Food24 eats at… Oliva Bar & Kitchen
Four and a half years ago, two young lovers sat at the far corner of a mosaic bar over arguably the best mojitos in Johannesburg. They had only known each other for a couple of weeks, but the rum was talking. The couple made a pact. No matter how things turned out between them, they would travel together to the home of the mojito – Brazil. (Yes, I know, just read on.)
That November they sat at OR Tambo, their first mojito in hand – with a plan to photo-document a daily mojito regime. Two months of mojitos! Tudo bem!
Twelve hours later, they arrived in Sao Paulo to learn that mojitos have nothing to do with Brazil and everything to do with Cuba. The caipirinha though, was a capable replacement and the photo-documentary fell by the wayside (even though an average of more than one cachaça-drenched lime juice was consumed per day over the two month adventure.)
The new Fino?
What a lovely story but what does it have to do with a tapas bar in Illovo? Well as it turns out, the Boss and I are those young lovers (bet you didn’t see that twist coming did you?) and that night of mojito madness was enjoyed at Fino, a favourite tapas spot in Parktown North.
Fino was the scene of many a debauched evening at the hands of the best cocktails in the city. The martinis were unbeatable and were shaken with fresh watermelon, litchi, chocolate and apple. The caipirinha was made with real cachaça (not Bacardi) and the minty-fresh mojitos inspired overseas adventures.
And the food wasn’t half bad either, favourites being the prawn and chorizo risotto (a main course) and the fish cakes, chorizo and calamari tapas.
Now, Oliva Bar & Kitchen in Illovo, is for all intents and purposes Fino. Run by Zane Beer – the self-same owner with an almost identical menu, Oliva is Fino reincarnated.
The two most obvious omissions from this version were the open deck that used to make summer days at Fino such an absolute pleasure and (due to the current liquor license backlog) cocktails, which used to do the same thing.
But I didn’t want to let my affection and romantic associations with Fino cloud my impressions of Oliva and so went in (as always) with an open mind and a critical eye. We had a table of four and went straight for the tapas – fishcakes and calamari for old time’s sake, lamb skewers, zucchini sticks covered in Parmesan accompanied by a garlic dip, a mixed plate of bruschetta topped with salsa, cheese and mushrooms, patatas bravas and prosciutto wrapped around a breadstick.
On the whole, I felt that the food was OK. It tasted like you’d expect. The ham-wrapped bread sticks were a bit dry and boring, the skewers: lemony but hardly memorable, the bruschetta was no more interesting than my Sunday night ‘clean out the fridge’ supper and the calamari was well cooked and tasty, but a touch meagre in portion.
I believe that tapas should be generous and bountiful – more than enough to go around. It makes sharing easy and fun and no one has to fight over the last piece of ‘on the house’ bread.
Grumbles aside, the fishcakes were awesome – crisp on the outside and soft and fleshy on the inside, accompanied by a delicious dipping sauce. The zucchini sticks were crisp and lekker, piled high with Parmesan (they would make a great upmarket bar snack) and the patatas bravas were worth going back for again and again. Potato wedges drenched in tomato-mayo, packed with flavour and all those things that are so good for your mouth and so bad for your boep.
We didn’t stay for dessert, but shot around the corner instead for weissbier and hot chocolate with complimentary chocolate moustaches at trendy but cosy cake and coffee bar Wolves.
That little bowl of spuds nearly made it all worth it, but there was definitely something missing. Ah yes, the cocktails. Now I don’t believe by any means that one needs to dop to have fun and I’m in no way advocating drinking to enjoy your dinner, but the missing ingredient that night was definitely my watermelon martini.
I think that Oliva may be my adult-life Tarquino Bake. Remember the twenty-four hour pizza joint in Parkhurst? It had THE best pizzas in Jo’burg bar none, until I had my usual Mexicana with avo for lunch (as opposed to three o’clock in the morning) and was served a super mediocre Sloppy Joe on focaccia.
Sometimes your company, both human and beverage, shapes your impressions of an establishment but when the haze of good times lifts, you see through the smiles and easy conversation.