COVID restrictions may have led Brits into embracing pavement café culture; all very well for summer, but under Carlisle’s wintry skies, huddling under an eco-unfriendly outdoor heater soon loses its charm.

However, we don’t have to bid farewell to the Mediterranean lifestyle, as I discover behind the door of the Crescent’s Muddled Olive; a welcome haven where relaxed drinking, chatting and nibbling are very much encouraged.

“It’s about combining the best elements of my Carlisle and Mediterranean backgrounds,” says Yousef, as I join him over a platter of warm home-baked focaccia bread, olives and herb-infused dipping oil. “We’re so used to pigeon-holing: café for daytime catch-up, pub for drinks, restaurant for evening dining.

“I thought, why not try merging these to create a relaxed venue where people can enjoy interesting, good-quality food and drink in an intimate, sociable atmosphere across both day and evening?”

From the bustle and clink of glasses, I can see this cross between taverna and fine dining has certainly captured the mood since opening two months ago. So where did the inspiration come from?

“My father,” Yousef says immediately. “Within a few years of arriving from the Middle East he’d learned English and opened his first business - the Home and Away Chip shop just along the Crescent. Over 40 years he balanced becoming a successful local property developer with being a brilliant dad to me and my three sisters.”

When his father semi-retired, Yousef had the opportunity to take over the chip shop but, then aged just 18, the time wasn’t right. Travelling and working overseas, he ended up as a ski instruc-tor in Canada for two years, assuming a sports-related career lay ahead.

However, returning home last year, aged 24, the opportunity to rent and reimagine the former Pizza Bravo takeaway came at just the right time. Happily settled in Warwick Bridge with girlfriend Zoe and dog Mabli, refurbishment took over a year, thanks to Covid restrictions, delays and sup-ply chain issues.

“It seemed never-ending, but it actually gave us time to put more quality into the build,” says Yousef. “We stripped it out completely, knocked down walls and built an extension. By taking our time, we had a great opening and we’ve everything crossed that we don’t have to go through another lockdown.”

The result is a bright, vibrant, welcoming space, with rustic brickwork, wood-fired pizza oven and olive trees providing focal points. So where does the other half of the name come from?

“Yes, ‘Muddled Olive’ has caused a bit of intrigue,” chuckles Yousef. “It’s a play on muddling (the art of mixing drinks), as we’re passionate about serving a wide variety of interesting drinks, from traditional Mediterranean thirst-quenchers to local bitters.”

Envisioned in the continental café-bar style, enjoying drinks and sharing dishes like garlic prawns, patatas bravas (potatoes in spiced tomato) and wood-fired pizzas, customers’ appetite for the menu has taken Yousef and his team by surprise.

“A lot of people think we’re an out and out restaurant - great in one way, as we’re dedicated to serving delicious, quality-sourced dishes. But we don’t want people restricted by thinking it’s somewhere you have to book for a sit-down meal and leave straight afterwards.

"For us it’s all about the pleasure of chatting and lingering over interesting drinks and great plates. Drop in any time, enjoy a nibble, or have a meal and stay on afterwards to try a cocktail, Mediterranean wine, local beer, or our own Mediterranean-blend coffee.”

The ethos remains warmly welcoming to drop-in customers, but the buzz about the place and great word-of-mouth has seen an unexpected rise in larger parties too.

“We’re quite small and intimate, but flexible too,” says Yousef. “There’s no problem if people want to book in advance, especially for bigger groups or our Christmas party nights, even for private parties.

“In keeping with our relaxed atmosphere, if you have enough people to fill the bistro, you can pre-book it exclusively, with no extra fee over usual menu prices. Typically two or three-hour slots, we can satisfy larger group requirements while still opening as normal before or after, maintaining the neighbourhood drop-in atmosphere that’s so important to us.”

With the festive season in full swing (there are now regular live music nights) it remains a family affair, with tasteful decorations courtesy of Zoe (“She’d only point out the mess had I tried!”), Yousef is proud to be working again with local chef Sarah Morgan, who worked for Yousef’s fa-ther for many years before his retirement. Burgeoning business means they’re now seeking a second chef, plus extra bar and front-of-house staff.

And has dad managed to stay hands-off? “He says he’s retired but he never stops. He respects that this is 100% my business though, there with advice if asked, but otherwise, happy to enjoy being on the other side of the bar for once!”

Yousef Sahib runs The Muddled Olive at 5 The Crescent, Carlisle CA1 1QW.