Food review: Crunch time for Spanish plates at The Fat Olive, Bridgnorth
Aah. Summer. There’s been two days of it. Wednesday and Thursday. Fear not, however. The dodgy temperatures will be back this weekend – with thunderbolts and lightning making it very, very frightening, to steal from the lyrics of Queen. Probably.
The brief, two-day summer, however, reminds us what it might have been like to have enjoyed warming temperatures – like those in southern Europe.
And, to make a link that’s as clunky and awkward as a badly-joined table leg, there’s a taste of southern Europe on the High Street, in Bridgnorth.
The Fat Olive Tapas Co is located next to Beaman’s, the generations-old butcher, with the fancy, old-school display.
The restaurant is under new ownership. The Fat Olive, in Bridgnorth, was formerly Casa Ruiz and has been given a mini-makeover by its new owner, Sam Gould.
Over 10 years ago, Sam developed a passion for Spanish cooking when he took over Casa Ruiz, the predecessor of The Fat Olive.
Under the tutelage of a skilled Spanish chef, he developed his culinary skills and continued to explore his love for food.
Despite his background as a trained chef, Sam pursued a career in various other industries before returning to the world of pubs and restaurants later in life.
Throughout his professional journey, his fascination with food never waned.
And now his name is above the door and he’s the guy at the helm.
It’s changed a little, with the addition of South American dishes to go alongside the food of Spain. The Fat Olive prides itself on offering a diverse range of cuisine that breaks the mould of typical town fare.
As the sole restaurant in the Bridgnorth area to offer Spanish and Mexican cuisine, the menu features a variety of Mediterranean and South American dishes that are regularly updated with weekly specials.
As a three-time recipient of the English Food award, The Fat Olive is committed to delivering exceptional food and outstanding service.
Exceptional happens when a venue delivers an experience that’s transportive. Outstanding happens when you’re the crème de la crème, the best in your class, when you under-promise and over-deliver.
The Fat Olive, despite the obvious ambition evident on its well-put-together website, is very good but it’s not yet reached the status of mind-bogglingly great.
Having said that it’s certainly a decent, pleasant place to go for a relaxing bite to eat.
The Fat Olive is described as a hidden gem, with inconspicuous signage at the bottom end of Bridgnorth High Street.
At the top of a rickety staircase, there’s a bijou dining area, filled with knick-knacks and ephemera from Spain.
There are drapes and vibrant colours, posters and stripped wooden tables. It’s the sort of old-school venue that comes alive when the room is full and there’s a hustle and bustle from diners.
The menu has advanced, retaining the best Spanish dishes while adding in others from South America.
It’s easy and accessible food, with additional dishes like sweet potato fries and halloumi fries added for good measure.
I ordered three dishes, one of which was excellent, one of which was not quite-as-good, and one of which was average.
The best dish was a generously-portioned bowl of pork and beef meatballs, cooked in tomato sauce and topped with molten, melting cheese.
The dish, Albodingas, hit the mark, with soft, yielding meat, a sweetish sauce and plenty of indulgent cheese that had bubbled under the grill, or in the oven.
Dishes are fired out as the chef completes his orders, so there’s no real order to dinner. It’s a one-dish-now, one-dish-later, sort-of-experience, similar to the one you might enjoy in Spain. While the meatballs were robust, flavoursome and on-point, a dish of chorizo and potato wasn’t quite as good.
The potato was magnificent, crisp, a little bit bashed up, like a teenager who’s been out on the razz on a Saturday night.
They’d been cooked at a high temperature in bubbling oil, so were deliciously crisp, before being mixed with slices of chorizo and a dollop of aioli.
The chorizo was a little underwhelming. It might have been cooked a little longer, or crisped, just a tad.
Chorizo ought to be the belligerent sausage, the interloper from Spain who’s brash, full of confidence, and ready to dominate the party.
It ought to be the party ingredient, the thing that makes dinner go pow-pow-pow.
The version at The Fat Olive was just a bit too polite, too genteel, too, well, sausage, with insufficient spice.
The third dish was okay. A platter of panko-breaded king prawns was slightly under-seasoned. The crunch was fine – straight out of the fryer and onto the plate – but an accompanying sauce lacked punch, a little like the chorizo.
Service was good and the two young waitresses who served me made a great effort.
Unfortunately, they’d run out of sparkling water, I’m not sure how.
There’s a shop up the road that sells it for less than the restaurant price – so if the van’s failed to deliver, nip to the shop and buy some in.
It’s the little things that can make all the difference.
The Fat Olive is good place to eat and making a decent fist of it in hard times.
Sam Gould is clearly working hard to build a crowd and stay afloat and deserves recognition for this, which is what our mark confers.