A taste of the Mediterranean
Brighton Food Reviewer, Ami Thornton, February 2016
I approach The Olive Grove, a Mediterranean restaurant swallowed up in the touristy Lanes, just around the corner from legendary Riddle and Finns, and there is an attractive young lad handing out soggy flyers to usher in a lunch time crowd. I couldn’t work out if this was a humorous attempt at conjuring up images of holidaying in Santorini in the wet blanket of January or if it just a simple and perhaps not-very-effective marketing strategy laid on this poor guy’s back. Regardless, I took one, as a gesture of solidarity.
As soon as you walk into the courtyard it isn’t hard to imagine Olive Grove overflows with merriment come the amber glow and warmth of lazy summer evenings – the restaurant has a pretty sizable outdoor space, decorated by lovingly maintained olive trees.
Once inside, you’ll find an intimate, rustic yet smart-looking layout, with warm woods and exposed brickwork.
We were ushered to our table by the sweet and gregarious staff before deciding to take advantage of the tasting menu, as suggested by our waitress. The menu is a cheerful, sunny journey through “Portugal, Spain, south of France, Italy and reaching the eastern coast of Greece”, filled with the usual suspects, reminiscent of a summer holiday. You’ll find a good selection of tapas and nibbles as well as main courses and even a menu for the little ones to boot, not to mention a detailed wine list celebrating the good-value and finest of southern Europe.
We began with the restaurant’s very own deep fried and stuffed olives (which are grown on premise), which were a notch above what you’d expect, considering it is, well, just stuffed olives. Fresh, super crisp, mouth-wateringly salty and creamy all at the same time. We move onto deep fried calamari with aioli, which had the same deft hand at work – it was crisp, yet tender inside and searingly hot.
The next taster was two different types of arancini (or deep fried rice balls) which were probably my favourite of the fried dishes – the flavours ran deep and strong and was prettily presented on slate with powdery trails of paprika. Fans of Olive Grove will be pleased to hear that the chef introduces new flavours of arancini all the time, moving in tune with the seasons, which helps refresh the menu.
A popular dish
As soon as we finished the last crumb, our waitress brought the grilled squid and Mediterranean salad – and from looking around the dining room, it was a firm favourite. There must have been one on every table, and no wonder, the chicory, rocket and tomatoes tasted fresh and the portion of squid was very generous and grilled perfectly with just a hint of smokiness.
A very traditional Greek pie or spanakopita was also on the menu, which I hadn’t tried before. It is a savoury, flaky ‘pie’, which reminded me of a samosa in a way, but filled with spinach and feta cheese.
Getting stuck in
‘Gambas arroz negro and aioli’ was our next adventure, and as finicky as shelled prawn can be, it was well worth getting your fingers dirty: simple, fresh and very juicy. I thought the helping of squid ink risotto was tasty, albeit a bit on the hefty side when having the tasting menu, this is obviously not really a complaint, but perhaps just an insight that my cowboy American appetite has been retrained to something a bit more elegant, clearly.
The main event – steak
We moved onto mains and the first was sirloin steak which came the familiar shade of medium rare (natch) laid on a bed of rocket. The simple presentation was bold and showed confidence in the quality of the ingredients and I really liked that – the steak did not disappoint.
A clever reduction
Our last savoury course was the beautifully slow-cooked pork belly served with sauteed spinach and baked polenta. I was at some point convinced there was some kind of separate reduction of some sort, just by how fragrant and rich the pork belly tasted but I was informed it was just slow-cooked in its own juices by the chef. I can honestly say that the chef must be wildly talented and fully understands the intricacies of the marriage between meat and heat, in order to create so much flavour so simply – a really beautiful dish and spoke to me even stronger with its rustic and authentic appearance that seemed to be general rule at Olive Grove.
By this stage, judging by our tortoise-like pace and tightening belts, we were nearing the end and it came to no surprise that our last course was on its way: a trio of popular desserts.
We had Greek yoghurt mousse, a really gorgeous, airy and creamy treat with crunchy nuts and sweetened with thick honey, then a curiously named, sultry and rich ‘salami chocolate’; a marbled chocolate served with banana, and lastly – the star of the show – sticky baklava stuffed with walnuts and pistachios and served with vanilla ice-cream. Reliving the experience, I can honestly say that I really recommend the tasting menu as it seems to cleverly package up the restaurant’s greatest hits for one indulgent sitting – as long as you are ready to heave yourself home after it all.
If you’re pining after the authentic flavours of the Mediterranean, Olive Grove is an ideal spot. And come sunnier, warmer days, make sure to take advantage of the pretty courtyard with an Aperol spritz in hand for lazy, all-day feasting, Med-style.