Indepedently-owned restaurants add a real vibrancy to town centres, and I’m a big fan of encouraging locally-owned places to flourish among a sea of big chains.
Several household names are the competition for Olive, a Mediterranean restaurant that sits in a prominent position in the council buildings in George Street, Corby, directly opposite the likes of Nandos and Prezzo.
With these food giants on its doorstep, vital to Olive’s future are three key things: taste, price and service.
I arrived on a Saturday evening with two friends to sample the new menu which was launched only a few days earlier.
The space has clearly had some investment - it looks very different to the Council’s One Stop Shop which was formerly housed in the same part of Grosvenor House. There are lovely booths and a nice waiting area for people who are just popping in for a cocktail.
We were seated directly next to the live music which was just firing up when we arrived. The person who seated us gave us a clue as to what was in store when she said she hoped we liked the music, and raised her eyebrow.
A house/ garage DJ did several sets through the night interspersed with a local singer who performed right in the middle of the tables. I’m no Simon Cowell, and both were fine as far as entertainers go, but the music was far too loud and far too close to the diners to be enjoyable. Plus the DJ inexplicably had a sticker of the most offensive swear word you could possibly think of placed slap bang in the middle of his speaker.
We struggled to chat among ourselves while we waited for our waitress. And waited. And waited.
When our server finally arrived, we were brought a couple of cocktails and a soft drink and she took our food order.
We chose a meze sharing platter between us which included several dips, a couple of filo parcels, some calamari, two meatballs and olives. There was also some really tasty, freshly-cooked pitta. The pitta was great, the rest was OK, but the platter was a bit on the pricey side at £14.95.
Then we waited some more and tried to get the waitress’s attention, to no avail.
Eventually she returned to clear our plates and we tried to order some drinks but with a radio mic in one ear and the entertainment blaring in her other, she simply couldn’t hear us. So she walked off with a disinterested smile.
Eventually, half an hour after our starters had been eaten, our mains turned up.
They’re not cheap, at between £14-16 each I had hoped to get something quite special.
I chose the lamb souvlaki - lamb kebabs with lemon and potatoes - and my two friends had lamb koftas.
Unfortunately, my lamb was dry and overcooked. There was no side salad and with just potatoes and a couple of lemon wedges between the meat, it was all a bit stodgy for me.
My friends said their koftas were OK, but not amazing.
Again, trying to get the attention of the waitress was nigh on impossible. When we eventually managed, we ordered more drinks and asked for the dessert menu.
The desserts are averagely priced - between £4 and £6 each.
We considered our options and decided to go for the chunky bueno brownie and zesty lemon sponge pudding. Except when our waitress returned, she told us there was no brownie. OK, so we asked what flavour cheesecake was available. She didn’t know, so she went to ask, and she came back and told me three times but I couldn’t hear her. I ordered it anyway and crossed my fingers.
We all had children at home, 25 minutes later, our desserts still hadn’t arrived, we told the waitress we were cancelling them and asked for the bill so we could get home.
The waitress went into the kitchen and came back to tell us that the chef had already made them, resulting in an awkward standoff while we insisted that they had simply been too slow and we had to go home.
By now it was 10.15pm and we’d been in the restaurant for two-and-a-half hours and had just two drinks.
The bill came to £86, which was on the high side for a sharing starter, three mains and three drinks.
After reading other online reviews of the restaurant, it seems the issues with service are recent. I can only assume something has changed at Olive as previous reviews were complimentary.
I really wanted Olive to be great. I hope it was a one-off bad evening and that it can improve and flourish.
But to do so, someone needs to take it by the scruff of the neck and sort out the service, or else people will sadly choose to go to the chain restaurants instead.
Price range: Medium to high. £15 for a main, £25 for a steak
Northants Telegraph score: 5/10