Named after Hayling Island’s first lifeboat, launched in 1865, the Olive Leaf re-opened its doors two years ago after a period of neglect. Tonya and Mike are its saviours.
Now painted a vivid yellow, the pub, right on the seafront with views of the Isle of Wight, is not shy in making its presence felt. The interior is equally colourful, with vast canvases of large flowers decorating the 30-cover restaurant with its homely tables covered in cloths.
A horseshoe bar with a coloured glass canopy divides the bar and restaurant. Mike, a vibrant character, can often be found sporting a Hawaiian-type shirt as he mixes rum cocktails or pulls pints for his customers.
He’s also the chef in the evenings and the menu reflects his love of hearty dishes plus a smattering of fish ones, including pollock and sea bass straight off the boats (so he informs me when he hands me the menu).
And to go with some of these fish dishes? Mike crosses the road to the beach to pick seakale off the bushes. Now that’s what I call a keen cook.
There are also rope-grown mussels (£5.95-£11) and whole sea bream and haddock in the form of a Sussex Smokie (cream and whisky sauce). Meat dishes include steak and chips; braised steak and ale pie (£8.95); olive tapenade stuffed chicken breast with ratatouille; Southdowns lamb with an orange and port sauce.
Start with homemade soup (£5.75), mushroom and goats’ cheese, spinach and caramelised onions, or differing pâtés. There’s a two or three-course lunch menu (£7.95-£9.95) or come for tapas and paella evenings on Wednesdays, roasts on Sundays.
My choice, the homemade soup, turned out to be tomato and very good it was too. The acidity of the fruit (for it is a fruit, botanically-speaking) was pleasantly cut with cream. A warm baguette came with it.
My main course, beautifully-presented seabass, lime and ginger fishcakes with a salad, potatoes and tartare sauce, crossed many lines. Why offer tartare sauce with obviously Asian-influenced fishcakes and why the potatoes with potato-based fishcakes?
That aside, the fishcakes were superb, crispy without, stylishly Asian within. I’d return for these alone. A lovely, crisp salad with separate dressing in a small jug would have been improved by a less vinegary dressing and the strawberry was really unnecessary. Why oh why add this?
I suspect that Mike’s enthusiasm and admirable keenness to share the good things in life might just stray into excess on the plate.
Desserts may include chocolate mousse, gooseberry crumble or peaches with ice cream.
Hayling Island is somewhat lacking in good places to eat fish by the sea, so the Olive Leaf is a much-needed addition to the area. And the welcome and service? Quite honestly, second to none. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more hospitable pub in these parts. My bill came to just under £12 for two courses and a small bottle of sparkling water.
The Olive Leaf, 48 Seafront, Hayling Island PO11 9HL
(023) 9246 0909
Open: 11am–3pm and 5.30pm–11pm daily (restaurant closed Sunday evenings)
Food: Four stars
Service: Five stars
Atmosphere: Fours stars
(KEY:Five stars, OUTSTANDING; four, VERY GOOD; three, OK; two,POOR; one, AWFUL)
Disabled access: Fine. Small step down into pub.
How to get there: From the A27 take the Havant turn and follow directions for Hayling Island. Go across the bridge. Continue for three miles and at the roundabout turn left and go through Mengham. At the seafront turn left and the Olive Leaf is half-a-mile down on the left.