The last time I was in The Olive Branch, Roundhay, I was happy with the food, the atmosphere and so too the service.
However, as lovely as it was, I bemoaned the fact it felt too small. Don’t get me wrong, small can be good in the restaurant trade. Diminutive can be intimate, quaint and cosy (and lots of other things), plus it means the owners don’t have to spend ages filling up unused/unusable corners with huge palm plants and expensive looking statues, nor do they need to worry about customers feeling a little bit lost amid a sea of tables and ceilings so high you need scaffolding just to knock the cobwebs off.
So, when I say it lacked elbow room, what I really meant was, it felt like it just needed to stretch its arms.
Well, now it has.
The new, improved Olive Branch has at least doubled in size, thanks to a side extension, where previous there was a patch of dull, almost featureless asphalt which was occasionally used as a car park. Apparently,all this happened about a year ago. Now, considering I drive past there at least twice a week, I must only apologise for not noticing (or visiting) earlier.
Better late than never.
The Olive Branch is doing rather well for itself, it has to be said. Having started out in Hebden Bridge, they opened their second outlet in Roundhay circa 2011. Now their empire runs to seven outlets, the others being in Sowerby Bridge, Ilkley, Selby, Alwoodley and Leeds centre (Benson Street). So they must be doing something right. Right?
I can’t speak for the others but judging by their website, all seem to have a fairly common theme in terms of decor - a disarming mix of wood and stone making up the walls, with chunky beams framing large screen TVs, all of which play live looping feeds of tranquil Mediterranean beaches with azure skies and wisps of white cloud which almost make you want to book a flight. I swear if they had a travel agents in the back...
Tables and chairs are mismatched for that rustic dining chic, a cliche for sure, but the trick still works. The rest is a model of efficiency, with a neat, well-stocked bar at the back, shelves stacking all the way up to the ceiling, rope-bound glass lamps by the door and an array of gleaming wine glasses just beckoning you to buy a bottle and try them out. Despite the extension, though, it’s still only a modest sized restaurant.
The menu is a fanfare of eastern Mediterranean cooking with all the usual suspects (there were chef’s specials on the wall but no-one drew our attention to them). So we began with hummus (£4.50) and anchovies (£4.50). Both were good: the hummus chunky, fresh, well seasoned but with something else running through it. When I asked what it was, after a brief conflab with the chef, our waitress simply reported it was “Turkish herbs”.
The marinated anchovies were sweet, vinegary and salty with a smack of the sea. There was also chicken wings (£5.50), marinated and chargrilled, which came with salad and cacik (as does pretty much everything else).
Mains came in the form of lamb chops, served with salad, bulgar wheat and cacik (£13.95), with a side of roasted vegetables (£3.95), a meal large enough for the biggest of appetites. I ate Tavuk Beyti, which is minced chicken wrapped in Lavash bread, smothered in tomato sauce, those mysterious Turkish herbs and creamy yogurt (£13). The wrap is good but would benefit from a bit of zing: pickles, something to contrast the otherwise rather plain flavour of the chicken.
To finish, we ordered Oreo cheesecake (recommended) and hot chocolate fudge cake served with vanilla ice cream (£4.50 each), a hefty slab of indulgence if ever there was one. The total bill with drinks of two diet cokes and fresh orange was £76.35. I have to say I’m impressed. The Olive Branch definitely has made its mark on Leeds and surrounding towns. It has a strong identity and an equally strong following. It’s smart enough to cater for your high end diners but at the same time, it’s rough edges make it appealing to families and social groups. What it does, it does well. Staff are happy, confident and polite, a sure sign that even they know they’re onto something. Would it be nice to see a longer dessert menu? Yes. Could they take a leaf out of The Falafel Guys scriptbook? Certainly, for wraps.
In summary, this is a restaurant chain which has found its niche. It’s comfy in its own skin. How nice it is to visit a place that knows what it is. Good cooking, efficient staff, nice surroundings, etc... these are all necessary, of course, but behind all that, one can detect a guiding force, a clear vision and beneath even that a solid business sense and knowledge of the market. It can only be a matter of time before the empire expands once again.
The Olive Branch, Roundhay, Leeds
Address: 139 Street Lane, Leeds, LS8 1AA
Opening times: Monday to
Telephone: 0113 345 3056