Two music graduates chronicle the culinary delights of Leeds and London and explore the height of fine dining on a limited budget.

Good food is well punk.

May 30, 2010

A Mediterranean in Leeds: The Olive Tree

Well, to celebrate the ongoing success of notafuckingfoodie, the two of us went out for dinner at The Olive Tree - winner of the Best Mediterranean Restaurant in the Leeds Restaurant Awards. And as dedicated food bloggers (but not Fucking Foodies, mind), what was there to do but complete the meal with a review?

In terms of dividing up the writing, we'll use a cunning trick of internet publishing, and write with the following voices:

Tom here...
...and Marianne over here!

Upon walking into the restaurant we were immediately hit by the waft of good food and the buzz of lively chatter. But instead off getting bogged down in the miscellanea of the d├ęcor let's get straight down to business and talk about the food!

Chargrilled octopus on a bed of spinach with citrus dressing to begin with for me. My previous culinary experiences of octopus consisted of a tastelessly leathery sushi and gorgeously panfried tapas. This offering came in as a very good third experience - cooked so simply on the hot grill, the freckly, slightly burnt smokiness of the suckers and gorgeously meaty tentacles were brilliantly cut through with the dressing.

Starter of king prawns in a chilli and garlic cream sauce. These were surely not king prawns but Steroid Prawns. They were so huge, in fact, that their texture became even more squid-like than the octopus. Still gorgeous, however, and wonderfully complemented by an unusually sweet garlic aroma floating through the pool of cream sauce. All-in-all, though, the octopus juuuuust beat it.

The wine was a Cypriot white - named "Aphrodite" for some reason. Perhaps because of the ease with which one could knock it back? A fairly dry bottle of table plonk, really. Though pretty pricey at £14 a pop. Still, it added to the illusion of having a meal at some cheap family-run bistro near the coast in the mediterranean. And after all, that's why people eat at Greek restaurants, surely? That and the fabulous dips.

Ooh, taramasalata. Forgot about that. It was GORGEOUS, and deservedly award-winning. The cod roe almost took on a tomatoey flavour it was that juicy, yet remained rich and creamy. The just-warm pitta sticks that came with were the perfect accompaniment.

Agreed. I'd never claim to be an authority on Mediterranean dips (although growing up in south-west London has exposed me to an excessive amount of hummus) but it was possibly the best bowl of mashed up fish eggs I've ever eaten.
Main course for me was a joint of slow roast Kleftiko Lamb, a traditional Cypriot dish cooked with garlic and oregano. The meat was gorgeously tender, flaking softly off the bone at the merest stroke of a fork. served again of the spinach salad, the meat was incredibly well done, but felt it needed just a little kick more of garlic. Of course, as with anything labelled as 'traditional', I have no bloody idea whether the garlic is supposed to be subtly infused or powerfully overwhelming. But I love garlic. Crave it, even. Oh well.

Main of red mullet on bed of capers and salad: There were no capers. I love capers and there were none. That was half the reason I ordered the dish. The lack of capers was sort of made up for by the shock of not one but THREE red mullets sitting delicately poached on my plate. However much warm spinach salad the chefs were willing to throw at me (with again an unusually sweet vinaigrette! Is this a Greek thing or was there extra sugar in the kitchen?) there was no way I could eat all that fish. The, uh, petite wedge of lemon provided couldn't possibly make up for the lack of flavour throughout the mullet, and Tom gamely finished the dish off for me. Again, the lamb won in terms of amount, flavour, presentation (although the mullet's presentation was very good) and for simply having all the components listed on the menu. Hmph.

Since neither of our dishes came with something starchy to soak up the lashings of citrus dressing, we ordered a dish of Briam to share - a sort of Greek ratatouille flavoured with dill, the flavours were earthy and rich, but we just couldn't manage to eat all the food. Should have got the chips.

Dessert was baklava: initially was disappointed by having only one but then I realised not just how much it had been "poshed up" in terms of exquisite presentation, with trails of sauce and icing sugar floating over the bowl - I tasted the damn thing. More pistachios seeped out through the pastry layers than I could ever have imagined and the syrup was delicately flavoured and not too heavy. No need for any accompaniment; the baklava was balanced all on its little lonesome.

My Stafidhopitta was slightly less satisfying - similarly, a singular portion of filo pastry-based sweetness but instead of pistachios, was filled with sultanas and flavoured with orange liqueur. Unlike the delicately balanced baklava, it was just too sweet. To the point of sickliness, even, and had to be quickly counteracted by an immediate serving of strong espresso.

Overall, the food was impressive, if a little expensive. The bill for two eventually came to £96 - perhaps a little too much emphasis on filling stomachs rather than satisfying palates and well out of the range of most student budgets, but there exists a much more comfortably-priced set menu, with three (presumably smaller) courses for £14. We should have gone for that option really. Oh well.

The Olive Tree Headingley
74-76 Otley Road

Tel: 0113 274 8282


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