The Oliva Restaurant, Topsham, Devon
Since opening its doors in 2006, Oliva in Topsham Devon has gone from strength to strength.
Voted Devon Life Restaurant of the Year in 2007, 2008 and 2009, as well as garnering personal plaudits for Head Chef Tim Golder (awarded Chef of the Year in 2008 and 2009), this Topsham gem continues to delight diners with its friendly atmosphere, excellent service and first-rate food. On a Saturday night in early November, when you’d expect most people to be at a firework display, the place was rammed to the rafters, filled with the happy burble of very satisfied customers.
Four years in, Oliva is still a Golder family affair: Pat and John share the helm with son, Tim. However, there have been a few changes. John has now moved next door to run the fantastically successful Oliva Delicatessen, leaving Pat to manage front-of-house duties in the restaurant. “Dad’s enjoying having his evenings off,” says Tim, as John strolls past the window, stopping momentarily to tap on the glass and wave.
The family atmosphere is apt, this being a restaurant heavily influenced by all things Mediterranean. Tim fell in love with the cuisine during two years spent living in south-eastern Spain, and his menu reflects his passion; as well as the lunchtime tapas on offer, there is an impressive selection of paella dishes, and Mediterranean ingredients are liberally applied throughout. Tim also displays an enthusiasm for cooking that is more common in our European cousins.
“I love inventing new dishes, trying new combinations,” he says. “It’s great to have free reign in the kitchen. A supplier comes to me with a fish I haven’t used before and I can just experiment, and there it is, straight on the menu.” As a result, the menu is ever-evolving, updated every two to three days with fresh ideas and fresh flavours to complement the existing favourites.
Tim makes the most of the plethora of top-quality local produce, combining it with speciality ingredients imported direct from Spain. My starter of Serrano ham with Manchego cheese is a case in point, accompanied by great little quince jelly that brings all the flavours together perfectly. My companion’s River Teign mussels are served in a wonderfully sunny tomato and saffron sauce that is tasty and moreish.
For main course I can’t resist the Brixham red mullet, new on the menu today, and expertly cooked; the skin is crisp and tangy, the flesh moist and sweet. Accompanied by roasted king prawns and chorizo, this is a dish packed with flavours. My companion plumps for the trio of Kenniford Farm pork: the pan-fried tenderloin is perfectly matched with a tremendously tasty black pudding, and the belly is a crispy treat.
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The problem of choosing between the delicious desserts is resolved by the offer of a taster plate (I’m so glad this is becoming more popular – it prevents many disputes in our house), including the Spanish-style cr�me br�l�e, Amaretto cheesecake, chocolate pudding and ice cream.
Tim has innovations and plans afoot for the coming months, including the introduction of Sunday roasts with a twist – using his newly acquired wood-fired oven. The Christmas menu will be up and running from 1 December, and after that, Tim is looking forward to rewriting the tapas menu, focusing on more seafood dishes. “I really want to use more squid and octopus,” he says. “I’m very excited by the potential in all the great produce and ingredients that are available locally.”
With such enthusiasm and passion for all things food-oriented, it’s no wonder that Oliva continues to please on all fronts. BELINDA DILLON
6-7 Fore Street, Topsham
01392 877878, olivarestaurant.co.uk
Open: Wed-Sat 12 noon-2pm; Mon-Sat 6pm-late
Proprietors: Pat, John and Tim Golder
Head Chef: Tim Golder
Prices: Starters from �5.95;
Main Courses from �14.95;
Desserts from �4.95
Wine: from �14.25