I didn’t go to the Square Olive in Hampton Court intending to review it. I simply went there as most of the other patrons do, to eat something. But I thought I’d write about it anyway. (Right now I know what you’re thinking – This is either gonna be really good or really bad, right??)
A Square Meal At The Square Olive?
2-6 Bridge Road, Hampton Court, Surrey KT8 9HA
I was hungover and starving, and the girlfriend hadn’t eaten much either when she met me from Hampton Court station. We’d talked earlier in the week about doing lunch. Yo Sushi was mentioned, but hunger made our lunch plans for us and shoved us over the road into the first place we came to, which just happened to be Pizza Express. We sat by the window at first until we noticed the vast number of babies within close proximity and decided against it. For some reason, every parent in Hampton Court had chosen today to take their baby to Pizza Express.
Now I have nothing against babies, I used to be one myself. But if just one of the little blighters were to start crying it would have set off a wailing chain reaction with a noise level akin to that of an air raid siren. I asked a waiter if we could sit at the back, but when we got there another waiter appeared and told us off because apparently we weren’t allowed to sit there for another ten minutes. Actually, he was quite rude about it. So we left and went round the corner where we stumbled into the Square Olive.
Now we’ve walked past this place many a time, but it took extreme hunger to eventually get us through the door. The outside decor does little to grab one’s attention and pull you in, yet once over the threshold you are greeted by an impressive spacious interior with elegant, contemporary decor (see photo above, taken from their website).
Indeed, Square Olive is a prime piece of real estate given it’s size and location in upmarket Hampton Court just a stone’s throw from the palace. Sadly it was virtually empty, again hinting that maybe the exterior design could do with a rethink. However quite often the facade proves to not be a very good indicator of what’s on offer – although I hoped the food was not as bland as the outside. Still, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as Averna half a mile down the road. Or could it??
Again referencing their website, Square Olive claims to offer “the finest of Italian cuisine in surroundings nothing short of sheer elegance”, and apparently “the spirit of Italy has been incorporated in every detail of this charming and sophisticated restaurant and bar”.
Spirit of Italy?? Are they talking about Grappa??
We sat down to order, admiring the stylish interior design but also trying to pick out any traces of the so-called “spirit of Italy” anywhere therein, and simultaneously trying to block out the drone of the two middle-aged ladies gossiping loudly behind us. They were offering a lunch special – two courses for 10.95 which was quite reasonable. The starters were divided into antipasti and insalata, and as for mains there was a selection of pasta dishes and pizza. I went for the calamari with homemade dill sauce…
…and the girlfriend chose garlic bread with caramelised onions and cheese.
The portion sizes were generous for a starter, the calamari by itself was satisfactory but ever so slightly overdone. The dill sauce, however, was over-everything – over-sour, over-tangy and overwhelming the overall flavour. Even when just using a small amount. And it had a texture like emulsion paint. For a dill sauce, I struggled to pick out even the slightest suggestion of dill, the wedge of lemon providing all the accompaniment the squid needed. It was also nice to have an assortment of tentacles along with the customary rings. A lot of people still think calamari means just squid rings.
As for the garlic bread, the girlfriend seemed pleased and gave me a bite of hers. The “caramelised onions” were more like a caramelised onion chutney, but a good one which tasted homemade. It could have done with a bit more cheese, but there was just enough to elevate the twang of the chutney. The bread was nice – crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Not a very typical Italian starter, I thought, but it kept the girlfriend happy. She seemed to like the dill sauce. In fact when she saw I was not eating it she swiped it and dunked the crusts of her garlic bread in it.
For our main course we’d ordered a couple of pizzas. Maybe it was our brief visit to Pizza Express that put us in the mood for pizza. It took a while to arrive which would have been perfectly acceptable if the place was banged out, but it was still only us and the two loud bitching women behind us. I’d gone for the Capricciosa (Artichokes, cotto ham, olives, tomato and mozzarella):
Personally I am not a fan of olives when they have been heated, so if I’d have been cooking this I would have put them on when I took the pizza out of the oven. That way I could also have made sure there was one olive on each slice. Nitpicking, perhaps?? Maybe. But there’s nothing wrong with a touch of consistency (Or a touch of chilli oil, for that matter). Instead the five olives looked like they had been scattered by a whirling dervish. And they could have warned me that they had left the stones in. They will be getting my next dentist’s bill. And the stones meant that I had to pick them up to eat them, therefore I could not enjoy their taste alongside the other ingredients.
But how did it taste?? Well, not bad. Artichoke on a pizza is something I haven’t had before and it certainly went down well. The cotto ham was the highlight – crispy but still moist. Altogether it isn’t a bad combination. I saw Anthony Bourdain’s Pacific Northwest episode recently, where he visits a pizza restaurant in Seattle run by a guy known affectionately as the “Pizza Nazi”. He gets this nickname because he imposes strict rules on which toppings his diners can order – three toppings apiece, and only one meat. I kind of agree with his philosophy – sometimes too many toppings can ruin a pizza. This one would have met the Pizza Nazi’s standards but I doubt it would have got his mouth watering. In short it was an okay pizza and along with the calamari, well worth £10.95.
The girlfriend had opted for the “ortolana” – mozzarella and tomato with roasted vegetables. I’m not sure if red and green peppers count as two separate vegetables, but until she was about three quarters of the way through they appeared to be the only two in sight, until she came across a shard of charred green matter which may once have been a courgette.
She described the whole dish as a bit overdone and nothing special. That was a pretty good analogy for Square Olive in general – overdone on the inside in the sense that a lot of work had gone into it, although this wasn’t the case for the food which was okay but left quite a lot to be desired and did not taste or feel all too authentic. The spirit of Italy is not so much worked into every detail but rather sulking in the corner.
It is worth mentioning that the drinks are overpriced (more than a fiver for two small bottles of coke), but as far as the lunch special is concerned, the only thing special is the price as you will not pay through the nose or leave hungry. That said, I would go back if I wanted something simple in nice surroundings for a fair price. Based on that, I’m giving it: