A little taste of the Med in a splendid Victorian setting

Olive Tree Brasserie: Greek olives and chillies with Greek garlic flatbread

Olive Tree Brasserie: Greek olives and chillies with Greek garlic flatbread

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Helen Lindsay braves the Christmas shoppers to sample some sunny cuisine in the newly opened Olive Tree Brasserie, Preston

There’s a lovely little corner of Preston that seems to me to be often over-looked.

Situated just off a corner of the Flag Market, it misses out on the vast majority of shoppers heading down Fishergate.

But whenever I have passed through the Miller Arcade it has always offered a peaceful respite from the bustle outside. This Grade I listed building constructed in 1899 has a lofty, light interior with all the proud architectural detailing you would expect of our town’s first indoor shopping centre.

And it was on this Victorian splendour - with added Christmas tree - that I found myself gazing through a beautiful curved glass window pane last Saturday tea time.

It was our little family’s annual ‘Daddy’s Birthday Meal’ and, as he is a big fan of Mediterranean cuisine, we had opted to try the newly opened Olive Tree Brasserie.

Having battled through the crowds in town for a mass delivery of a popular soft drink - or something - the restaurant proved a peaceful haven with only the odd table enjoying an early evening meal.

Seated on our comfy banquette, the dim lighting made the shiny new cutlery sparkle as much as Fishergate’s festive fluorescents and as the hungry shoppers began to descend en masse I started to feel rather Christmassy.

Conversely, though, the music was rather loud Balearic (promptly turned down upon request by another table). But the ‘industrial’ style interior with exposed ducting and black upholstery didn’t really complete the Mediterranean effect; not a red checked table cloth nor blue painted chair in sight!

But ultimately it was the food we were there for, and taking in the menu full of classic Greek dishes, I could feel my appetite growing as a lovely glass of Cabernet Sauvignon began to disappear.

I decided to go full on Greek and chose the gigandes plaki (giant butter beans in tomato sauce) followed by moussaka, with a Greek salad and some sweet potato fries on the side. Daddy, meanwhile, opted for an olives and chillies appetizer with a xifias (swordfish souvlaki) for main course.

Not forgetting the little ones, there is a special kids’ menu which is great value at two courses for £5.95. Ours chose some lovely, fresh and crispy fish goujons which arrived at the same time as my starter, a simple but very effective idea to prevent them getting fed up while waiting.

My gigandes were hot, tender, smothered in tomato sauce and came with crispy bread. Daddy’s appetizer (“good quality and delicious but could have done with a bit more bread”) had arrived and promptly disappeared some time before my starter came. Fortunately I had a warm, soft if a little rich garlic flatbread with tomato to keep me happy while I waited.

The main courses were both tasty and plentiful. The swordfish was light yet meaty with a good balance of lime and spices while the side of tzatziki was fresh and zingy. My moussaka came with a sprig of fresh herbs atop a dish of soft potatoes, aubergine, tender tomato minced beef and a rich bechamel sauce; full of Aegean flavours!

On the side, our Greek salad was fresh and crisp with mild feta cheese. In fact our only complaint was that both types of fries were too salty, masking their flavour.

Too full for desert, Daddy and I could only sit and watch as the little one demolished her second course; a huge chocolate ice -cream. No complaints there at all!

The staff were all friendly and attentive and took orders on swanky tablets which semed to be taking a little getting used to. As did the unisex loos - a new one on me!

As we left, the Christmas lights were still twinkling and Preston looked and felt fine and festive. There is now a good reason for this beautiful corner of Preston to be admired many more.