Restaurant review: L'Olivo in Wheathampstead
A real Italian job hits the spot for food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne
About the restaurant
A bit of an Italian month, with Jamie’s new baby about to descend on St Albans and ASK outlets around Herts brushing up their Mediterranean appeal, but if further proof were needed of the enduring popularity of Italian cuisine, L’Olivo provides it. Almost 18 months since it opened on a country road outside Wheathampstead, it enjoys an enthusiastic following and is regularly fully booked.
Atmosphere and decor
Owners Sergio and Jo Perano took on a building dating from the 1800s when they were preparing to open L’Olivo but time had taken its toll and most of it had to be completely remodelled. The result is a clean bright space, where properly-dressed tables, muted colours on walls and furniture and clever use of lighting give everything an air of modern and friendly efficiency.
Serving 50 covers in a smallish area demands speed and ingenuity. It can get crowded and excitable but, in the Italian way, it works.
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A solid a la carte list offers four starters and four mains, supplemented by a daily specials board. Regulars include prosciutto fresco or pollo peperoncito among the primi and anatra al miele (duck with honey) or a hefty filetto formaggio (fillet steak with red wine and mushroom sauce topped with Parma ham and Dolcelatte cheese) among the secondi.
Sardines (�6.95), filleted, pan-fried with spinach and garlic and served with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, were a tasty sign of some smart work in the kitchen, the spinach admirably offsetting the primary fishy flavour. Calamari e chorizo (�6.95) – grilled baby squid, chorizo and rocket leaves drizzled with olive oil – a house special, proved equally worthwhile with the spicy sausage pronounced superb.
Recommended by a previous guest, anatra al miele (�13.95) is a L’Olivo favourite, a whole oven baked duck breast, coated with honey and black pepper and served with a reserve brandy sauce. It easily lived up to expectations, as did the agnello rosemarino (�16.95), a generous helping of lamb cooked in a red wine sauce with garlic and rosemary and a balsamic finish. Both were flavourful with the accompaniments adding an intriguing contrast. We celebrated with two glasses of chianti (�5.50 each).
The dessert menu changes daily. If you have room, popular choices include white chocolate panna cotta with fresh raspberries or torta al limone with chocolate drizzle and limoncello, both as good as they sound.
L’Olivo boasts of ‘modern and classic Italian dishes prepared freshly on site with quality, seasonal ingredients’. On this showing, it’s hard to argue.
The cost of this dinner was �58.80 plus service.
135 Marford Road
Wheathampstead AL4 8NH