It’s not often I go back to my student stomping ground in Leeds. Nowadays, the nights of fancy dress, 99p vodka red bull and cheap curries are gone, but there’s still plenty of time for eating and drinking with my old muckas.
This time they took me to try one of the foodie delights of Chapel Allerton, the Olive Tree Greek restaurant. There’s three Olive Trees in Leeds, this is just one, and if the others are of a similar standard then these guys have got a pretty good thing going. I love Greek food and after two jaunts to Greek islands last summer I was looking forward to getting a taste of some fab sunshine cuisine.
The family-run Olive Tree was first established in 1982 by husband and wife team George and Vassoula, who are Greek Cypriot born but moved to West Yorkshire more than 35 years ago. They’ve won a flurry of awards, have featured in various restaurant guides, have received rave reviews and have been on TV and radio. But despite all this, the great thing about the Olive Tree is you wouldn’t know it. It may be well known, but the Chapel Allerton restaurant has certainly retained the feeling of an intimate, family-run establishment. Fairly unassuming from the outside and small and bustling inside, it does a good job of bringing the ambience of a local Greek restaurant to a chilly English city. With a friendly greeting and a chilled Pinot Grigio, we four hungry former students settled down to peruse the menu packed with Greek classics.
We started with toasted pitta and a mix of dips – taramasalata, tzatziki and classic hummus. Nicely presented and tasty, there’s not a great deal more I can say about these except they definitely weren’t a letdown.
The main course was a tough call. I went for a classic Vodhino Stifado – diced beef in a rich red wine sauce with onions and herbs. The meat was tender and melt in the mouth, the sauce rich and pungent with the sweetness of cinnamon, oregano and allspice coming through.
I managed to try of another of my favourites, courtesy of my pal’s wise choice – Arni Me Feta, or lamb stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. Come on, who doesn’t love feta? The slow-roasted lamb was tender, fall-apart, with rich spinach and oozy melted cheese, and a pot of sort of spicy tomato salsa on the side. Our main courses came with light, fluffy rice and crispy sautéed potatoes. These winter-warmer dishes, although classics, might not have been a first choice if you’d spent the day reclining on a sun lounger in Greek summer temperatures. But on a cold February night in Leeds, they were perfect. Tasty, warming, and full of flavour.
Another of the gals chose fish souvlaki, cubes of salmon, swordfish, red mullet and prawns, marinated in olive oil, lime juice and dill, then chargrilled on a skewer. Served with the same tomato salsa-style dip and on a bed of rice, the fresh fish made a nice light, but tasty, meal.
And the final gang member, being a vegetarian, chose halloumi skewers. I suppose it’s hard to go wrong with halloumi, but the simple dish, which included onions, tomatoes and peppers, was well executed and there was definitely no shortage of cheese on the plate. Add a mixed leaf salad to go with it and she was more than happy.
We left the Olive Tree a very contented bunch. The food is simple and classic, paying homage to the owners’ roots, while the ambience and service – things you know are high on my list of priorities – are just right. I can see why my friends are lovers of The Olive Tree, and I can certainly see why it’s won such accolades. My one regret is that I missed out on George’s signature baklava. Guess I’ll have to go back……
We paid in full for our meals at the Olive Treet. They didn’t know I was a blogger.