Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Olive Press

Mon 14 April 2008

What was once Simply Heathcotes on Canal Wharf has rebranded to The Olive Press. Still part of the Heathcotes group, but now the accent is on pizza and pasta, rather than fine dining.

Still, it counts as somewhere new and, when I received an email advertising Monday Night Magic (a £5.95 pizza and pasta menu after 6pm), I thought it was an ideal opportunity to pay a visit.

Canal Wharf, just off Water Lane, has the potential to be a stunning setting. When I first visited Simply Heathcotes (4 or 5 years ago) there was none of the scaffolding, hoarding and building work that now dominates Leeds. The restaurant sat, even hovered, above the canal. In the evening, the soft lighting in the restaurant was reflected in both the huge glass windows and the water and it was all very pretty. Skip forward to (almost) summer time 2008 and the huge glass windows give you a very harsh outlook - across the water is an almost uniform view of hoarding, in a rather bright blue. What a shame.

Of course, the restaurant can't help this, and one day, hopefully, a more attractive setting will return. In the interim - try to time your visit for after dark.

We had booked, although at half past 6 on a Monday night there wasn't a lot of competition. We declined a drink at the bar (I had spent the whole day in Harrogate wine tasting) and headed straight for our table and the menus.

There's not so much on the menu to challenge regular eaters of Italian food, but the menu does offer a good choice of pasta, pizza, rice dishes, seafood and steak. It could be argued that the vegetarian pickings are a little slim ... but on Monday the specials menu offered additional vegetarian dishes. Only a very picky diner will struggle.

We headed straight for the main courses. I chose a special: crisp fried gnocchi with sage butter, pumpkin and a creamy blue cheese sauce and Andy chose the Italian cured ham pizza. We also had a side order of deep fried courgette and parmeson fritters.

Without a doubt - the pizza won. It was a generous size, with a lovely base: crispy but not impossible to eat without risking dental work, light but with enough structure not to sag under the topping. My dish, which sounded so good on paper, was a little disappointing. By frying the gnocchi to crisp they had soaked up a bit too much oil, which was then released when you bit into them, there wasn't a lot of sage in evidence and the blue cheese sauce lacked the tart bite you associate with blue cheese. The dish was, perplexingly, almost drowned in rocket. However, the pumpkin puree was lovely - smooth and tasty and punctuated by small cubes of sautéed pumpkin. Full marks for concept, but very much let down by the execution. I'll definitely be experimenting with this idea at home.

The courgette and parmesan fritters were something of a star. While not as good as my mum's, they were actually pretty good. Perhaps not entirely necessary in terms of quantity of food, but a tasty adjunct to our main meals nonetheless.

We played it very safe on the drinking side: a pint of Peroni for Andy and a glass of Trebbiano (Italy's white workhorse grape) for me. There wasn't a lot of interesting wine by the glass and I vetoed the idea of a bottle. Then again, I doubt few people will be visiting The Olive Press for its wine list ...

Service wise, I'd put the Olive Press in the OK category. This is based largely on the fact that there was no pepper on the table, and we were never offered any. The restaurant has gone to the effort of putting proper salt grinders on the tables, but pepper ... no. It was only after I was quite a way through my gnocchi that I observed a comedy oversized pepper mill appear with chaperoning waiter at another table. No, no, no. I want to put my own pepper on. I want to try the food, add some pepper, maybe add some more pepper a little later on ... and I certainly don't want to be made to feel a midget by a pepper mill!

You'll notice I've not mentioned the £5.95 deal ... something that was never mentioned in the restaurant, or, indeed, on the bill. To be fair, I didn't check the deal was available when I made the reservation. However, the original email made no indication that the deal was for a limited time (we were there less than a fortnight after the email arrived in my inbox) or that there were any special booking requirements. Perhaps marketing just hasn't let the staff in Leeds know ... This is a shame, because if Andy's pizza had cost us £5.95 I would be saying you should be heading there on a Monday night.

There are a couple of other service niggles ... I'm not sure I rate receiving a text message straight after I've made my booking (my memory is better than that of a goldfish!). It seems a bit of a lazy way of emulating smart restaurants that ring you 24 hours in advance to confirm your reservation. I was also very put off by the fact that the waitress collecting our bill had to launch into a sales pitch about the Heathcotes reward card. She looked a bit uncomfortable, and, frankly, we hated it. The bill came with printed information about the reward card (and there's details on the website) ... and I don't mind that. I really object to being sold something at the end of my meal.

For the two of us, 2 (generous) main courses, a side dish, a small glass of white wine and a pint of beer came in at just under £30. I think that might be a little expensive ... but if the Monday Night Magic deal does really exist, it would be worth visiting to make up your own mind.

1. The Olive Press, Canal Wharf, Water Lane, Leeds , LS11 5PS, phone: 0113 244 6611

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