REVIEW: Northampton's longstanding town centre tapas haunt is still share bliss
All too often it's easy enough to get downbeat about the town centre's offerings and swept away with nostalgic, fond thoughts of what our market town once looked like.
But the town is changing. Some would argue, the bars and restaurants are better than ever and if Sheep Street's Les Olives is anything to go by, we have nothing to worry about.
If you don't admire the art of conversation and prefer to be eyes-deep in your smartphone this place will not tickle your fancy. This style of eating is strictly non-antisocial: it's food for the family, food for friends and food for making conversation on a first date.
I'm not sure I would have visited this restaurant if it had not been highly recommended to me. It's low-key frontage perhaps goes unnoticed in a sea of nearby chicken shops but that isn't to say you shouldn't book a table immediately. In hindsight it was nice not to be slapped in the face with garish decorations and A-boards - not literally, of course.
Upon stumbling up to the Sheep Street entrance after one-too-many-just-finished-work-pints, my booking of five were taken straight upstairs by the host and seated. We had to book the table in advance.
The upstairs was totally surprising, and big. Old beams adorned the high ceilings, fairy lights twinkled around the bar and a Spanish guitarist strummed away while I stared even more lovingly into my glass of Mahou.
Our service was pleasant and quick, despite the bustling restaurant and we had two bowls of olives to share, which for this writer, was a sheer delight. For others, a horror.
We ordered nearly everything off the menu. Grilled lamb fillets, pan-fried duck breast, grilled sardines, among other dishes, for the meat-lovers. Then the other meat-lovers, trying to hit their five-a-day quota, wanted patatas bravas, roasted fennel hearts and padron peppers.
After quickly racking up a £132 bill it was time to physically restrain one journalist who continued to order baskets of bread to mop up morsels of food and garlic oil. But he, like all of us, only wanted more.
The vegetable dishes at this restaurant were a tad on the pricey side. Chargrilled artichoke hearts came with a £7.25 price tag and baby beetroot with feta cheese costed £6.60. But without those dishes, the array of food we ordered would have been a lot less compatible. Although Les Olives doesn't come cheap - it perhaps shouldn't
My red-faced, gluttonous group of colleagues finished off the night with coffees and puddings - a flan and churros to share - before waddling over the road to the nearest car park - Mayorhold - to part ways.
As a table of hacks it's not often our tongues aren't wagging but this savoury bonanza of Spanish small-plate grub certainly kept us shtum.