I was back on the road touring last week and, like many of us, I'm determined to make this year "better".
I’ve challenged myself to stick to a vegan/vegetarian diet whilst on tour and also cut out the booze, refined sugar and coffee while I was at it. Sure what would life be if it was easy?
I had driven from Dublin to Ennis the night before for a show and now I was en route to Westport with a quick stop-off in Castlebar for some lunch. I know Castlebar well as it’s almost become a home from home for me due to running a monthly comedy club there for the past couple of years. It’s a great town for pints and has plenty of great dining options.
Healthy food options, however, can be harder to come by in County Mayo. A few local friends recommended a Middle Eastern eatery called The Olive Tree just off the town's market square, which is owned and run by Algerian native turned Castlebarian, Mustapha Aboubi.
I headed straight there for lunch as the hanger was real and my breakfast had consisted of a blackened banana that I found in my car... grim! I was greeted by Mustapha himself as soon as I walked in the door. The restaurant's Middle Eastern, Greek and Mediterranean-based menu has a great selection but he also handed me a vegan menu with a two-course for €18/three-course for €20 option.
The Olive Tree interior is small and cosy, on the roof hang an array of incredible Moroccan-style lamps and colourful rugs adorn its warm terracotta walls.
The vegan menu had a great selection but after much internal debate, I ordered the fresh tomato and basil soup for a starter followed by the quinoa and green vegetable salad as both screamed 'VITALITY' at me. I quickly got a bout of food FOMO and politely asked for the stuffed vine leaves as an additional starter. This is what happens when I dine alone.
The soup was piping hot with a rich tangy tomato flavour, served with warmed fresh bread and drizzled with a fresh and herby homemade basil oil. This was nearly a meal in itself but as I said, I was hungry! Out next were the stuffed vine leaves. They were light, fragrant and almost dumpling-like in texture - melt in your mouth stuff. And you could absolutely taste that they have only been made that day. I spent a week eating these little dark green viney treasures around Morroco only last month and these are genuinely the best ones I’ve ever eaten.
Out next was the quinoa salad. I usually find quinoa powerfully dull (especially when it's cold), tasting akin to those silica packets you get in new trainers but not this time. It was perfectly cooked, warm and packed out with fresh green peas, broccoli florets, chopped chives and finished with lemon juice and fresh parsley.
I had initially ordered this as vegan so it came topped with ripe, fanned avocado but in between courses Mustapha clearly read my cheese-loving face and must have sensed something was missing in my life because he asked if I’d like some halloumi on the salad also. I gave him the knowing nod and the result was a once-great salad transformed into an incredible salad. Cheese is f*cking life - sorry, vegans. I asked for half the salad to be wrapped up to go for on-the-road consumption as I was nearing peak fullness and needed to save room for a dessert from the dazzling display that had seduced me from the moment I walked in.
I ordered the vegan chocolate orange cake for dessert. The bright orange sponge was light and cooked to cloud-like perfection, it was topped with a thin, melted layer of dark chocolate with some crushed Oreo pieces (also vegan) and served with some vegan custard. Vegan custard is a revelation, it turns out, because I straight up couldn’t tell the difference. It came with a light, slightly spicy and super refreshing chai tea that finished off this meal perfectly.
The Olive Tree is, quite simply, a small, family-run restaurant with a big heart. 2019 was a big year for the restaurant as Mustapha celebrated 20 years of successful business in Castlebar which, in itself, is an amazing achievement. The food is fresh, homemade and delicious with quality local ingredients and it's great value for money. Mustapha is a friendly and welcoming host and he is a reminder to us all of the importance of continually supporting small independent businesses in Ireland as they are so essential to the lifeblood of its communities. They always have the best food because it's made with care by people who are truly passionate about their work.
As I paid for my meal at The Olive Tree service counter (which doubles as the aforementioned amazing dessert display), I picked my granny up some stunning colourful handmade Turkish delights, I collected my leftover salad and I hit the road once again; full, happy and healthy. That’s show business.
Vegan Menu: 2 Course €18/3 Course €20