Olivomare is one of a trio of Sardinian restaurants in London (the others being Olivo and Oliveto), owned by Sardinian Maura Sanna, which opened in May 2007. The décor of the dining room is white: very white. White chairs, white floor, white tables, a white wall at the far end of the room. The only break from this is a single wall painted with a peculiar pattern that resembles something from a Hitchcock film opening, with a vaguely psychedelic pattern of stylised fish. Tables are crammed together and are small, and the hard surfaces mean noise levels are high. It was hard to hold a conversation across the table, tiny though this was.
The wine list is displayed on the restaurant web site and showed a little over 50 bottles, ranging in price from £19.50 to £98, with an average mark-up of around 2.6 times retail price, which appears quite kindly given the Belgravia location. I say “appears” deliberately, as we shall see. Example wines on the on-line list were Jermann Pinot Bianco 2009 at £39 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £15, Planeta Chardonnay 2008 at £45.50 for a wine that retails at £11, and Antinori Tignanello at £98 for a wine that will set you back £56 to buy in a shop. This all sounds fine, until you see a different list presented in the dining room, with very different prices. Vintage Tunina 2007 was quoted at a fair £61 on the web site (£33 retail, 1.8 times retail price) but on the real list was 2009 at £71.50 compared to an average retail price of £27, a very significant difference (2.6 times retail price). Similarly, Franz Haas 2008 Pinot Nero was priced on the on-line list at £32 for an £18 wine, but instead the wine appeared in the restaurant wine list at £45.50 (to be precise it was the 2009 rather than 2008, but the retail price is the same). This was a mark-up level of 2.5 instead of 1.8 times retail price, and a huge 42% difference between the price published on-line and what was offered in the restaurant. Such “bait and switch” tactics reflect poorly on this establishment. Mineral water was a steep £3.90 a bottle.
Bread was pleasant, with decent focaccia, white and brown breads and flatbread (14/20). Crab salad was served with radicchio and celery, and was nicely balanced, the bitterness of the leaves and earthy celery offsetting the crab flavour without dominating it (14/20). Even better was crab linguine, with carefully cooked pasta, plenty of crab and well-judged seasoning (15/20).
A main course of monkfish ragout on taglialini also featured good pasta and properly cooked fish, though the dish was over-salted (14/20). This was better than my sea bass baked with black olives and vernaccia wine. The sea bass was properly cooked but in the process of stuffing the bass the bones had been disturbed, so almost every mouthful of fish had a bone. Moreover the dish was breathtakingly salty, even to my taste (12/20). On the side, new potatoes were properly cooked and seasoned (14/20).
For dessert, tiramisu was pleasant in texture though lacking in much coffee intensity; it was a pale imitation of the tiramisu dishes I had eaten just a week earlier in Italy (still 14/20). However, the chocolate fondant was nicely made, with a rich liquid centre (15/20). Coffee was rather bitter, with a double espresso at £3.50 with no petit fours. The bill was £84 a head, and service was an amiable shambles. We had to ask several times for water, a side dish only appeared after repeated requests, and topping up was sporadic at best. The actual food quality was quite high except for one dish, but the noisy, cramped setting and the poor service took the edge off the evening. For about the same price you could eat at the much superior Zafferano.