Restaurant review: The Olive Branch, Roundhay, Leeds

The Olive Branch on Street Lane in Roundhay.
The Olive Branch on Street Lane in Roundhay.
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Let’s face it. When it comes to Turkish cuisine the closest most English folk get to sampling its undoubted delights is in those witching hours after a few too many drinks in the city centre.

For some reason, one that not even the brightest scientific minds have ever quite been able to fathom, it’s around this time that the perfect correlation between the two variables of the amount of booze that has passed our lips and the time that has passed since our last meal means punters suddenly get a hankering for the charms of a doner kebab.

Unfortunately, more often than not, what we end up with is a pitta bread filled with greasy shavings from one of those rather scary-looking spit-mounted elephant’s feet invariably stationed in the front window of the nearest kebab shop.

Extra onion and lashings of fiery chilli sauce may make it edible at 2am, but chances are your body - not to mention your breath and those who have the misfortune to encounter it - won’t thank you when you eventually wake from your slumbers some hours later.

And if you stop to think about it, that’s a pretty unfair way to treat a proud cuisine that can trace its heritage back to the Ottoman Empire, one that represents a refined fusion of the best of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines.

So thank goodness for The Olive Branch then, which has recently opened on Street Lane in Roundhay and is valiantly attempting to haul us away from those grease-laden takeaways toward a wider and more appreciative sense of Turkish food.

The second in a burgeoning chain that began with the original Olive Branch eaterie in Hebden Bridge, and not to be confused with this city’s successful Olive Tree chain of Greek restaurants, it seems that it’s already making a word-of-mouth name for itself, certainly if the rate at which the tables filled up during our visit was anything to go by anyway.

The bold black and red signage outside feels a little off-kilter and may not be the most promising of adverts for what lurks inside, but once through the door the Olive Branch doesn’t lack for charm.

The walls incorporate stylish stacks of slate and stone, while wood panelling at floor level adds warmth. The decorative bar area offers a nice hint of the sun-kissed eastern Mediterranean as opposed to a bustling thoroughfare through north Leeds.

Having been greeted by our friendly waiter from Istanbul, photographs of his home city taking pride of place on the walls, we started as we meant to go on by doing our level best to sample as many different dishes as we could, purely for the purposes of research of course.

The hot mixed meze sharing plate (£12.95) offered great value, providing more than enough for the two of us to get our teeth into.

Wodges of stringy Haloumi cheese, crispy deep-fried jalapeno peppers stuffed with cheese, falafel, pastry cheese rolls and sucuk - a delicious traditional Turkish grilled garlic pepperoni - along with olives, salad and bread would, under other circumstances, have sufficed for an entire meal.

The array of flavours and textures was spot on, with a clean plate to prove it.

Perhaps eager to break people in gently, The Olive Branch also offers a few non-Turkish starters in amongst the staples such as stuffed vine leaves and traditional dip-based dishes.

However, given the standard of our meze, anyone considering it should think long and hard before plumping for the prawn cocktail, nachos or cheesy garlic bread which don’t really belong there anyway.

Instead, the cold meze plate - which includes the likes of baby spinach and grated carrots in creamy garlic sauce - or just something simple like feta cheese, mixed olives and homemade bread for two to share are worthy of investigation.

The main course options similarly offer something for just about everyone. There are fajitas with a choice of chicken or lamb to go with the marinated mushrooms, onions and peppers. Pizzas offer a dizzying range of options, the most eye-catching teaming spinach and jalapenos with feta, free range egg and olives.

This multicultural melting pot is an unnecessary distraction, however. It’s the traditional Turkish grub we’ve come for and when it’s done as well as this there is little temptation to start embarking on a culinary criss-crossing of the globe.

My dining partner declared herself delighted with her choice of Kizartma (£11.95), a combination of roasted vegetables with garlic yoghurt, served with salad, bulgur wheat and cacik, the Turkish take on the Greeks’ Tzatziki.

Personally, I found it slightly sickly on account of the large dollop of yoghurt plonked on top of what were admittedly delicious chunks of roast peppers, aubergine, mushrooms and other veggies.

Mediterranean food can be a carnivore’s delight and The Olive Branch’s fare certainly won’t disappoint meat-eaters looking to fill their boots.

Keen to do just that I opted for the Karisik Izgara (£13.95) - mixed kebab to you and me - which offered a sampler’s selection of grilled kebabs including lamb shish (cubes of skewered marinated lamb), kofte (spicy minced lamb), chicken shish and pirzola (marinated lamb chops), served with salad, bulgur and cacik on the side.

A real plate-bulger, I was licking my lips in anticipation of the array of spices and flavours on offer. I also liked the look of the homemade chilli tomato sauce (£2) and so ordered that too as a tasty dipping sauce.

Don’t get me wrong, the kebabs were good. But unfortunately the strong flavours I was looking for weren’t quite there in sufficient depth.

Tasty though it was, the result was that there was little discernible difference in taste between the various meat dishes crammed on to my plate. As for the chilli sauce, that too was a little bit of a let-down.

I certainly wasn’t after the sort of sauce that’s so beloved of takeaways and can inflict third-degree burns on the roof of your mouth at first contact, but this was a bit of a wishy-washy affair.

It was chock-full of the freshest ingredients but the most active one in there appeared to be parsley, and that does not a tangy chilli sauce make. Not the one I was hoping for, anyway.

Still, washed down with a couple of bottles of authentic Efes beer, or one of the restaurant’s reasonably-priced wines, this was a most enjoyable meal. Perfect for those occasions when you fancy something slightly different in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

On this evidence, The Olive Branch will acquit itself well in its task of introducing Leeds diners to the delights of authentic Turkish cooking. And plenty will be impressed enough with the quality of food and the value for money on show here to come back with their friends. The final bill was £62 including a tip.

Spicy (mild) Gigantes (Greek butter beans) cooked with Cretan chilli olive oil sauce, aubergines, carrots,onions and celery.

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