Sofia Echo

Restaurant review

The Olive Garden

Author: Simon Feek Date: Thu, May 06 2010 12 Comments, 16734 Views
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There is a good selection of restaurants along Angel Kunchev. Moroccan was out as I had had a bad experience in the Atlas Mountains with a tangine of "bag-pipe meat" a few years before. A la carte was not possible either because I am cheap, so when we stumbled across a new place, The Olive Garden, we decided to check out the inside and the menu.

Set in a beautiful old three-storey building, the ground floor had been renovated before opening six weeks ago. Hence the upper floors were still looking a little shabby from the outside but the interior was contemporary, well-designed and had a very laid back atmosphere. The English-speaking waitress smiled as we entered and asked if we had reserved; the fact we hadn’t was not a problem. I ordered a beer before sitting down which had arrived by the time I shook the rain off my jacket, together with a basket of complimentary hot (and fresh) rolls, butter and a garlic pesto dip. Nice start!

Inside the furnishing was solid wood with bench seating along a couple of the walls painted a light olive green. Alcoves in the walls housed antique wine bottles; around the windows the designer had painted detailed white shutters and candles dotted around the walls and flat areas gave off ambient light.

Menus were brought and on first inspection the choice seemed limited to a range of salads, a handful of appetisers, a good selection of pasta dishes and only nine main courses. My vegetarian girlfriend commented there wasn’t much choice for her but agreed to give it a go.

A sort of Mediterranean-fusion menu, it had a few interesting dishes which were well described in the accompanying text and, unlike most other Bulgarian eateries, where you are given a menu the size of the Old Testament, I found it quite easy to choose my main course – lamb chops with rosemary and Dijon sauce. This always appears to be a little challenging for a Bulgarian chef as the local lamb is seasonal (unless the owner has a Metro card) and most Bulgarians seem to like it incinerated way beyond the juicy pink I prefer.

The rest of the order consisted of tubule salad (an Armenian favourite of beloved – 5.95 leva), Humus with fresh pita bread (4.95 leva), spinach penne (9.95 leva) for her main, and of course the fabled lamb chops (18.95 leva) for me. A small bottle – I was pacing myself – of No Man’s Land red (8.99 leva) was also requested.

The starters arrived in good fashion and the bowel of humus was a huge creamy beige affair, served in a bowl with a splash of olive oil, a smattering of paprika and whole chickpeas for effect. I don’t really know why I ordered it as I don’t even like humus, but beloved had never tried it and I wanted to appear sophisticated and worldly, so I went for it.

I now like humus (much to my relief) but the size of the serving was about twice as big as it needed to be. If you order it, I suggest – unless you are very, very hungry – order between you. She said her tubule salad was the best she had ever had in a restaurant. Her only critique was that it needed more lemon juice. After we conveyed this to the waitress, she presented two whole lemons before beloved had taken her third mouthful.

Opting to leave nearly half the humus intact, we were asked by the smiling waitress if we were ready for our main dishes which were brought out a few moments later.

I’m pleased to say I was quite shocked at the care taken in presentation. My meal actually consisted of a properly dressed French rack of three chunky lamb chops with the light sauce drizzled all over. Next to this was a bed of crisp, lightly sautéed potatoes on top of which sat a few batons of freshly grilled asparagus.

My companion’s consisted of a large serving of penne pasta with four spinach balls at each corner of the dish and shavings of fresh parmesan sat proudly on top. After a mouthful or two she declared it to be "wonderful, but massive" and promptly stopped talking to me for the next 10 minutes. This was fine as it gave me time to start the delicate surgery of taking the meat off the bone. Once I had completed this I found that it was indeed pink and juicy and on tasting found it to be some of the sweetest lamb I have ever had.

The sauce was the perfect accompaniment and my only complaint was that I would have happily been served, and would have eaten, a second helping of the French rack. To cite a cliché from the 1980s, it really was to die for! Beloved gave up after polishing off all the spinach balls and only half the pasta, declaring she was too full for a dessert (this really does speak for itself).

In summary, atmosphere was good, food excellent but portion size seems inconsistent. Having said that, I am a greedy, 16-stone ex-rugby player who would eat road-kill if it was prepared properly by a good chef. And this clearly is a good chef. Considering the bill came to less than 50 leva, I have no doubt we will be returning and The Olive Garden will become a favourite of ours.

As we left I was offered the lunch menu to view by our attentive waitress, which consisted of some of the lighter dishes from the dinner menu plus a few other specialities which I would have liked to have seen on the evening menu, all about 25 per cent cheaper and smaller than its bigger brother.

Apparently the rear garden opens soon, so bring on the summer!

Overall rating: 5/6
Service: 5/6
Atmosphere: 5/6
Food: 5/6
Price: $$$
($ up to 12 leva a person for three courses; $$ 12 to 20 leva pp; $$$ 20 to 35 pp; $$$$ 35 and over pp)

18 Angel Kunchev Street, Sofia
Tel: 02/ 4811214
Open: Mon-Sun 11am to midnight
Credit cards: yes

    Anonymous1Sun, Dec 19 2010

    This comment has been removed by the moderator because it contained

  • Anonymous
    Owed Thousands Rating:
    #11 02, 43, Wed, Oct 27 2010

    I suggest your reviewer doesn't return to the UK or he will be reviewing prison food for a number of years, courtesy of the investors he has ripped off

  • Anonymous neutral
    #10 12, 16, Thu, Jul 22 2010

    Great restaurant, nice people and excellent value a regular visit to Sofia I know a fair number of restaurants and this is well located friendly and excellent value

  • Anonymous
    dominic Rating:
    #9 19, 04, Thu, Jun 17 2010

    "...only 9 main courses." This is a good thing. So often Bulgarian menus are as you say "the length of the old testament"; But as there is no way all the dishes can be at their best; and often, when brought to the table they bear no resemblance to the menu description. Better a choice of 2 perfectly cooked mains than a book full of pale and tasteless imitations!

