The first and last time that I visited Jamie’s Italian was back in 2011, so when I was recently invited to come and review the restaurant it was with curiosity that I accepted.
Here’s the thing: I love Jamie’s cooking programmes. I watch them all, fully engrossed in his hearty, homely, no fuss food. I suppose when I’d visited his restaurant years ago I’d expected it to be as if I were falling through the TV into his cooking.
Sadly, that visit had left me rather disillusioned with the Jamie franchise when I was met with small portions and higher prices than anticipated. As a student with a pitiful bank balance at the time I’d apparently been punching above my weight, but Jamie’s food is for the common man and woman, right? I’d expected to fill up on a humble bowl of pasta without the need to order a plethora of sides. Alas that wasn’t the case and I left hungry. [Horror gasp]
I’ve held a bit of a grudge against the restaurant since: Jamie of all people shouldn’t have betrayed my stomach! I returned last week after my four year cooling period keeping my mind open.
Reacquainting myself with the restaurant, it’s got that generic but pleasing trendy vibe about it: steel chairs, distressed wood, exposed steelworks. Very casual. The menu sounds mouthwatering with an exciting jumble of nibbles and platters and meals with enticing descriptions. And it’s nice that pizza and pasta don’t steal the show, making way for meaty dishes with Italian influence- something that both I and Mr YDS were drawn to.
For starters we shared chicken liver bruschetta and crispy arancini. Both were really enjoyable but the chicken liver in particular was to die for. Unbelievably creamy and rich, sat atop an ultra crisp slice of toasted bread. Although that gooey, cheesy sauce surrounding the arancini came a close second in the flavour contest. Those fried herbs that both dishes came with were a lovely touch; you’ve not lived until you’ve tried crispy sage!
Italian style steak: one seriously juicy rib eye glistening with a drizzle of olive oil (well of course, it is Jamie!) and crowned with watercress and fresh herbs. Mr YDS chose chips and slaw to accompany it.
My dish, ‘lamb chops Scottadito’ might have welcomed a drum roll as it was presented to me…
How long is that board?! I practically had to shuffle from one end of the booth to the other to eat this! I can’t deny that this has wow factor, I had my work cut out trying to photograph it!
Okay, so the good thing about my dish. The lamb was incredible. Like, “Oh my God you have to try this!” incredible. I’m talking sweet and succulent meat with beautiful salty charred bits. I chomped and nibbled my way through those lamb bones like I was never going to eat lamb chops that good again!
I suppose my grudge began to niggle a bit when assessing that, on taking away the theatrics, it’s an extremely simple meal. When I had read the description, “Served with polenta chips, pickled red onion, smashed nuts, fresh mint & spicy yoghurt for dunking,” I hadn’t expected it to be quite so literal: it really is just the raw ingredients in separate components! Simple is good, this is humble Jamie food that I love. But can such basic assembly of food call for an £18 price tag?
It’s debatable. Regardless it was incredibly tasty and fun to eat. I cannot praise the lamb enough.
Dessert was a lemon meringue cheesecake and with a name like that it barely needs explaining. It was bloody lovely, with that delicious chewy meringue on top!
Okay, so I’ve been missing out on some damn good food. The meat in both meals was absolutely superb and it’s gotta say something when the steak is better than many competitors nearby, particularly when it’s not your main focus. I remember the food on my first visit tasting fantastic too, but it hurt me that it was more of a three courses place. I guess I find the restaurant model confusing: the branding of Jamie himself and the ultra casual dining spaces suggests humble and hearty. In reality the food is higher end than other chains and portions are more refined with it.
Rightly or wrongly, as a student the restaurant wasn’t designed for me. As a grown up? Hmmm… that lamb may have earned my forgiveness.