It’s nice to have a regular restaurant; one in which a meal is both a special occasion, and a deeply comfortable experience. And in recent years, with a few old friends I’ve found just such a place in Olivelli, near Waterloo. Along with its two sister restaurants, it remains Sicilian-owned – so the food, wine and staff are the real thing. And it’s located near the Rose and Crown: a 16th century Shepherd Neame boozer with a friendly landlady and a big beer garden, providing a perfect spot for post-supper ales. With mates I’ve known 25 years, the two establishments have come to form a regular night out as familiar and pleasant as the long-worn grooves of our conversations.
Indeed, on our last visit I so trusted the restaurant that I strayed from my usual order: the Caprina pizza, with goats cheese and rocket. A lifelong vegetarian, I scanned the menu for ‘V’ symbols – and, taken by the idea of “tomato infused with pecorino cheese, onions and breadcrumbs”, picked out the ‘Faccia da Vecchia’ pizza. Then we got stuck into a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo red: dry but refreshing, ripe and plummy, it was deliciously redolent of the warm sea breezes of its home on the Adriatic coast.
My friend let habit rule, and got his usual: the Pollo Milano chicken, fried into a crispy shell of breadcrumbs and accompanied by Spaghetti Pomodoro. And his consistency was rewarded: he pronounced the chicken “juicy and succulent, with crunchy, tangy breadcrumbs”, and the spaghetti “delightful and light: perfectly Italian!”
Meanwhile, I ran slap bang into the classic trap for the vegetarian abroad: my ostensibly veggie meal contained meat. On closer inspection, the menu did explain – beneath that prominent ‘V’ for veggie – that my pizza included anchovies; and, having inadvertently caused their deaths, I thought I’d better eat them.
However, this most pungent of fish is fairly hard work for vegetarians. And that cheese-infused tomato couldn’t compensate: reduced to a fine, pinkish paste, it was neither very cheesy, nor very tomato-y. Charging straight through its gentle flavours, thoroughly overlaying any hint of onions or breadcrumbs, the anchovies carried the day.
On a positive note, the act of feeding meat to a veggie is so typically southern European that it does underline the restaurant’s authenticity. And the staff’s reaction when I pointed out their menu error was equally genuine: the waitress upbraided me for not sending it back straight away, whilst the maître d’ thanked me flamboyantly for highlighting the problem, and poured us each a limoncello.
Ready for a pint, I sucked down a five-sip espresso, split the bill – a sensible £50 for two mains and the wine – and headed for the Rose and Crown, determined to get the rituals of our regular night out back on track. It was closed: ‘Under New Management’, read the sign.
Sometimes, life is shaken by events that threaten to strip away all that is familiar: where was my pint of Spitfire now?! We ended up in a wine bar, where I pondered the value of enjoying what is good whilst it lasts. We’ll be back at Olivelli, I’m sure – but next time, I’ll order the Caprina.