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The Olive Press - restaurant review

Andrew Hobbs finds food faded and jaded since Heathcote left the building

Published on May 5th 2011.


The Olive Press - restaurant review

A FADED, pixellated print-out sits on a table at the Olive Press in front of my daughter. The A4 sheet bears an old image, of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. It’s a gesture to child-friendliness, with crayons for her and the two boys on the table too. 

Roast potatoes weren't anything
of the sort, but skin-on potato
wedges - and half of them so
badly charred that they were inedible

It's an apt symbol for this established modern Italian, once part of Paul Heathcote's empire, but sold to Living Ventures - creators of Est Est Est, and now owners of the Blackhouse and Gusto brands - seven months ago. 

The Olive Press concept is a little pallid too. Family-friendly, modern and stylish Italian restaurants offering pizza and pasta, with a modest twist, are pretty common these days.

20110505olivepressliv07.jpgThe Olive Press has changed little since it first opened on Castle Street, with the service as friendly, efficient and forgiving of boisterous children as ever, but some of the food on this Sunday lunch-time was villainous - where are those caped cartoon turtles when you need them? 

The "Little Olives" branding of the children’s menu has gone, perhaps part of the licensing deal with Heathcote who has kept his Preston Olive Press.  Instead, a piece of A5 paper decorated with clip-art described a decent children's menu, and the oldest boy hit lucky with his sauteed chicken strips in cream sauce on crushed potato (£3.75). He wouldn't let any of us try it, a sign of quality from a trusted judge of food. 

The other two were less fortunate, choosing to make their own pizzas (£5.95 including dessert). It's an old idea which needs some reinvention, and the advertised chef's hats were nowhere to be seen. While the kids must take responsibility for the toppings, the kitchen was to blame for the pizza base, which was too thick and a little soggy. 

Typical of the lack of focus, the children's starters, cheesy garlic bread (£1.25), were far from the advertised "mini", so that the two seven-year-olds were nearly full before their pizzas arrived. 

The grown-ups' first courses were acceptable, but nothing more. My roasted red pepper and tomato soup with basil and ciabatta (£3.95) was bland, oily and tasted of tinned tomatoes. The spicy pork and beef meatballs with fresh tomato sauce, rocket and toasted ciabatta (£5.75) were fine, although the tomato sauce was as bland as my soup (no relation, I hope). 

Two out of three main courses were let-downs. The pan fried duck breast with wild mushrooms, spinach and red wine sauce (£15.95) was garishly under-cooked, rather than gently pink, and, like the mushrooms, lacked any flavour. Only the wilted spinach and red wine sauce were up to the standard you would expect for that price.

I love risotto, and seem unable to learn from bitter, chewy or mushy experience that this simple dish is beyond the capabilities of most restaurants. This one had those same tasteless wild mushrooms, and pancetta (£9.75), and possessed all the flavour of having been cooked in a stock that came straight from the tap.

20110505olivepressliv08.jpgOnly the roasted hake with pepperoni, braised lentils and tomato (£13.95) was up to scratch - apart from the rather hard and underdone pulses, perhaps prepared using the same flavour-extraction methods as everything else. 

The side orders (£2.95 each) were equally inconsistent: on the one hand fresh, slightly crunchy green beans; on the other roast potatoes that weren't anything of the sort, but skin-on potato wedges - and half of them so badly charred that they were inedible. 

We shared one dessert, a vanilla pannacotta with mixed berry compote (£4.50). The berries were gorgeous -- sharp, sweet and full of flavour. None of us could detect any vanilla in the pannacotta. 

The bill came to £86.20 for three adults and three children; it would have been a little more if they had remembered to charge for the soft drinks. Good value if all the food had been on a par with the hake and the boy's chicken, but most of it wasn't. So a bit steep for a mediocre-to-poor meal.

When the Olive Press changed hands last November, along with  the Manchester and Cheadle Hulme branches, Grado in Manchester and London Road in Alderley Edge, one report claimed that the Liverpool restaurant would become either a second Grado or a Blackhouse, possibly renamed as The Grill in the Basement. Six months later, it seems to be in limbo. 

Like that forlorn, scrappy turtle picture, the Olive Press is a faded version of what it was.

Ironically, Living Ventures seem to be continuing the tradition established by Heathcote, of leaving this restaurant as a forgotten corner of an empire, and whose other brands will not be dealt any favours by declining standards on Castle Street. 

Time for some colouring in. 

 

Rating:

11.5/20

Breakdown:

4.5/10 food
4/5 service
3/5 ambience

 

Address:

 

The Olive Press,

25/27 Castle Street,
Liverpool, L2 4TA.
0151 227 2242

 

Liverpool Confidential food critics dine unannounced and pick up their own bills. Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 get a bus, 16-18 get a taxi, 19 pure quality, 20 get a room

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on May 6th 2011.
Chef EricMay 6th 2011.

That doesn't look good.

Sharon CooperMay 6th 2011.

I never thought the Olive Press was much cop when Heathcote's had it. Not for an adult evening meal anyway. The saving grace has always been that it's a nice civilised place to take the family and under the previous regime it absolutely pissed all over Gusto in the Albert Dock which has always served very average food. Now it seems Gusto has moved in. A triumph for mediocrity.

david WMay 7th 2011.

What a shame.

Cherry BMay 9th 2011.

Went here for our Christmas do. seafood pasta with no seafood in it kinda put a damper on the night. But that was when it had Castle Street to itself, and it seemed a bit upmarket and special - before people like San Carlo moved in and Restaurant Bar and Grill - not forgetting the wonderful Piccolinos.

Do the owners (past and present) of the Olive Press genuinely not give a damn or are they just clueless?

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