What glorious weather the Isle of Wight enjoyed in early June! Good job too, as otherwise the music festival would have been a wash-out and Seaclose Park remodelled as a quagmire to rival last year’s Bestival mudbath.
Making the most of the sunshine, M and C put on their paddling clogs and tippytoed at the Appley beach’s water’s edge, cooling their bunions in the limpid waters of the Solent. They interrupted this recreation for a cream tea at Puckpool Tea Gardens, eating their scones under a shady vine.
The leisurely day continued with dinner at Olivo, the new kid on Union Street’s block. Situated in what was historically the old post office, the building’s previous incumbent was the ambitious Smithfields. Alas, that restaurant closed for reasons not known to Matt and Cat, although they hypothesise that maybe the carrying capacity of Union Street for big, vaguely Mediterranean eateries had been exceeded. Or perhaps it was just too large a building to sustainably maintain. For whatever reason, it would be a brave or confident business that would take on such a vast venue. Now, one such has stepped forward. Does Olivo have what it takes?
Having established impeccable restaurant credentials with its Newport branch – a Matt and Cat favourite – the Olivo team was certainly a contender to take on this empty behemoth. The fitters have left, the façade has been spruced up in a pleasing shade of olive and there’s a couple of little olive trees flanking the door. Matt and Cat detected a theme.
And there’s been more than a lick of paint applied. The bar has been opened out and the interior has been rusticated, a brick wall here, hefty ironmongery there. The menu too, is different from the Newport version; in Ryde, Olivo has incorporated a tapas menu from its Twickenham branch. Will it be as good as that of the nearby Black Sheep Bar? Matt and Cat may find out on another visit; tonight they ate from the main menu.
Pizza Fiorentina £8.25
Deserts x2 £10.50
2 beers £5.90
Apple juice £1.85
2 Coffees £3.50
Seemingly recognised by the waitress (presumably as regulars to her Newport branch) it wasn’t long before M and C were seated in the dining room. Matt and Cat’s more child-intolerant friends started going to Olivo, Newport; having boycotted both Pizza Hut and Pizza Express because of their popularity for children’s parties. Unlike the cosy and intimate – some might say cramped – environment in Newport, Olivo Ryde is such a barn that there’s plenty of room for all generations. On the day that M and C visited there were several families with children, patiently colouring and generally behaving better than their typical counterparts in some establishments. It was the last day of the Isle of Wight Festival and Cat overheard one of the children’s female minders remark wearily that the men had all gone to the festival and left them with the kids. Judging by the festival’s line up, the women got the better deal…
Discussing the kid-friendliness of a venue is a bit of a minefield. For some, if an eatery proclaims itself to be for over eighteens only it is seen as being unnecessarily exclusive. After all, how are children expected to learn how to behave in a restaurant if they are not allowed in? In the other corner, those who would like to eat without some tiny yelling Herbert running uncontrolled around the dining room are accused of being child-hating Nazis. So it is pleasing when these opposites are occasionally reconciled. Olivo managed to be both child-friendly and yet grown up. Perhaps it was that the children in this instance were too tired to yelp.
Either way, Matt and Cat’s perusal of the menu was not in any way disrupted by the behaviour of the other diners, old or young. Once their orders had been taken, your reviewers sat back in their chairs and supped their drinks, reflecting on comments made on this site about Union Street’s newest venue. There have been complaints that the service is extremely slow (see comments below) and, to test out this theory Matt glanced surreptitiously at his watch when he gave the food order. 7pm precisely.
With unexpected promptness Matt and Cat’s food arrived. Perhaps Matt had not been as discreet as he thought when he looked at his watch – or perhaps M & C really had been recognised. The place was filling up and yet they only had to wait a not unreasonable twenty minutes for their food to arrive. Having barely had time to salivate Matt examined then tasted his dinner: venison medallions. Spiced medallions of thick, tender meat, with roasted wedge potatoes and shitake mushrooms were accompanied by a fresh mint and raspberry sauce. It was nearly the most expensive dish on the menu; a truly generous and well-presented pile of melt-in-the-mouth meat. He was soon in raptures, declaring it to be ‘the best venison he’d ever had’. M and C also shared a fresh side salad – at extra cost – as the venison had no accompanying greens.
Cat’s rather more pedestrian choice of pizza Fiorentina – pizza topped with spinach, egg, olives, Parmesan and garlic – looked like it might have been cooked a bit too long, perhaps waiting for Matt’s dinner to be ready. The pizza crust was one click away from burnt, only just the right side of crispy and the egg had really been done an injustice. Instead of the runny-yolked (or even soft yolked) treat Cat was anticipating, the egg had been heated to dessication. The yolk was powdery and the white had mostly disintegrated. Still, the dish was livened up with a generous additional serving of grated Parmesan and black pepper plus as much garlic oil as The Cat could need. It still wasn’t much to write home about and contrasted with Matt’s successful choice of dish. This was the first dud that Cat had eaten at Olivo – it had to happen sooner or later.
Not to be put off, M and C ordered dessert. Matthew chose the crème brûlée, an excellent little ramekin of really good smoky tasting pudding with a yummy contrast between the burnt top and the sweetness under the caramelised lid. It was served with a welcome dollop of ice cream and a little chocolate favour. Nice! Cat had strudel and pistachio ice cream. Unlike its German counterpart, Italian strudel is not fruity, more a nutty cheesy concoction. The ice cream was spectacular, melting slowly over the pastry to make a sweet savoury combo. Both puddings were washed down with coffee.
Soon it was time to go. Looking at the bill whilst writing this review, Matt and Cat paid at 8.30pm – an hour and a half for dinner, dessert and coffee. It seemed that on that day at least, the teething troubles experienced by this new venue were overcome. Judging by more recent comments, Olivo has stepped up a gear. Although M and C had significantly different levels of satisfaction with their main courses, they know that this is a trusted brand and will definitely be making a return visit.