The Octagon really is one of my favourite spaces in Bath – you enter unsuspectingly through a narrow frontage on Milsom St or Green St, make your way along a little corridor and then suddenly, tucked away behind all the other buildings, you enter this beautiful, lofty former chapel, a huge airy space with the ceiling rising to an elegant dome three stories above your head. It’s the most wonderful secret in the city – invisible from anywhere on street level, you’d just never know it was there.
I loved The Octagon when it was Burger & Lobster but, dare I say, I think The Botanist have made it even more stunning. The circular bar, gleaming with polished wood and brass, makes a fabulous centrepiece, with a fully-sized tree (artificial, although you’d have to look quite closely to work that out) rising out of the middle, decorated with softly-glowing lanterns, like something you’d find in Narnia. As you’d expect, there’s greenery everywhere – banks of tall ferns and dangling creepers – and around the circular walls, glass-fronted cabinets full of botanical curiosities, from tiny succulents to sumptuously illustrated old books. The first-floor balcony, always one of The Octagon’s most glorious features, now hosts the best seats in the house, putting you on eye level with the fairy-tale lanterns and allowing you to watch from on high as the barkeeps busily concoct the most fabulous cocktails.
Aside from the location, the lavish cocktail menu really is one of the main attractions here, with all sorts of sensational flavours and ingredients to choose from and every one served with clever, quirky little details, from dry ice to flower pots. The food, meanwhile, is mostly rather nibbly, with lots of small plates, although there are some larger mains to choose from as well. I couldn’t resist the crispy gnocchi with truffle mayonnaise to start, a great little bar snack that went perfectly with my mocktail – a Lychee & Strawberry Bloom, with basil syrup and apple foam. Sweet and a little sharp, I highly recommend that one. My dining companion, meanwhile, had a lovely Raspberry & Elderflower Bellini, a great twist on a classic, and calamari to start with sweet chilli sauce – beautifully cooked with lovely crispy batter, although the portion size did seem a little stingy.
For my main course, I had to try The Botanist’s signature hanging kebabs, which come with different sauces to pour into the bowl at the top – the sauce then drizzles its way down the kebab and dresses your chips or salad at the bottom. I chose the pork belly with sweet chilli, apple and coriander sauce, which was very tasty, but I’m still not sure if I’m entirely converted to kebabs – even with the lovely sauce it does still end up being a plate of meat and veg, albeit beautifully tender, tasty meat in this case. My dining companion decided to check out the Botanist’s deli board menu, featuring a whole host of tempting little dishes to mix and match, which I think is definitely the better option – after much deliberation she opted for kohlrabi, heritage carrot & fennel coleslaw, a smoked haddock fishcake, polenta-crisp Camembert and crispy chicken with hot sauce. She particularly enjoyed the haddock fishcake, which was very well-flavoured, but the standout for me was the gooey Camembert in its crispy golden coating.
Finally, for dessert, our waitress recommended the sticky toffee pudding – something I’m a real sucker for – so I just had to see what it was like. This was probably the standout dish of the meal for me: a beautifully dark, moist (sorry) sticky toffee pudding, with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top and ‘caramelised custard’ underneath – so basically it’s two desserts in one, as you essentially get a crème brûlée too. I was a little worried to see there was no sticky toffee sauce, which is a bit of a crime in my book, but have to admit that I didn’t miss it at all, because the custard was so good – gorgeously smooth and velvety underneath its crisp toffee top. Definitely save some room for this bit.
I’m very, very happy to see my favourite building in Bath get a new lease of life, and I think The Botanist have done a beautiful job of it – with plenty of perfect spots for sitting and people-watching, lots of tempting small plates to nibble on and all those fabulous drinks to try, I have no doubt that The Botanist at The Octagon is going to become a hugely popular destination for cocktail hour. See you there.