Shropshire Star

Food Review: Bountiful and bellissimo offerings at Olive Italian, Eccleshall

It was last Saturday. You know the one – indisputably the hottest in the history of hot Saturdays since hot Saturdays were invented. At least that’s what my pasty skin was telling me as I attempted to mow the lawn with bona fide waterfalls of sweat dripping from my brow.

Prawns aplenty for the substantial starter

With the hard(ish) graft of the morning done, my brain quickly turned to where that of most blokes is most comfortable – my stomach. It was getting on for lunch time, and the reward of a bit of indulgent Italian tucker was in order. Time to make a cheeky little pilgrimage down to a new local eatery that had been on my mind for some weeks, yet whose door I had not yet darkened.

Established earlier this year by father and son team Benjamin and Paul Herbert, Olive Italian is one of the latest additions to Eccleshall’s flourishing dining scene.

Located on the town’s high street, the family-owned restaurant specialises in Neapolitan-inspired dishes, proudly handmade with the freshest of ingredients.

The Olive Italian, as you would expect, decorated in olive green

A chef by trade, Benjamin reportedly fell in love with the culture deeply rooted in food while visiting Italy, and set out to bring that back to Eccleshall.

The result is a quaint restaurant that prides itself on a cosy atmosphere reminiscent of a traditional trattoria, and one that aims to bring each guest a wholesome dining experience with just the right amount of flair.

Napkins at the ready, folks? Let’s begin...

Having quickly booked myself in online, I was delighted at the decor that greeted me as I walked through Olive Italian’s doors. As one may have expected, a certain shade of green was prominent, and light furniture coupled with a tasteful use of artificial foliage created just the feeling I was hoping for on such a scorching day; I felt, quite simply, like I was on holiday.

Olive Italian’s trattoria style decor

In the best of spirits, I settled in to my table, shown there by a delightful pair of front-of-house staff who seemed keen to make my visit a pleasant one.

With a much-needed thirst-quenching beverage provided, I began to peruse a menu that quickly set my tastebuds to ‘tingle’.

Olive Italian’s menu is a comprehensive offering that anyone with a passion for Italian cuisine should be able to find plenty of inspiration in. A selection of traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas are presented alongside a broad range of pasta, risotto and salad dishes, with few stones unturned in respect of the typical Italian pantheon. The antipasti selection is strong, and for those with bambinos on board, there is also a thoughtful range of small plates.

An extensive wine list completed the picture, and I could see that on a busy early autumn evening this place had all the ingredients to transcend from ‘light summer lunch delight’ to ‘hearty supper with song and a smile’.

Unable to resist the lure of my favourite crustacean, I opted for the Gambari Aglio e Pepperoncino – sautéed king prawns with lemon and parsley in garlic butter sauce – to start. To follow up, I yielded to the temptation of a very old favourite in the form of the Linguine alla Carbonara.

When the prawns arrived I was instantly impressed by the quantity on my plate. We’ve all been to restaurants that like to scrimp when it comes to shellfish dishes, particularly with appetisers. Olive Italian didn’t. In fact, at least five proud prawns were elegantly presented in a dish that I had only expected to contain three at the most. What’s more, they had been cooked to perfection, with the light-yet-cutting flavour combination of lemon and garlic serving as the perfect accompaniment. The parsley added just the right freshness, and as starters go, this one was a wonderful surprise that ranks as one of the best I’ve had in a long time. Bellissimo, Chef.

With my prawns put to rest and a polite enquiry from the waiter as to whether I was ready for my main, it was carbonara time. I’ve been a lover of this dish for most of my adult life; ever since, in fact, the former administration of another Eccleshall restaurant had delighted me with its version. How would Olive Italian’s take on this classic Italian staple compare?

The substantial Linguine alla Carbonara was pronounced ‘fabulous’

As the proud plate approached, a smile crept across my humble visage. The quantity box was once again firmly ticked – as it should be with such a traditionally hearty dish. Presentation was strong, and this, coupled with a truly intoxicating aroma, led me to dive right in when the plate had barely touched the table.

It a word, it was fabulous. A bountiful amount of pancetta included gave Olive Italian’s carbonara a wonderfully smokey flavour, and the velvety creaminess of the sauce offset the saltiness of the cured Italian pork perfectly. To make waves with such a household favourite is no easy task, yet Olive Italian had pulled it off and then some. With the much-appreciated offer of additional parmesan ticking another crucial box, for me this dish was everything it should be; light-yet-filling, and packed with rich flavour.

Perfectly sated, and well-fuelled for the heat of the rest of the day, I left Olive Italian with a wide smile. Establishing a new restaurant is difficult – it’s as simple as that. In current times, it is also a brave move that demands respect and, where possible, support. With great service and delicious dishes, Olive Italian certainly has mine, and I thoroughly look forward to the next time a dip of my lazy toe in the gardening pool justifies a tasty treat.

Top marks fully deserved, and good luck.