This was my first visit to Southampton but finding good food wasn’t going to be a challenge: I had a recommendation! A French/Seafood restaurant called Olive Tree. But I knew nothing of Southampton.
Southampton became a popular spa town in 1740 after the discovery of a spring of chalybeate (mineral-rich) water. It became a popular site for sea bathing despite not having a perfect beach. The town experienced major expansion during the Victorian era and there are still grand buildings from that time. The railway link from Southampton to London was fully opened in 1840, and with improved transport links Southampton became the emigrant port for North American and Canadian voyages. RMS Titanic sailed from Southampton and most of the crew came from the town; more than 500 of them died when the ship went down. A memorial to the engineers of the RMS Titanic may be found in Andrews Park.
Olive Tree, on the popular Oxford Street, had a major refurbishment last January and now has a new inspired Head Chef called Todd Higgs. He has great culinary credentials, having worked in London in such celebrated restaurants as 10 Greek Street, The Bingham Hotel and Corrigan’s Mayfair.
Todd is developing his own recipes at Olive Tree and they have a focus on provenance and seasonality. He is blessed with a restaurant with access to fresh local fish, meat and vegetables and he takes advantage of them in this casual, French bistro-style restaurant. Todd has flair and imagination but doesn’t lose sight of solid good taste and quality.
Olive Tree offers a regular à la carte menu but they also have Daily Fish specials made from the catch straight off the boats – whatever looks good. The most popular dishes on menu are Seafood Linguine and Open Top Burger but the blackboard is always worth a look for something out of the ordinary.
Mussels were my simple but fresh starter. What can one say? There would seem to be nothing to it. But that can also be the secret of the best dishes. Take fine ingredients and allow them to shine. These shone.
Smoked Salmon Crostini was my guest’s starter and this was pronounced crunchy and well-seasoned, and there was plenty of it too. No skimpy portions. These slices of salmon-topped bread had a sweet-pickled cucumber, honey mustard dill dressing. Would be great with just a glass of red on a hot (yes, I have imagination) summer afternoon.
Seafood Linguine is a must-try here and something of a signature dish. Pasta in a delicate stock with plenty of king prawns, crayfish, mussels, garlic, lemon and a hint of chilli. Have some bread on the side for mopping any remaining sauce. This is accessible decadence.
Yes, there are fishless dishes here and my guest chose Chicken Provençale – sauce of herbs and tomatoes with olives and served with fries. This is one for those who want a classic French dish with robust flavours and classic chips. It’s a bistro standard but superb when done well.
Cherry and Almond Cheesecake served with a macerated cherry sauce was our shared dessert. This was outstanding and beautifully presented with colour, gloss and texture. It might not always be on the menu but order it when you see it.
Olive Tree has a worthy location and a chef who will likely bring it to prominence. Todd Higgs has a platform for his evident skills and the diners of Southampton have a restaurant offering thoughtful food which will waft them back across La Manche …without the passport. This young chef is one to watch.
Open 7 days a week, with lunch served from midday to 6pm and dinner from 6pm until late.
29 Oxford Street
Phone: 02380 34 3333
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018