If you’re craving humous, falafel, flatbread, or any other Middle Eastern dish for a tasty lunch, then look no further than The Olive Branch in Wivenhoe, near Colchester. This cafe opened just over six years ago in Station Road, headed up by couple Abdul and Fatema who wanted to share their Syrian cuisine with the community.
I visited the cafe on a wet and windy Thursday, when the riverside town was empty save for retirees – making a welcome change from the summer months when the place is heaving with visitors. Situated right on the main road through Wivenhoe, near the train station, the cafe is bright and airy with an open kitchen providing some hustle and bustle.
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I dropped by for coffee in the morning and fortunately reserved a table for when I returned for lunch, as the whole place filled up during the midday/afternoon rush. The coffee itself was delicious and with a brand like Monmouth you know you can expect a strong cup to set you up for a good day.
When I came back for lunch with a couple of guests the cafe was a vibrant hive of activity, with mouth-watering dishes lining the nearby tables. I went for a single platter which included a variety of dips and salads and was my best shot of tasting everything they had to offer.
The food arrived in good time seeing as the entire cafe was being looked after by just Abdul the chef and a lovely waiter at front of house. My plate was packed with humous, baba ganouj, a makdous (baby aubergine stuffed with walnuts and peppers), a labneh ball, olives, vine leaves, falafel, salad and a generous bowl of flatbread to dip.
It was a huge plate of food for just £10 – an absolute steal – and I tried my best to finish it all but ended up leaving a chunk of salad and a few olives by the end. The humous and baba ganouj was great with the flatbread, while the makdous was something new for me which I loved.
All the items worked really well together and I ended up dipping the falafel in the baba ganouj, or smearing some of the labneh – a Middle Eastern cheese made from strained yoghurt – on the flatbread. The pickled items in the salad gave it a kick, as well as the saltiness of the olives and the smokiness of the tomato dip.
My companions had falafel and halloumi wraps and said they were excellent, costing just £6.50 for falafel and £7 for the halloumi one. These also came with salad on the side and were absolutely huge – meaning one of my friends kept one half for a snack later in the day as she couldn’t finish it.
To end our meal we, of course, had to try some of the baklava which proved to be delightful, with a full array on display in the counter up by the till. A honeyed pastry was the perfect way to end our lunch. The service was brilliant from start to finish and the warm atmosphere is something really special, which can be hard to find.
Everything on the menu was either vegetarian or vegan, with veggie options able to be made vegan on request. The cafe caters for events and can also be hired out for a ‘bring your own alcohol’ party. Visit The Olive Branch in Wivenhoe for authentic Syrian food, affordable prices and lovely customer service.
This article is part of EssexLive’s series Essex Eats where a member of our team reviews an independent food business in the county. We don’t tell the business we’re coming and we don’t tell them who we are while we’re there. Every meal for EssexEats is paid for by us and not gifted.
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