This article first appeared in the June 2015 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.
So, you’re in the restaurant business and you’re looking to open a new restaurant. You cast around and find the premises you’re looking for and they are in Wakefield. You make an approach to the landlord, sign a deal and get the keys. The place needs a few decorative touches and a bit of a tidy up, which you set about doing. Then, you open for business……
Just a few weeks later, nearly 20 members of Wakefield Civic Society’s Dining Club decide to pay you a visit. They do at least tell you in advance that they are coming; they even email their orders through to you a day or so beforehand; but you know they will be a demanding and discerning group, well used to putting a restaurant through its paces. And to top it all, at the end of their meal, they will score you on how well you did!
That’s a challenge that might just give you pause for thought but it does explain how I came to be dining at Wakefield’s newest addition to the ever expanding range of restaurants in and around the city. (As President of Wakefield Civic Society, I see it as my duty to participate in the activities of the Society’s Dining Club and it’s a duty I take seriously. The club has been going for over five years now, visiting nearly 60 different establishments, and I think I’ve only missed a couple or so of the monthly outings).
Regular readers of TopicUK may remember that I reviewed Grill! Primal Kitchen (Grill! PK, previously known as Grill! at 31) in February 2014. Sadly, the restaurant later closed and the premises at 31 Northgate stood empty for a while. However, they have now re-opened under new management with a fresh new look and name to match. Olive and Meze bills itself as a “Turkish Grill and Cyprus Mezes” restaurant and is now starting to get noticed by the people of Wakefield.
The restaurant itself has a small frontage onto Northgate but it stretches back inside to provide room for 30 customers. The kitchen and bar area, tucked away at the far end of the restaurant are compact, so proprietor Zafer Firinci and his staff Heddy and Nik have to be well organised and fairly nifty to work around each other.
As the name suggests, the restaurant offers a selection of home-made dishes representing Turkish and Cypriot cuisine. The menu offers a mix of cold and hot starters, very reasonably priced between £3.90 and £6.95 although there are meze dishes (a selection of starters) priced at £12.60 for the cold selection and £14.50 for the hot dishes but these are intended to be shared between two people. Main courses start at as little as £8 and work up to £15.50 (for Sirloin Steak or King Prawns). Again, there is a sharing dish – a mixed grill described on the menu as “a sumptuous platter of barbecued Lamb Shish, Adana, Chicken Shish and Pirzola, served with rice, salad, dip sauce and home-made bread”. This costs £24.90 but, remember, this is intended for two people.
There is a limited choice of desserts – Baklava, ice cream and chocolate cake being on offer at the time of our visit, again very reasonably priced at £3.50 each. If you opt for the set three-course meal at £22 per person (a minimum of two people required as it comprises of meze dishes for starters and main courses), the Baklava is included. A lighter lunch menu is available from Monday to Saturday. One piece of advice: from Sunday to Thursday, the restaurant offers two courses for £13.50. However, it is possible to select two courses whose prices total less than £13.50.
What was it like, I hear you asking? Well, on the whole it proved to be a rather enjoyable evening. The staff are lovely, very friendly, helpful and willing to please and the camaraderie of the Dining Club members always adds a certain something to the experience wherever we go. Dining in a large group can, of course, bring its own kind of chaos: even when people have ordered meals in advance, there’s always one or two who forget what they’ve ordered, but Heddy and Nik kept their cool and made sure everyone ended up with the meal of their choice, even if it didn’t quite start that way. A couple who had ordered the set meal were rather surprised by the apparent over-generous quantity of food served up as their meze starters – until it was realised that they’d been given two plates of meze rather than just one between two, the second plate being intended for another duo at the opposite end of the table who’d been a bit slow to put their hands up when their meal was called out by one of the waiters! However, the quantity was still generous and, by all accounts, the quality was good.
I opted for the Aubergine Salad as my starter: oven-roasted peppers and aubergines with spring onion and olive oil dressing. It was light and very fresh – but those onions were very hot! To follow, I had the vegetarian pide. This is rather like a pizza but, in this case, topped with fresh Mediterranean vegetables, feta, halloumi and mozzarella cheeses and served with salad. For dessert, I opted for the strawberry ice cream. Total cost of the three courses, excluding drinks, was just £15.50 – a real bargain and the quality of the food could not be faulted.
The general consensus seemed to be positive enough. Will Olive and Meze win the accolade of the Dining Club’s Restaurant of the Year for 2015 when all the votes are counted? Well, that’s too early to say just now: we’re not yet half way through the year and it will be next April before we reveal the winner.
After the meal, I chatted to the proprietor Zafer. He told me he had been in the restaurant business for 25 years, first in Turkey and then in the UK. His last restaurant, Tom, Dick and Harry’s, was at Thorpe Arch near Wetherby but he told me that he wanted to move to a city centre where people would find access easier than being out on a trading estate. He took over the lease from Grill! PK and decided to redecorate to provide a much lighter and more airy feel. This is still a work in progress; there was some evidence of the old Grill! branding on display but I suspect that will be removed in due course.
Opening a new restaurant is a brave move, especially with so much competition, but as Wakefield’s only Turkish restaurant, Olive and Meze is definitely worth a try and, as a new venture, it would be nice to see it build up a loyal following. If you’re looking for somewhere new to try, do pay Olive and Meze a visit.
31 Northgate, Wakefield, WF1 3BJ