Riding high at the top of TripAdvisor’s Sunderland restaurant recommendations isn’t the fanciest of places or even the most well-known. It is, in fact, the more humble Olive Affaire.
Tucked downstairs in one of John Street’s once grand townhouses, there’s not much to indicate that this is Sunderland’s No1 place to eat. You’d be forgiven for walking past and not even noticing this little corner of Greece.
But then Olive Affaire doesn’t really shout about its offering, it lets the food speak for itself. The setting is informal with fuss-free decor and splashes of Olive green in keeping with the title of the place, while the hum of jaunty Greek tunes in the background transports you from Wearside to the Med.
If that doesn’t make you feel like you’re in one of those bistros you stumble across on holiday, the food soon will. There’s plenty from which to choose, whether you want a pick ‘n’ mix of mezze to share or a main meal all to yourself.
The family who run the bistro are from Greece, and it shows in the menu choices, which will be familiar to anyone who’s visited the country.
Even if you’re not au fait with the foods’ birthplace, there’s a bit of history and description under each dish to keep you right.
Sides and mains range from mousaka (£4.50), stifado (steamed spiced meats at £4.95) and octopus (£5.95) to less adventurous options, such as garlic and lemon chicken (£4.65) and that old Greek staple, halloumi (£4).
Order a few between you and the price will rack up, but the mains are a particular bargain at £6.95 for spanakopita, a traditional spinach pie.
Or, for the more indecisive of diners, there’s a set Greek mezze, which offers a host of classic dishes for £19.95 per person.
I chose a selection of mezze: Greek sausage (£4.50), prawns (£4.50) and hummus with pitta bread (£2.50). Everything is cooked to order so arrives when it’s ready, as such I got stuck into the dip and sausage first. The former was satisfyingly chunky and you could still taste the chickpeas unlike the more insipid versions you often get in supermarkets.
The sausage arrived in meaty swirls and was packed with flavour. It didn’t need an accompaniment, it deserves to be devoured on its own.
The prawns arrived a little later. They were billed as being served in a tangy tomato sauce, but that doesn’t really do the dish justice.
Large shellfish were encased in a rich sauce punctuated with chunks of colourful vegetables. I couldn’t quite detect which spices they’d used, but they packed a real exotic punch with a heavy base note of garlic.
Drinks-wise, wine lists can be a hit and miss affair elsewhere, ranging from a mundane red or white house choice to page upon page of options that leave you scratching your head.
Olive Affaire has got it just right with enough choice of Greek and Australian wines to wet your whistle, but not too many to make a decision daunting. I chose an Australian Chardonnay, which was light enough not to detract from the flavour of the food. It wasn’t just palate-pleasing either, your purse won’t grumble at a tenner for a bottle. Though the lack of a card machine meant we had to make a dash to the cashpoint.
Greece’s most popular drink Ouzo also makes an appearance at £3 for a single. Another reminder of holidays of yesteryear.
No wonder customers are having a love affair with this flavour of Greece.