Image © and courtesy of Olivo Restaurant
As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, Nick and I are in the habit of attending fairly regular wine tastings at the Wine And Dine Society, which meets at the Hesperia Hotel across the road from Victoria Station. More often than not, we roll out of the tasting sometime aftrer 21h00, a little tipsy, and by the time we get home it is close to 22h00 and too late to cook properly, so we either don’t eat or eat Bad Things (hello, cheese spread with mayo!!).
Recently, I got wise and did a bit of research on the internet before we attended a Californian wine tasting, and one of the places that caught my eye was Olivo, a Sardinian restaurant round the corner from where we would be. Because it was a Monday night and not a celebrity haunt kinda restaurant, I didn’t even think of booking – so I was somewhat taken aback when we arrived to find the restaurant full, and the maitre d’ asking us expectantly what the name of the reservation was. Sheepishly I had to admit that we didn’t have a reservation. A few minutes of mental calculation and reorganisation of tables on the part of the maitre d’ ensued… and then he said “follow me!”. Hurrah! We were in.
The restaurant decor looks more South American than anything else – the walls are a rough plastered yellow and blue with a stencil of what looks like a primitive art motif running along the length of the walls at about shoulder length. It’s simple and striking, but generally more rustic charm than fine dining (also evidenced by the paper overlays on the tablecloths), but it’s attractive nonetheless. The wine list was, of course, Sardinian and none of us had the vaguest knowledge of any of the wines (now, if only they’d asked us about Californian wines then we could have told them something!). By process of elimination we settled on a botttle of Pinot Nero – not cheap at £23 and more in the category of “perfectly pleasant” rather than memorable. Service was fast & efficient, but not rushed. After hearing the specials menu, I had no choice but to order a starter from there which sounded heavenly – and heavenly it was: chargrilled zucchini on a bed of rocket, topped with generous shavings of cheese (tasting like a very young pecorino) and truffle oil. Isn’t it great when something that souded so good on the menu lives up to expectations in the flesh? This was one of those dishes. As the waiter put it down in front of me, I caught a whiff of truffle oil, and visually it looked fresh and green and summery – perfect for the hot, sticky evening. The textures were perfect – the zucchini still crunchy despite their griddle marks, and the tangy, cream cheese formed a great combination. And what’s not to like about truffle oil? Both Nick and one of our friends had the fresh chilled tomato and basil soup – a Sardinian version of gazpacho. When they first tasted their soup, both were convinced that sugar had been added. I tasted the soup and although it was delicious and refreshing, I also agreed that the swetness probably came from sugar (purely a puzzling observation, rather than a complaint!)
For my main course I was tempted to order the fish stew, but in the end I could not resist the lure of the tuna steak, so I went with that. Krysia made the mistake of ordering the “Sicilian” fish stew – an easy mistake to make (both islands, both Italian etc etc). The waiter took the order, then leaned over and started writing something on the paper overlay. At first I thought he was writing down our order, Wagamamas-style – but no: he printed very carefully, as if for very young children, the word “S-a-r-d-i-n-i-a-n” on the overlay and pointed out that it was NOT the Sicilian fish stew she was ordering. Okeydokey. And as it turned out, she wasn’t that impressed with the stew anyway, whatever island it was from… Kevin ordered the malloredus (a traditional Sicilian pasta twist with a garlic, chilli, salsiccia, olive courgette & tomato sauce) and pronounced it delicious, while Nick and I got our absolutely done-to-perfection chargrilled tuna. As I have mentioned before, I have often been disappointed with tuna in restaurants when I ask for rare and it comes well-done and cooked through. However, this fish was perfectly done, still pink on the inside and delicious. It was accompanied by a simple rocket and plum tomato salad, and one bite revealed… the sweetest plum tomatoes I have ever tasted. In fact, the taste so perfectly matched the soup that Nick had started with, that it was pretty obvious where the sweetness had come from – not sugar but the tomatoes themselves. Delicious.
The bill came to £115 for the four of us, excluding service – but including a £6 “cover charge”! I wasn’t going to quibble about £6, but really – what is the reason for a cover charge in this day and age?? I have no problem paying a cover charge for a nigthclub or somewhere with live music or some value-added service . But you are going into a restaurant for the sole purpose of sitting down and buyng food at already-inflated prices – why add insult to injury (or cover charge to mark-up) and make me pay for the privilege of buying your expensive food? That said, I thought the prices were reasonable if a little steep for the size of the portions, but everything I ate was fresh and flavoursome, and spoke of carefully sourced, good ingredients. I would go back (probably after the next wine tasting…) but I do wish they’d rethink their cover charge!
Closest Tube station: London Victoria
21 Ecclestone Street
Tel: 020 7730 2505