Restaurant review: The Olive Branch, Alwoodley, Leeds

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Turkish restaurant reviews in this newspaper are, it would seem, like London buses.

After waiting a while to bring you one, last week Oliver paid a trip to the fledgling Olive and Meze in Wakefield.

Hot on its heels, this week it’s the turn of another relatively new arrival, The Olive Branch in Alwoodley (the humble olive is, apparently, the go-to foodstuff when christening Turkish restaurants).

While this particular venture, on The Avenue, has been open little more than a year, it has pedigree – there are successful sister establishments on Street Lane in Roundhay and in Hebden Bridge and Sowerby Bridge.

It would be unfair to say that the owners have a formula as each of their venues has its own individual character, not to mention its own menu.

But the experience acquired elsewhere is clearly being honed and refined to good effect and there is a confident professionalism about the Alwoodley incarnation of this mini food empire which immediately gives the impression that you’re in safe hands.

If you were already aware of the restaurant’s presence in Alwoodley, it’s probably because someone told you it was there, or you’re a regular at the Street Lane venue or you happened upon it while dropping in at the nearby Tesco Express.

The restaurant has, until relatively recently, had a minimal online presence, doesn’t appear to have carried out anything in the way of a concerted publicity campaign and seems to be relying predominantly on word-of-mouth.

Not that it seems to be hampering business at all. I’d thought I was being over-cautious when I booked ahead midweek, but there was barely a seat free when we took ours.

The interior is designed in the style of countless tavernas that you’ll find in the likes of Kalkan, Dalaman, or any of the other resorts dotted along Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline.

The bar framed by wooden beams, the tables sitting in the long shadows cast by subdued lighting, the walls lined with hundreds of wine bottles, it in large part conforms to the stereotype.

What you’re unlikely to find in such establishments on the streets of Istanbul are flat-screen televisions displaying those moving images of real fires on a seemingly interminable video loop, the like of which cheap hotels use to create an artificial sense of warmth.

The presence of two such TVs on the far side of the room was the first thing that struck us when we walked into this fledgling venue, On a frankly abysmal night of howling winds and lashing rain there was something curiously appealing, however, about the fake flames.

Of much more genuine warmth was the welcome we received on arrival.

The midweek offer – two courses for £13 – probably had something to do with the brisk trade on the night we went.

Loyal custom acquired at the owners’ other venues may also explain why this latest venture seems to have hit the ground running.

But there’s also plenty to impress first-timers.

We shared the cold platter (£13.90) – a mixed meze – to start.

Not a dish of great technical flourish, its component parts were nevertheless as tasty as they were visually pleasing.

Served on a circular white dish, a variety of dips and bitesize appetisers orbited a central pot of salad.

I’d have gorged on a whole wedge of the deliciously creamy feta cheese of which there were a handful of cubes, but there was plenty more to enjoy.

Large black olives, hummus, cacik (a seasoned yoghurt), baba ghanoush (roast aubergine and gherkin dip), ezme (a spicy tomato salsa), muhammara (walnut and pepper puree, served with nachos) and pilaki (a dish made with butter beans, carrots, tomato and parsley) provided a gamut of textures and flavours.

We raced through the hunks of bread that were provided as a tool for shovelling the lovely spread down.

From the mains we both chose dishes prepared on the grill.

My grilled lamb (£15.50) was an exercise in simplicity. Hunks of meat were served with a fresh salad, grilled tomatoes and peppers and rice.

I enjoyed the saltiness of the heavily seasoned lamb, but some may have found it a little overpowering. There was no light touch in the cooking either – it had taken more of a grilling than a shifty politician at the hands of Jeremy Paxman and was chewy enough to leave me with mild jaw ache.

Sadly we’d already polished off the yoghurt from the meze platter – it would have added some welcome moisture to a dish which on the whole verged on the dry.

In contrast my dining partner’s grilled seabass (£16.90) showed subtlety of treatment, the fish fillet perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside but moist underneath.

It came with a moreish portion of garlic and rosemary potatoes, along with green beans and tomato salsa. All in all a fresh and satisfying dish, but certainly not filling enough to dissuade her from angling for a dessert.

I was more satiated, but happy to go halves and so we shared the cheesecake, which was a really lovely creamy, crunchy, crumbly, zesty pudding.

With a couple of drinks, and the mid-week offer, our bill came to a perfectly reasonable £46.

On the whole it was a really pleasant if not faultless experience.

Nevertheless, the growth of the Olive Branch brand shows no sign of slowing.

THE OLIVE BRANCH

Address: 2-4 The Avenue, Alwoodley, Leeds, LS17 7BE

Telephone: 0113 226 0276

Website: www.theolivebranchrestaurants.com

Opening times: 11am-11pm

Ratings:

Food ***

Value ***

Atmosphere ****

Service ****

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