REVIEW: Olive Affaire, John Street, Sunderland

Olive Affaire - 57 John Street, Sunderland.
Olive Affaire - 57 John Street, Sunderland.
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Twitter tip-offs alerted me to this new addition to John Street and I was eager to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

Turns out, the fuss was justified.

Set in the basement of a John Street’s old town house, this Greek cafe looks pretty unassuming from the outside.

However, step down the old stone steps and it’s a Mediterranean haven away from the hullabaloo of the January sales crowds outside.

Warm green hues help to create a welcoming atmosphere, while echoing the venue’s moniker and the refurbishment of this derelict spot is up to the high standard you would expect from a contemporary city centre bistro.

The Sunderland restaurant scene isn’t exactly known for providing a melting pot of global flavours, but Olive Affaire definitely breaks the mould, offering food that’s far flung from anything else in the city.

As well as traditional Greek dishes – think souvlaki, gyros, bifteki and more – there’s also a nod to Mexico, including burritos, chimichanga and fajitas, as well as a good range of salad and wraps.

We struggled to make a choice, but the traditional Greek mezze, which offers a pick ‘n’ mix of dishes to delve into, won out.

As it was priced at £8.99, we assumed the meal couldn’t be too big so we ordered one each – big mistake.

It all started innocently enough: a selection of dips, tzatziki, houmous, taramosalata and tirokafteri (a spicy cheese concoction) were brought to our table, with some warm pitta bread that was sliced into perfectly proportioned dunking tools, as well as the obligatory Greek salad.

The accompanying stuffed vine leaves were also teeming with flavour and we were quite satisfied with our lot.

But there was yet more to come ... and more, and more. The food just kept coming, two-fold.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, this was top value for money, but my waistline was starting to feel the strain.

A veritable Trojan horse of a dish, we realised we had bitten off more than we could chew when 16 plates a-piece were crowding the table.

There were succulent lamb meat balls, kleftiko and much more. “Just one more bite” we told ourselves as we were tempted to dive in for more.

Special mention must go to the spanakopita, the Greek version of spinach pie, featuring layer upon layer of spinach, sandwiched between sheets of moist filo pastry.

The moussaka too was utterly moreish. Maybe it’s the fact that the chefs here are Greek, but this was the tastiest version of the dish I’ve had in the North East – a perfect blend of mince, vegetable and a richly gooey béchamel sauce.

It’s not one for the waistline-watchers, but this food was so authentically Greek it put us in the holiday mood and we threw caution to the wind.

Predictably, we just couldn’t finish it all. But the staff boxed it up for us so we could take a flavour of Greece home.

There’s also an evening menu which I’ll be dipping into next time I’m looking for a post-work meal. Dishes can also be prepared for take-out.