La Dolce Vita
For those who live amidst the sun baked olive groves of the Mediterranean, life is shaped by oli santi (sacred oil,) and history is deeply entwined with the magical elixir, which Homer in his epic poem ‘Odyssey’ referred to as “liquid gold.” For thousands of years people have cultivated the olive tree, as a valuable commodity, a medicine, a skin tonic, and of course the quintessential ingredient in Mediterranean cooking.
EVO stands for Extra Virgin Olive oil, a thick greenish fruity elixir of pure pressed olives, with a taste like nothing else. The name represents a commitment to the highest quality ingredients, including, obviously the best olive oil. It also represents the remarkable EVOlution of the restaurant formerly known as Blossom, into a modern and charismatic Italian style eatery.
Flavours are authentic, but you won’t find an Italian mama in the kitchen; you will however find the remarkably talented and well seasoned chef William Collier, who brings a delightful innovative twist to classic Italian and Mediterranean dishes. It is always a pleasure to meet someone who is passionate and dedicated to their craft, but Collier’s influence extends well beyond the kitchen, as he has been given free reign to create a restaurant in his own vision. A wise move, as the food, cocktails, wines and décor all fit seamlessly together to create personality and character – a rare find in a resort restaurant.
Setting the scene
Dine outdoors in a tropical setting reminiscent of jungle book, or immerse yourself in the air cooled interior, decked out in alluring, 60’s style, New York glamour. The curved creamy leather sofas and wingback chairs are fabulous, warmed up with splashes of vivid Valentino-esque red from the crimson cushions, velvet dining chairs, and heavy fuscia glass lamps that cast a seductive glow. Rich textures are at play, creating a sumptuous atmosphere; silky napkins, heavy stone pillars, teak tables polished to slippery smoothness, and an island bar inlaid with slabs of golden hued onyx. As much as I am enamoured with this setting, I simply can’t resist dining al fresco and choose a table on the terrace amidst gnarly old frangipani trees and ornamental palms. A picturesque waterfall cascades over a stone wall and into the beautiful free form swimming pool. Here in Seminyak on this balmy evening I have stumbled across La dolce vita!
Shaken or Stirred
A sommelier is on hand to help with wine choices, but I have been all too easily charmed by a beguiling leather bound cocktail menu and am soon sipping an aromatic Giovanni Goes to Thailand, a tropical concoction of vodka and lychees infused with lime leaves and fragrant lemon grass. Fans of the hit mini series Madmen will love the Betty Draper, a sweet, elegant and seemingly innocuous concoction of Belvedere vodka and black grapes, but beware, like its TV name sake, it has bite!
Collier explains that when it comes to Italian cookery it is, “Important to keep history in mind,” but he is clearly not afraid to experiment when it comes to presentation and techniques. While Italian food is seemingly simple, it is the attention to detail that makes all the difference. At EVO everything is well thought out and skilfully prepared. The oil is always extra virgin, herbs are fried to provide softer flavours; the ‘real taste’ of olives is revealed with slow cooking; and lemons are preserved to create a unique flavour and softness.
My meal begins with a platter of Antipasti; those who like it spicy will enjoy the Salsiccia Picante (spicy sausage,) and the Salami Finocchiona (pork cured with fennel,) while the Pata Negra Belotta, a 3-year aged leg ham from Iberia is dangerously moreish. For me, it’s the Boconccini that really seals the deal, glistening rounds of pure Italian cheesy goodness, the soft creamy taste and texture beautifully accentuated by a liberal sprinkling of pink flaky Murray River sea salt. There are also plump olives, tangy pickles, and grilled flat bread with a bowl of light and fruity olive oil for dipping.
Un po di pasta
The combination of pumpkin, ricotta and pasta is a perennial classic and I am keen to experience the EVO twist. Ravioli is stuffed with crumbly ricotta and herbs, while the pumpkin has been diced into tiny cubes and roasted with brown sugar then scattered over the ravioli with shaving of parmigiano and fried sage. A beautiful dish! I also try a unique Straciette (farfalle) cooked in chicken stock, granting a slightly tangy flavour to the pasta, which is then tossed with ribbons of proscuitto, dainty slivers of baby zucchini, squash blossoms, roasted tomatoes, a dash of mascarpone and a dousing of basil oil.
Pesce e Crostacei
The Wild Barramundi combines my favourite fish, with some of my other favourite things like rosemary, pine nuts and dates. The barramundi is wrapped in semi-cured pancetta, then roasted; a basting of brown butter and a touch of apple juice creates a sweet glaze that gently enhances the delicate flavour of the fish. The dates give a touch of the Middle East, and the pine nuts provide a little crunch. There is so much more on the menu, but only so much that I can eat, so the Seafood Tower, the Wagyu Beef and the Wood fired Pizza will have to wait until my next visit. However there is no way my sweet tooth will let me leave without sampling the desserts……
The Chocolate Tasting is an obvious choice, with a tantalising description of ‘Hot-Fluid-Crunchy-Cold-Soft.’ A hot gushing chocolate fondant, a slice of smooth rich torte, a scoop of cream with crumbly chocolate and nuts, and the cutest little gelato served in a miniscule cone. The Tiramisu 3 Ways is an interesting interpretation of the most famous of Italian desserts. A mini tiramisu flavoured gelato with a hint of spiced rum; a dish of coffee flavoured crème brulee, and a shot of white chocolate foamy milkshake.
I would finish up with a cigar and a single malt whiskey, but that’s not really my thing, instead I savour a glass of homemade Limoncello. The potent lemony sweetness warms my spirit and lights my digestive fire, a perfect way to finish an exceptional Italian meal.