It certainly didn’t look like a restaurant; it barely qualified as a shop. There were a few bottles of wine and olive oil on the shelves, a couple of jars of honey, but mostly empty space and piles of paperwork. It was simply furnished with white walls, rickety shelving, a wooden beamed ceiling, and a terracotta tiled floor. A couple of two seater tables were laid in the middle of the small room, and as we entered our host Francisco greeted us warmly and invited us to sit down.
Francisco is a shopkeeper not a chef; he never planned to run a restaurant, but we were there for a multi-course feast.
Francisco is known for the excellent olive oil he sells at La Oliva and people used to come for oil and wine tastings. He’d give them a little something to eat while they drank, and they often bought the bottle and wanted to stay for longer, enjoying the shop’s relaxed atmosphere and Francisco’s banter. Over time his tastings evolved and grew more complex, and he began offering full meals once or twice a month. When someone added the shop to Tripadvisor in 2011 it propelled La Oliva to one of the best rated restaurants in Granada, and Francisco became an accidental restaurateur.
La Oliva is one of the most unique places we’ve eaten. You need to book in advance as Francisco only prepares meals three or four times a week, never seating more than 10 people (there were only four of us when we visited). It’s a very informal and personal atmosphere. Francisco and his assistant spend hours preparing the meal on a two burner camping gas stove in the kitchen which looks more like a storeroom. He takes his time preparing the 15+ dishes as he thinks food deserves attention, and that starts with peeling the onions.
You never know what you’ll get to eat—every night is different depending on what Francisco is inspired by in the market. He is happy to cater to dietary needs, and although he has hosted vegetarians in the past, they usually eat fish so we were something different for him. We were lucky that he took up the challenge and decided to create his first ever completely vegetarian menu—unusual in jamon loving Spain—and he wasn’t quite sure how it would go.
We began our epic meal with a tasting of three olive oils which we are always happy to do. Francisco informed us that the oil would coat our stomachs so we wouldn’t absorb as much wine and would be able to drink more—something it turned out we really would need. All the oils were excellent—bright yellowy green and peppery.
We moved on to the feast which involved 18 tapa-sized courses revolving around four wines—sherry, white, red, and dessert wine. Francisco brought out each dish himself, explaining what the dish was and telling stories. He’s a warm and friendly host, speaks good English, and is happy to sit and chat and answer any questions. He says that this doesn’t feel like work to him, that he does it for the love of it, and it shows.
Francisco always tells his guests that they don’t have to eat anything they don’t like, and he confessed that when he saw us he didn’t think we’d be able to eat it all. He was wrong—we cleared all 18 plates; Simon even mopping up with bread.
Everything we ate was simple, letting the flavours of the fresh produce and the plentiful olive oil shine through. When the raw ingredients are this good, and the food is prepared with love, you don’t need fancy techniques and complex combinations.
Here’s what we ate:
1) Almonds fried in olive oil and salt.
2) Green olives marinated in garlic and red pepper.
3) Spanish tortilla (like a thick omelette) with red pepper and peas.
4) Roasted green pepper.
5) Toast with a smear of tomato and salt, and drizzled with oil.
6) Winter salad of orange, radish, olives, and onion with smoked paprika and oil. This was the only off season dish we had as Francisco was keen for us to try it. The combination of sweet fruit and smoky paprika worked wonderfully.
With White Wine
7) Green bean and red pepper salad.
8) Baked aubergine and pepper salad—a smoky purée.
9) Gazpacho. The classic Spanish summer dish that’s more like a vegetable shake than a soup, as all the ingredients are raw and it’s served cold. It was light and flavourful and made with tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, garlic, bread, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and salt.
With Red Wine
10) Rice with green beans, asparagus, and peas.
11) Alcachofas a la Montillana – A traditional Spanish dish from Cordoba—artichokes cooked in Montilla Oloroso wine with mint.
12) Espárragos Espárragos – Asparagus cooked with fried bread, garlic, sherry vinegar, and paprika. Another traditional dish from Cordoba.
13) Pisto Manchego – A mix of green peppers and tomatoes, flavoured with thyme and with fried egg chopped on top.
14) A sautéed mix of courgettes, aubergine, and onion, seasoned with a little cumin.
With Dessert Wine
15) Two goats cheeses from Montefrio near Granada. One aged and marinated in oil and one younger with tomato and basil olive oil.
16) Fresh figs.
17) Chocolate ice cream with sea salt and orange olive oil. Creamy and rich, and the salt worked surprisingly well. This was the one thing Francisco didn’t make in house—his assistant popped out near the end of the meal to get some from La Perla ice-cream shop.
18) Turrón. A nougat made from roasted almonds, sugar, honey, and egg whites.
This is how we love to eat—slowly, locally, simply, and accompanied by good conversation and wine. Lots of wine—Francisco was very generous with his top ups of each wine and we were distinctly tipsy by the end of the meal.
We were impressed by our meat-free Spanish feast and Francisco enjoyed it so much that he’s thinking of offering a vegetarian menu on a regular basis. This is a fantastic opportunity for vegetarians as veggie tapas are scarce in Spain and it was wonderful being able to enjoy so many local dishes in one place.
La Olive is a truly unique dining experience. If you enjoy simple food prepared with love we highly recommend it.
La Oliva is located at Calle Rosario 9 near the centre of Granada, and meals usually begin at 7pm. The tasting menu of 15+ courses and wine costs €38.50 per person which is fantastic value. Be sure to book as far in advance as possible (we booked about a week ahead when we visited in July) and let Francisco know your dietary needs. See the La Oliva website for more details.
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