Darren Clements, head chef at The Olive Restaurant in North Lakes, is something of a culinary mastermind.
He’s created a menu for the newly opened restaurant by carefully selecting the most important characteristics of both his favourite foods to eat and the global footprints he’s left around the world. From the Sheraton in Brisbane, to serving as Gary Meighan’s right-hand man at the Sofitel in Melbourne, to the Hilton in Turkey, to the JW Hotel and Restaurant in Romania, as well as creating restaurants and bars in The Middle East, Darren really has been everywhere, man, and he’s using those experiences to create some of the best food the north side of town has seen in a long time.
“We’ve got some stuff that’s influenced by my travels, and other stuff that’s influenced by what I like to eat,” Darren explains. “For example, for lunch we have lamb and pistachio koftas, with quinoa tabouleh, sumac yogurt and pomegranate molasses, then at dinner time that dish evolves into a lamb rump with a bigger portion and cumin jus. For breakfast we do your corn fritters, but I do them with haloumi, tomatoes and pomegranate molasses. I do a Middle Eastern eggs with preserved lemon and hummus. We also do things like natural yogurt pancakes with berry compote, and there’s no sugar involved… except for the maple syrup I put all over it when we plate. For dinner, our pork belly with smoked eggplant and an apple soy reduction, that’s probably the most popular, followed by the lamb rump.”
Classically French trained, but with an interest in Asian flavours, and a long history of working in Middle Eastern countries, Darren ensures The Olive is a cultural melting pot of flavour and intrigue, with every dish bringing something you wouldn’t expect. The Five Onion Soup is layered with different textures and ingredients to maintain interest throughout the entire entrée, with a duck surprise waiting at the end. Even the pizzetta is hand made and seasoned to perfection to ensure your meal is perfect, right from the start, and the rosemary is picked from the restaurant garden. The haloumi salad is rich with Middle Eastern flavours of pomegranate molasses – almost too sour until you get a taste of that Mediterranean cheese that completely balances the dish.
And you’ve never had a choc-peanut butter dessert like Darren’s before — a brownie recipe he’s carried around the globe accompanied by the most perfect salted peanut ice cream made with his own top secret recipe. You cannot leave The Olive without trying it.
“We’re trying to make the space approachable and feel like you’re not in North Lakes,” Darren says. “You could be anywhere in the world. You’re siting down to some fantastic food, you’re looking at a pretty decent wine list with things that you can’t just duck down to the BWS and get. It’s all quite driven in that respect — quality first, price second.”
And the customers are getting the message. “We have guests that come three to four times a week, breakfast on a Sunday, dinner on a Wednesday night, and then bring their friends from out of town on a Saturday night. That’s what I want — a local feel. People know, ‘I can come here and get an amazing meal, some fantastic food and textures and flavours, and I can get really good service. I can order craft beer, I can order a nice bottle of wine that’s not going to break the bank’… My concern when we first started this venture was that people would think that we were a special occasion restaurant. I don’t want people to come just once a month, I want people to come four to six times a month, because the prices are reasonable, and you get fantastic food.”
The Olive is the newest kid on the block in North Lakes. That’s typically not the Brisbane suburb you would head to when you’re looking for a fine meal, but this place is set aside from the rest. Nestled in a little complex of stores across the road from the Westfield, The Olive is a little piece of heaven just off the highway. The raw thatched roof, trickling water fountains, lush tropical gardens, and intricate lights on every table transport you to your personal little paradise.
“In this area, there’s nothing that can compete with us,” Darren says, “from the point of view that 99 per cent of the stuff that’s on the menu is made in house. We make our own ice cream, we make all of our desserts… The only thing that isn’t made that I buy in is our gelato, and my bread. And the bread is made to my recipes out of house, so that’s our real point of difference. There’s no opening a tin or snipping open a bag. I make my chicken curry the day before, I come in that morning and make the masala, and then it’s cooked that night. There’s none of this pre-packaged or pre-done stuff. We even make our own preserved lemons. My apprentice is loving it, because he’s like, ‘I’ve never even seen half of these things!'”
Darren’s food philosophy is simple — he wants his food to be real. Everything is made in house, by what is readily available that season, and from local and sustainable products. And the service doesn’t let the great food down (props to Linda and James who hosted bmag when we tasted this season’s menu).
Too often, bad service can spoil an entire meal, no matter how good it was. But if you stop by The Olive, not only will you leave with a belly full of delicious food, but a smile on your face you won’t be able to wipe off the whole drive home.
The Olive Restaurant is located at The Evergreen Centre, 14-18 Discovery Drive, North Lakes. For more info, visit our dining guide.