Established in 1845, the Covent Garden Market remains the longest surviving connection to London’s culinary roots. A driving force in local economic development in downtown London, the Covent Garden Market endures as an important focus for the urban and regional rural exchange where local, farm-fresh quality, artisanal and specialty goods can be purchased seven days of the week.
Located at the intersection of King and Talbot Streets, the Market is a much-loved cultural attraction and culinary destination for both locals and out-of-town guests. It is one of the city’s most valued landmarks, and is the backbone of the downtown buy-local food movement. The Covent Garden Market offers some of the city’s best mash-up of local, specialty and culturally diverse food vendors and a range of community-driven initiatives and programming.
Last September Chris Doris, co-owner of Doris Family Produce in the market, and chef/restaurateur Greg Efstatheu, who operates Dino’s Grillhouse and Beverage Co. in Ingersoll and Dino’s Grill in Dorchester, renovated and refurbished the restaurant situated in the southwest corner of Covent Garden and opened Olive R. Twists. Long-time corporate hospitality professional and general manager Siva Markandu was hired to oversee the day-to-day operations and is dedicated to ensuring that guests of the restaurant receive the best experience possible.
This location has one of the city’s premiere patios, and was initially operated as Chauncey Smith’s by London restaurateur Mike Smith in 1999 — when the new Market initially reopened. Chauncey’s embraced a Chicago chop–house aesthetic and paid homage to Smith’s grandfather (an original market vendor). Chauncey’s specialized in excellent steaks, seafood and top-notch cocktails.
The next incarnation was Gambrinus Bistro, briefly renowned as one of London’s local craft beer hubs during publican Milos Kral’s tenure as general manager. Incidentally, Kral is now owner of the highly successful Milo’s Craft Beer Emporium just north of the Market on Talbot Street at Carling. Gambrinus was followed by Upfront at the Market, which was a very successful venture originally located in Strathroy, and the new location at the Market might have been challenged by an identity crisis — perhaps not upscale enough for serious diners but too formal for the casual-food crowd.
There were several high-profile restaurateurs interested in the premises when it became vacant last year. It’s my understanding that Covent Garden Market policy permits only non-corporate businesses to locate in the Market. So it seemed like a natural fit when longtime Market vendor Doris partnered with Efstatheu to open Olive R. Twists.
Doris is a familiar and friendly face in the downtown core and he and his parents, Louis and Demi, are the well-liked and respected owner-operators of Doris Family Produce. The Doris family have been building long-term relationships with their market customers since 1979. The gregarious Chris Doris has an innate understanding of the marketplace. He has been supplying chefs with specialty items for years — he’s the one who can help you find hard-to-get in season produce, when special ingredients are the order of the day. Doris is also known for developing his For the Love of Garlic product, a garlic-infused olive oil, among other specialty products. His current olive oil is called 21, named after the year his grandfather planted his first olive tree.
The 75-foot-long bar inside Olive R. Twists uses what Doris refers to as “state of the art tap technology.” He tells us “it is the first of its kind in Canada to serve 16 craft and draft beers, cocktails, and a list of classic and popular martinis.” There’s also a lounge area with a fireplace and numerous flickering television sets that are commonplace nowadays, to score the loyalty of die-hard sports enthusiasts. The bar flows into a casual and comfortable (tables are well-spaced with lots of legroom) spacious dining room. The dining room is appointed with earth-tone brick walls, dark stained wood surfaces, cove ceilings, natural sunlight in the day and contemporary LED lighting and an over-sized TV. Off to the side of the dining room is a small open kitchen where the majority of the cooking takes place while the prep is done in the downstairs kitchen.
A spacious outdoor patio/bar with awning wraps around the restaurant and overlooks London’s King Street restaurant row and the Market Square. In warmer weather, the 158-square-metre patio is outfitted with couches, a dining area and an outdoor bar and barbecue. As a well-liked seasonal destination for al fresco dining or cocktails, this smartly appointed patio, with its classic wrought iron fence, is landscaped with seasonal foliage, flowering planters and, at street-level, over-sized flower pots. This a relaxing place to lounge and one of the best vantage points for people watching in the city.
Olive R. Twists’ close vicinity to the Budweiser Gardens makes it a popular choice on event nights, both before and after — as is Mark Kitching’s Waldo’s on King, its symbiotic but uniquely individual counterpart next door. Olive R. Twists is targeted at a mid-market, including the hometown clientele and visitors that attend sports and entertainment events at Budweiser Gardens. As a concept, and a composition of tastes, the menu exemplifies the contemporary offerings of the fast-paced bar and grill tradition. Menus follow a theme of casual fare such as burgers, fish and chips (served in a novelty French-fry basket), chicken wings, pasta, poutine, stir-fries with an Asian-inspired twist and a lengthy list of appetizers. Dishes are robust, even among the appetizers, which make classic bar snacks. I recently had a homemade beef burger festooned with an olive and a pickle and greens in a soft brioche bun, accompanied by a mountain of beer battered onion rings. To the chef’s credit, a commendable trio of Field Gate Organic sourced chicken, beef and pork sliders served with caramelized onions and chipotle mayonnaise is a hands-down winner.
There are a number of appealing dishes on offer, plenty of goodwill and enthusiastic staff with lots of vitality to help implement, develop and execute strategies that continually re-evaluate service, food quality, and special event night performances. There remains a lot of community optimism that Olive R. Twists is well placed to build on the strength of its premier location at the Covent Garden Market for many years ahead.
Olive R. Twists
130 King Street (Covent Garden Market)
Monday–Thursday: 11am–12 midnight
Sunday: 12 noon–11 pm
Bryan Lavery is eatdrink’s Food Writer at Large and Contributing Editor.