have liked more rosemary taste. I liked that there was a good mix of ingredients in the cocktails, some places put 3 things together and call it a cocktail, and that these ingredients worked so cohesively together but that you could also taste all individual elements.

I was in a nibbling mood (I usually am) so I ordered 2 starters (scotch egg with piccalilli, and salt and pepper onion petals with soured cream dip) and a side of chips. The food was beautifully presented and really delicious, extremely well seasoned. The portions were really generous, especially of the chips. Our service was impeccable: fast and friendly in a really genuine way. There was live music which was super lovely for a chilled out Sunday afternoon meal. 

There's loads more cocktails I want to try, and food I want to sample, and I absolutely love the venue and the atmosphere so I will most definitely be a regular at The Botanist. I think it's likely to be my go-to place to take people, and as I'm visiting Newcastle later in the year I'm hoping to visit the branch there too. 


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