The Olive Tree has quite a reputation in Leeds and last year owners George Psarias and wife Vasoulla took the Yorkshire Evening Post's prestigious Oliver award for Outstanding Contribution to the Restaurant Industry.
The Rodley branch opened in 1982 and is housed in an elegant Victorian stone-built manor house just off the roundabout at Rodley Bottom. It has character and charm and the restaurant itself feels like it belongs there.
It's everything a converted country manor should be and, despite being just off the outer ring road, as soon as you pull into the car park you feel like you've taken a breather from the rat race.
It was made all the more idyllic looking because when we visited, the ground was thick with snow and the warm glow of lights from inside were more than a little inviting.
We were greeted at the door by a polite staff member, who took our coats and led us to our table, although disappointingly it was a touch cold inside the restaurant, a point rectified by staff who placed an electric heater near our table.
To start I ordered humus (4.75), the portion being more than ample, and delivered to our table with chopped, warm flatbread. I like humus but I have to say I was a touch disappointed by the dish, which, I thought tasted a little bland. It needed a kick of something (more seasoning or lemon juice, perhaps) to set the taste buds off and become what it was meant to be – an appetiser.
We also ordered that Greek classic taramosalata (also 4.75), which I plumped for simply because it came with the description: "Our award-winning starter as shown on the BBC Food & Drink program."
I thought, if it's award-winning, let's give it a whirl, but it too proved to be a little bland and lacking bite for my taste, though again nothing a squeeze of lemon juice wouldn't address.
Because these were both dips, we ordered keftedes (5.85) for a contrasting texture. These were meatballs prepared with minced lamb, potatoes, breadcrumbs, diced onions and herbs and served with a fresh 'piquant' tomato sauce – and they were okay.
Just okay, you might ask? Well, yes, just that, which is a shame, because when you're paying over 6 (with a service charge) for them, you expect something zingy, something that's so nice you almost don't want to stop eating it.
For mains I ordered the vodhino stifado (13.95), prime diced beef in red wine sauce with onions and herbs, a classic Greek dish, which proved to be most satisfying; the beef was tender, well cooked, the sauce warming and nourishing, almost like a rich broth, with the wine lingering comfortingly in the background – perfect on a cold winter night.
Perhaps the 14 price tag was a little on the steep side as the dish came without any accompaniment, so it was a good job we ordered side dishes of 'patates tiganites' (chips), at 1.95, and a tomato and onion salad, which at 2.95 was okay, except for the tomatoes, which were a bit tasteless and watery.
My partner ordered the fish and seafood platter, which was a hefty 16.95 and looked amazing, although the giant prawns were overcooked and as a result too dry – and the intestinal tract had not been removed, either.
The swordfish, salmon and kalamari, however, were excellent and the dish came with a rice accompaniment which was cooked perfectly.
For dessert I ordered Greek trifle (4.95), made with apricot jam, rosewater, egg custard and sprinkled with almonds, while my partner ordered stafidhopitta, again 4.95 and the stand-out dish of the evening.
It consisted of sultanas marinated in filfar orange liqueur and a hint of cinnamon in filo pastry and was served warm – it tasted like a cross between a strudel and a mince pie and was very Christmassy and very more-ish.
It came with the reminder, "as featured on BBC 2 Food & Drink, March 1992". Nearly 20 years on, it's still good but that date does seem a long time ago.
The Olive Tree offers a perfectly respectable selection of wines, from the Greek Retsina, a white priced at 13.95, to the red Amethystos, again from Greece and priced at 19.95, plus there are some champagnes going up to 40.
All together, with drinks (I had two Greek bottled beers, which were crisp, clean and had good flavour and cost 3.30 each, while my partner had two tonics (1.95 apiece, plus two coffees to finish at 2.15 each) the final bill came to 75.85, on top of which they added a 10 per cent service charge. This took the final total to 83, which I was willing to pay as the service was good. Staff were attentive, polite and genial.
We had no quarrel with the timings of our food being delivered, there was a nice gap between starter and mains and we never felt rushed, although the restaurant was nowhere near busy, but given the midweek visit and the snowy weather, that was not surprising.
The Olive Tree has some great dishes, great staff, a great venue and a reassuring CV but like any successful restaurant, it cannot afford to rest on its laurels.
The Olive Tree Rodley, Oaklands' 55 Rodley Lane, Rodley, Leeds, LS13 1NG
Opening times: Noon-2pm; 5.45pm-late
Telephone: 0113 256 9283
SERVICE ...................... ****
***** EXCELLENT **** VERY GOOD
*** GOOD ** AVERAGE * POOR