Walking into Botanica + Co is like entering a different realm. The grime, heat and thunderous whirr of machinery in the distance seem to melt away, giving way to a visual fairyland. Sunlight streams in through the full-length glass wrapped around the circumference of the eatery and plants, there are fresh flowers everywhere and ficus trees (yes, actual ficus trees) stand majestically in the middle of the restaurant. It’s all so surreal that you half expect pixies and fairies to emerge from the woodwork too!
“We wanted the restaurant to have a canopy of trees, so you would feel like you’re dining in a greenhouse setting,” said Tay Hui Ying, Botanica + Co’s brand development manager. Tay and her husband Teng Ei Liang are the main partners behind this spanking new restaurant in the heart of Bangsar South. The Singaporean couple also has a restaurant in the Lion City called Fat Lulu’s. With Botanica + Co, and sister restaurant Botanica Deli, just across from the restaurant, they are looking at widening that empire just a tad.
The restaurant took a year to come together, with loads of ideas mooted, only to be snuffed out. First, there was the notion of opening a barbecue restaurant, and then the suggestion of a Middle Eastern-inspired eatery, all of which then made way for a place with interpretations of modern Australian cuisine.
“I don’t want to use words like ‘gastronomic delight’, that’s a thing of the past. It’s not realistic anymore. I think we offer comfort food that’s wholesome,” said Tay.
The kitchen is helmed by Singapore-based, Malaysian-born chef Sam Neoh, who was hired after Tay and her husband found him on – of all places – LinkedIn! Neoh’s emphasis is on freshly-made food and as a result, you’ll find lots of hand-made elements like breads and burger buns, salads and dressings.
The eatery also has an intriguing range of cocktails on offer, created with some help (mostly tips and advice) from the team at Singapore’s famous 28 Hong Kong Street (recently named the best bar in Asia at the inaugural Asia’s 50 Best Bar Awards). If you’ve been to 28 Hong Kong Street, you’ll know to expect to have your mind (and sobriety) blown, and Botanica + Co’s cocktails have a similar effect.
Take the Bo + Co Cup (RM70), for instance. Designed for sharing among two or three, the drink has three types of Mancino Vermouth mixed with seasonal fruits. It’s a fruity, summery drink great for a lazy evening. Once you have a little sip, it’s going to be hard to keep away – in fact, you’ll form such a solid attachment to this drink, there might be embarrassing moments when you declare undying devotion to it.
Another cocktail for sharing is the Botanica Tom Collins (RM85). Infused with West Winds gin and herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme, this is a quietly seductive drink that draws you in slowly, and wins you over after repeated sips. The herbs give it a gentrified “English countryside” feel, but don’t be fooled – this is an extremely potent beverage, a fact you will probably only realise when you stand up and the world spins around you.
If you’re after something that balances salt and sweet with all the dexterity of a tightrope walker, the Carlos (RM30) is just the ticket. Taking its inspiration from Mexico, the cocktail contains tequila, papaya, lime and mango. The strength of the tequila is softened by the pulpy fibres of the papaya and mango; the sweetness of the fruits is rounded off by the sea salt flakes scattered across the surface of the drink like glistening pearls. This is a cocktail best enjoyed after work, when your mind is blank and you can fully appreciate the intricacies of the flavour balance at play here.
On the food front, there’s plenty to savour and enjoy. The Slipper Lobster Bisque (RM20) is perfect for rainy days (or just generally bad ones) and warms you from the inside out, like a much-needed hug. The bisque is smooth and reminiscent of the flavours of the sea, with plump prawns adding texture to the broth.
The Broken Chilli Fries (RM18) are basically fries tossed with chilli and Parmesan. The cheese is grated but not melted, which is a bit of a pity, and the chilli in question isn’t as fiery as you might expect – the spiciness lurks in the background rather than stealing the show.
For a more filling meal, tuck into the Kimchi Reuben (RM32) sandwich. Made up of pastrami, salami, melted Swiss cheese, kimchi and home-made BBQ sauce, this multi-decker monster sandwich is delicious from start to finish. The different layers do not jostle for your affections, instead banding together mellifluously like a perfectly-synced a capella group, buoyed by the strength of the kimchi, which is omnipresent but also – surprisingly – not overwhelming.
Salads always seem to promise so much on the menu and then deliver so little when you actually eat them, but you won’t find this to be an issue with the Crispy Soft Shell Crab Salad (RM26). Filled with apples, coconut, and the promised crispy soft shell crab, the salad also has a subtle chilli jam dressing. The star player in this offering is the crab, which is juicy and perfectly-fried. And unlike a lot of other outlets, Botanica + Co isn’t stingy, offering a super-sized portion of the crustacean that is sure to satiate fans of this crispy delight.
The Botanica Burger (RM36) features a house-made beef patty, relish, melted Cheddar, pickles, mustard mayo and onion rings in a toasted bun. While there are a couple of show-stoppers in the burger (the onion rings are da bomb), the overall burger tastes fairly plebeian. Even though all the elements are competently assembled, and you’re probably going to be relatively satisfied with the meal, it isn’t one of those burgers to write home about.
Once you’ve got your main meals out of the way, make absolutely sure you’ve left room in your distended stomach for dessert. Because desserts here are totally worth ditching your diet for. I conceded defeat after my first mouthful of Banana Butterscotch Cake (RM17). This decadent, moist cake has strong banana flavours set off by the yummy warm butterscotch sauce drizzled all over it. While it sounds like overkill – topping a rich cake with an even richer sauce – it all works together beautifully. So make sure to order it, and yes, you can thank me later.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re done yet, folks, because a trip to Botanica + Co would be a wasted one if you didn’t order the Churros Donut Stack (RM19). The crispy, flaky doughnut is balanced by the ice cream on the side and is so addictive, it is destined to land on many people’s most wanted lists.
So far, response to the eatery has been overwhelmingly good and Tay says although they weren’t anticipating large weekend crowds, it has been so busy on Saturdays that Botanica + Co will be introducing a brunch menu from July 23 onwards.
Tay attributes much of Botanica + Co’s success to a combination of aesthetics and food. “We realised that most restaurants we walked into were very dark. A lot of them use cement flooring and spotlights, but we wanted more green… so people would think ‘Oh, I’m not really in KL!’ ”
“And with the food, well, this is the kind of food that is very approachable – everyone likes it,” she said.
Botanica + Co
Ground Floor, Verticals Podium
Bangsar South City
8 Jalan Kerinchi
59200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 016-965 6422
Open Monday to Thursday: 11.30am to 10pm; Friday to Saturday: 11.30am to midnight. Call for new opening hours after July 23