  • Anonymous
    KayJay Rating:
    #8 23, 52, Thu, Jun 10 2010

    Just got back from our first visit to The Olive Garden. It was a pleasantly-warm evening and the garden was very welcoming; our waitress was friendly and helpful. The complimentary heated-up frozen rolls and tapenade were served as we looked through the menu.

    We went for the Shopska and Greek salads, with a humus between us. Main courses were the "fabled" lamb chops and the idiosyncratic Fettucine Alfredo.

    The salads were fine - nothing outstanding but perfectly acceptable; the humus was pretty bland and far from the best I've tasted (or made). [...]

    Read the full comment

    The fettucine were definitely made from dried pasta (NOT fresh as noted in another review) and, as expected, bore no relation to a real Alfredo. The portion was just about large enough but my partner wasn't too worried as it wasn't particularly tasty or appetising. The Fable regarding the lamb was more like a pipe-dream; they were somewhat undercooked (and I also like them pink, Simon) but so fatty as to be off-puttingly close to inedible. Frankly, I was grateful there were only two of them in the oleaginous rack. The potatoes were okay and the asparagus more boiled than grilled.

    Sadly, I won't be meeting Simon or others if this is indeed their regular eatery, as I definitely won't be assaulting my taste-buds there again! You can eat MUCH better in Studentski Grad....see you there ;~)

  • Anonymous
    KayJay Rating:
    #7 11, 53, Thu, Jun 10 2010

    Whoops - am I really as blind as I seem to be? :(

  • Anonymous
    KayJay Rating:
    #6 11, 47, Thu, Jun 10 2010

    Nice to see the waitress was attentive......any chance of you emulating her, Simon, and including the telephone number for the restaurant? ;)

  • Anonymous
    ditenat Rating:
    #5 18, 52, Fri, Jun 04 2010

    Huh, this is not American Olive Garden, is it? God, I hope not! Retch, gag! But if it isn't, it's also not long for this world, coz the name is trademarked. Ciao!

  • AnonymousFurniture Packages Turkey Wed, Jun 02 2010

    This comment has been removed by the moderator because it contained

  • Anonymous
    @ @J Taylor Rating:
    #3 20, 35, Mon, May 24 2010

    I didn't get paid anything. I wrote it because I was genuinely that impressed with the restaurant and wanted to share our experience. But, if you're offering to pay, we can talk.

  • Anonymous
    @J Taylor Rating:
    #2 10, 23, Thu, May 13 2010

    How much did you get paid for writing this?

  • Anonymous
    J Taylor Rating:
    #1 13, 43, Fri, May 07 2010

    My wife and I had seen The Olive Garden several weeks ago when walking home from another restaurant, and we were intrigued by the beautiful building and what seemed to be a classy yet relaxing atmosphere inside. So, when we saw this review in the Echo yesterday, we decided to give The Olive Garden a try. Great decision! We loved virtually everything. The atmosphere was, in fact, classy yet relaxing, with a number of interesting, creative touches that make for a comfortable, casual experience. Nasko, our server, spoke nearly perfect English. He was genuinely friendly with a sincere smile, knowledgeable [...]

    Read the full comment of the menu offerings and attentive without being overbearing. As native English speakers who are sometimes more comfortable in Bulgarian restaurants with their Bulgarian menus rather than their English versions (which are so often plagued with mistranslations that make no sense), it was a welcome experience to read an English menu that actually makes sense – and, as we discovered, once served our mouthwatering dishes – accurately and clearly describes the dishes we ordered! We shared a salad caprese – gorgeous presentation and very delicious. My wife had the Chicken Milanese and I had the Tender Pork Marsala. Wow! Full of fresh flavor and not too heavily sauced. It was nice to taste the actual food! The Pork Marsala was probably the most tender cut of meat I’ve had in Bulgaria, served with fresh vegetables beautifully arranged with a generous serving of mashed potatoes. The tomato sauce on the Chicken Milanese was freshly prepared with fresh ingredients, and had just the right seasoning. Again, presentation for both dishes was simple but elegant, enhancing our pleasure. After asking that our compliments be extended to the chef, we had the special privilege of meeting the owner, Tom Nelson. What a delight! His genuine hospitality during our brief and friendly conversation made us feel very special and privileged, indeed. For dessert we ordered apple pie from the menu and a special chef’s nougat creation (not on the menu) suggested by Nasko. Although the apple pie wasn’t of the deep-dish variety my grandmother used to make, it was very pleasing and just the right size served a la mode. The nougat was light and, to our tastes, a bit unusual, which made it a fun experience. I’m not typically prone to post comments on public web forums, but I think The Olive Garden deserves a special kudos. As expat Americans, we didn’t feel “foreign” at The Olive Garden. We felt at home. Seriously, I believe it is the best restaurant experience I have had during my six years in Bulgaria. Only one minor complaint, and I almost didn’t even mention it since everything else about our evening was so wonderful – decaf coffee was not available last night since they had run out and a new supply wasn’t due until today. A nice cup of hot tea (again, very nicely presented) made up for my disappointment, though, and I’m not going to give the lack of decaf coffee a second thought. Give The Olive Garden a try. You won’t be disappointed.

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