Serving Mediterranean-style tapas, the Olive Tree in Shrewsbury has created a wonderfully relaxed dining experience
Having taken the helm of the Olive Tree tapas restaurant and bistro in Shrewsbury three years ago, owner and head chef Sam Bevan has become enamoured of this supremely relaxed, Mediterranean method of dining.
“The restaurant was already doing tapas when we took over and as a chef I got into it very quickly,” says Sam. “I thought it was brilliant being able to play with these big, bold flavour combinations.
“Getting into tapas has been like getting into cheffing, I just sort of fell into it and found I absolutely loved it. It’s a big challenge for the person washing up, though.”
Aged 19, Sam found himself working as a washer-upper in an Italian restaurant. “I really enjoyed the environment but obviously I didn’t want to carry on washing up forever. I watched the chefs at work in the kitchen, started learning on the job and it all progressed from there. I went to work in different types of restaurant, finding jobs where I could fill in the gaps in my knowledge until I started my own kitchen.
“My wife Becky and I bought the Olive Tree from local restaurateur Paolo Vitale, who my family have known for a long time. Paolo has owned several restaurants in Shrewsbury through the years and he’s often tried to tempt me into taking one of them on for him. The circumstances were never right before but when we walked into the restaurant in 2015 we felt ready to take the plunge.
“Even though the restaurant used to be a pub, it’s nothing at all like that inside – there’s whitewashed walls, stone floors and a big garden terrace out back so it looks like it could be somewhere in Greece.
“That’s actually very fitting because at The Olive Tree we focus on the idea of social dining, which is influenced heavily by the Mediterranean style of eating. The tapas, or mezze as it’s also known, that we serve is basically a spread of lots of small dishes. The food comes out in stages where you can have a few bites here and there and relax and chat in between.
“You don’t even have to order if you don’t want to, you just sit there and food is put in front of you,” Sam explains. “The result is that you take a lot longer over the meal. It becomes less about the process of eating and more about enjoying time with your friends and family.
“It’s hard to break people out of the very British habit of rushing meals,” confides Sam. “It’s also ingrained in us that we wait until everybody’s got a plate of food until you start eating. We’re trying to break that mould and nudge people into just digging in.”
The Olive Tree, Frankwell Island, Shrewsbury SY3 8JR. Tel: 01743 383373. www.theolivetreeshrewsbury.co.uk
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