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Olive boasts a classic and simple environment with hints of its penchant for Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine. The tables are fairly tightly spaced in rows and there is no bar to sit at. The glass front does bring in a lot of light and a chance to glance at the hustle and bustle of Elgin Street during your meal.
Some glittering lights and dramatic pieces of art puncture the unimaginative seating and fairly bland decor. The evocation of exoticism is continued with traditional music tinkling in the background at a level to be appreciated but not drown out conversation. At the time of our visit (a Wednesday night) the restaurant was completely empty, which created a somewhat stifled atmosphere in itself but one did wonder if it may be a bit cheek by jowl if the other tables were occupied.
Olive puts its money where your mouth is with food that instantly impresses in ways that you may not have quite been expecting. The flavours are deep and powerful, well thought out and innovative spices, herbs and aromas that are outside of the usual palate of Soho are introduced with expertise.
The Olive’s mezze is a pleasant awakening to the mix of Greek and Middle Eastern flavours you can expect throughout your meal, though lacks the punches of originality deployed in other courses. The hummus is silky smooth and has a subtle yet moreish flavor. The buba ganoush also errs on the side of bland. Fatima’s fingers aren’t particularly fat but this Middle Eastern version of the spring roll may bring something new to guests.
Olive’s mains are where the restaurant flexes its culinary muscles. The lamb has a delightfully roasted outer whilst still being pink inside. It’s pistachio and black pepper crust is absolutely packed tangy spices that marry with the oil from the pistachio, complimenting the strong flavours of the meat itself. The vegetables provide a refreshing antidote to the intensity to the lamb and crust – lightly drizzled in the feta dressing they introduce a new tart subtlety.
The duck breast served over a mjuddrah is another clever balancing act – a delightful blend of the salty meat with a sweet cardamom and orange glaze. The mjuddrah is a real taste sensation. Intense flavours of caramalised onions perfectly blend with surprising citrus notes of the lentil risotto.
In terms of desserts it is worth avoiding the predictable baklawa unless you fancy the expected delivery of sweet oiliness. Other dessert options have a propensity to fusion with the Middle Eastern tiramisu introducing new flavours of berries and honeycomb to the usual light and fluffy texture.
Olive’s wine list is an ample selection with a particularly large breadth of new world whites and some impressive old world reds. The full-bodied reds on offer match well with the strong bold flavours of the cuisine. For those in the mood for sampling something new, Olive also features some fairly unique bottles from Greece and Lebanon.
The service is attentive and friendly with wine glasses kept topped up and good recommendations as to the dishes.
Olive’s mains are not cheap but they are well sized and come packed with intriguing and enticing flavour. If you’re craving something new in Soho and fancy some Middle Eastern flavours this is the place to go, though for the price you might expect slightly more imaginative and sophisticated surroundings.