The Olive Tree
74 – 76 Otley Road
Tel: 0113 274 8282
Sitting in a window seat of The Olive Tree I felt grateful we were indoors. Yorkshire was doing what only Yorkshire can do on a cricket day – rain.
Headingley is more usually known as the home of Yorkshire cricket but you might want to have a closer look at The Olive Tree restaurants. They are a small chain of three Greek restaurants that have been quietly changing the culinary landscape. Started over thirty years ago by George Psarias they have grown in reputation and have a loyal following.
The unassuming interior doesn’t do the food justice. It’s a plain white walled, dark floored series of rooms. But the service is warm and inviting. We were guided through the menu by friendly but not intrusive staff. We tried some excellent dips, including a delicious melitzanosalata, chargrilled aubergine with olive oil and lemon juice, which is a superb choice for vegetarians. I was feeling curious about the food here so decided to order from the specials board. Favourites, I’m told often reappear so you might be lucky and have what I had. A great starter of smoked trout sitting on a little salad and dressed with lemon and capers. The smoked trout was subtle and fresh, a really beautiful dish with gentle acid from the lemon and capers it proved to be in perfect balance. Also from the specials blackboard came a deep fried halloumi cheese, it was golden crisp and had that nutty resolve that makes M come back for more every time. She loved it. The main from the specials again was very good local rack of lamb with that ‘in the pink’ presentation it deserves. The spinach it rested on was green, vibrant and a welcome foil to the lamb. M enjoyed her kota me krasi, chicken in a red wine that resembled a classic French stew. Both were tasty and eaten with gusto.
The rain continued to chuck it down. I watch countless people optimistically trying to dodge the drops with newspapers on their heads or struggling with umbrellas. Yorkshire is a county of contradictions, a warm welcome at every corner, a great place for a holiday or long walks but the clues are all there. It’s very, very green, that doesn’t happen by accident.
Desserts came and did not disappoint. I must say that this restaurant was a bit of an eye opener. I didn’t realise that Greek food could be so good and more importantly so subtle. M had staphidopitta, this is one of The Olive Tree’s special desserts. Filo pastry stuffed with sultanas, orange zest and orange juice then baked and topped off with little orange liqueur and a hint of cinnamon. This exploded with flavour. The crispy filo was crunchy and light while the citrus had all the punch, a really good plate of indulgent food. Mine was no less impressive. I chose revani, which I’ve had many times before but have found it dry and sometimes dull in flavour. Not the case here, I was assured by George that the sponge is steeped in syrup overnight. The fruit decoration was welcome and I chose to have it with ice cream but could have had yoghurt. A dream on a plate, I loved every mouthful.
We sat talking to George after our meal for a while and he talked of his early days in Yorkshire, starting up the first restaurant in 1982. I asked how many other Greek eateries there were in Yorkshire, he replied “oh, I think there is one in Huddersfield, but I’m not sure” So he has a thriving business that offers speciality food that caters for not only the local Greek community (which is tiny) but has gained respect from those redoubtable Yorkshire men and women. Looking out the window I noticed the rain was easing off, probably due in some part to George’s irrepressible charm.
Branches can be found in Rodley, Chapel Allerton and Headingley. But George can only be in one place at a time, I hope you are lucky enough to meet him as I was.