Written by Laura Baranik
Oliva is one restaurant that doesn´t take its name lightly. The proprietors´ passion for the marinated and (usually) green fruit of the olive tree is in evidence everywhere: different types of olives can be ordered off the menu, a trio of olive oils with homemade bread is a complimentary starter, and the whole dining area exudes a distinctive olive-greenness, not least because of the wallpaper patterned with – you guessed it – olives.
But somehow the obvious theme isn´t annoying. These days, I appreciate any semi-upscale restaurant that doesn´t have half-naked supermodels as its motif, and besides, Oliva is so pleasant, cozy, and well-executed that it´s hard to find many faults with it at all.
That´s not to say the restaurant is perfect. A general tendency toward under-salting denies some of the dishes the full flavor they deserve, and one of the desserts we sampled, a meringue with vanilla cream and strawberry coulis, is unexciting. But Oliva is impressive in much of its culinary quality, as well as in its professional service and cozy, original milieu. The heavy use of olive-green is tempered by accents of pink and cream, and an eye-catching curtain made of shimmering glass discs separates the main dining room from an inviting café area that´s furnished with rose-colored armchairs.
And Oliva does have excellent olives, as we discovered when we sampled a Spanish, Italian, Moroccan, and Greek mixed bowl. The small, firm green olives are also present in the arugula salad, which is dressed with balsamic vinegar and a generous amount of quality olive oil. The crisp, peppery arugula is offset nicely by a handful of caramelized red onions – a relative rarity in Prague salads that can add a great punch of sweet flavor to even the dullest greens. A creamy pumpkin soup could have used a bit more taste in the form of sodium, but after a generous salt-shaking was pronounced to be very worthwhile indeed.
There is little doubt in my mind that the most popular dessert at Oliva is the warm chocolate gateau with pistachio cream. The warm chocolate cake has been in vogue for quite some time at many a French or French-inspired restaurant, but Oliva manages to liven up an old favorite. A crumbly first bite of cake gives way to a filling of hot dark chocolate that flows thickly into an intensely pistachio-flavored green sauce. The combination of the chocolate and pistachio is a winner in terms of both flavor and texture, though I would have added a strawberry or lychee to freshen it up a bit.
Oliva has a lot to boast about, but perhaps most deserving of recognition is its value. Its prices beat many a Prague 1 fancy restaurant, with quality, service and atmosphere to rival pretty much any of them – even if you don´t particularly like olives.
Plavecká 4, Prague 2
Tel: 222 520 288
Hours: Mon – Sat 11:30 – 15:00, 18:00 – 00:00. Closed Sundays.