This past week we’ve been having a bit of a ‘home holiday’ – both off work, but no plans to go abroad. I’ve been collecting leaflets for galleries and walks and researching for the best cycle routes and river swimming spots in preparation. We had a fantastic start to our week with beautiful weather and we embarked up and down the canals on our bikes with picnics and had a lot of gratis fun. As the week progressed and the weather got worse we spent more time and money indoors (cinema, spa etc) but because we chose not to go away we were able to place no restrictions on ourselves – if we wanted to get some cheese from the ridiculously expensive shop we absolutely could! So one day last week we went into Jamie’s Italian on a whim as, for once, there appeared to be no queue outside.
We were greeted by a rather scatty but charming hostess who told us we could be seated in about 15 minutes, showed us to the bar and gave us a pager that would bleep and flash red when our table was ready. We availed ourselves of some drinks and as we waited a member of staff walked around offering samples of bread and cheeses, and a member of kitchen team stood at a pasta machine machine small nests of tagliatelle. Although it was about 2pm the restaurant was still busy (a good thing in my books) and had a lovely informal atmosphere. Just as we were settling down our pager started flashing at us with fury and we were whisked upstairs to our table.
You’ll notice the coats on the backs of chairs and absence of tablecloths in the picture below, and it did feel a bit like a plush canteen, but I liked it: it had clearly been very well put together. We were given plenty of time to scope out the menu and we decided to go for a combination of starters to try as many different things as possible.
The higher board (balanced on tomato tins, which I personally felt was a bit contrived)
Is the meat antipasti plank selection. It had buffalo mozzarella, Italian coleslaw (squash, beetroot, celeriac and carrot with a lemon, mint and olive oil dressing), pecorino cheese with chilli jam, San Daniele proscuttio, mortadella with pistachio nuts, a special piquant Tuscan salami.
The lower board
Is the bruschetta which came as a bit of a DIY affair with chargrilled sourdough bread, a clove of garlic to rub the bread with and a selection of: ricotta, mixed tomato salsa, rocket and Parmesan pesto and something that resembles artichoke houmous (this differed from what was on the menu so I’m not entirely sure what it was, but it was delicious)
We also went for the bread selection, which came with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The bread selection included grissini sticks, foccacia, sourdough country bread, and ‘music bread’ with a rosemary gremolata (it’s the stuff that looks a bit like a poppadom).
Our starter selection also came with pickles, olives and caper berries – but I’m not sure which dish they were technically supposed to go with.
OK, so where to begin?! I really enjoy starters in a restaurant – it’s like a savoury pick’n'mix and, as someone who would chose crisps over chocolate, this is my idea of heaven. When all this loveliness arrived, my eyes just lit up. It took us such a long time to work through the starters and I spent so long nibbling, enthusing and enjoying everything. TLM particularly enjoyed the breads and the Italian coleslaw. I really enjoyed the somewhat unexpected artichoke concoction and tasting the pecorino, as I’d not had it before. The foccacia was amazing – definitely on my to make list next! The only thing I didn’t really like was the mortadella, but that stems from deep-rooted associations with pink luncheon meat. I wasn’t sure about the bruschetta being disassembled, but it worked for our purposes as I could eat the bit I chose, and he likewise. I didn’t like the way they did the balsamic and olive oil as the balsamic sat completely unreachable under the vat of oil and I didn’t want to sop the lovely bread in tons of olive oil to get the merest smidge of vinegar. It was tantalising (and I mean that with the original negative connotations). What shone through was the quality of the food and how wonderfully flavourful it was. I was very happy, and bordering on full, after the starters.
I ordered the crabmeat spaghettini (pictured at the top of this post) which also contained fennel, capers and anchovies and came in a spicy chilli sauce. The chilli tickled my lips before giving way to the saltiness of the anchovies. The crabmeat was divine, and there was plenty of it, and the fennel added a delicious fragrance. There was only one caper in my entire bursting bowl, but that didn’t bother me so much as I don’t really like capers. If I did I might have been a bit miffed. The fresh pasta was very good, and extremely filling. Next time I go, I’ll definitely go for a smaller-sized portion if I have so much to start with as I had to leave half! I did find a few lemon pips in my dish (well, I found them in my mouth and had to spit them out) but have excused this as enthusiasm on the part of the juicer. The crab shell was a bit less excusable.
TLM had the traditional spaghetti bolognese, and allowed me to take a snapshot (all the while menacing me with his fork).
When the waitress asked us if everything was OK with our food, I did ask what the difference between spaghetti and spaghettini was and she said that spaghettini was thinner. I just looked at the plates again. Hmmmm – they were clearly the same thing on our plates. We carried on with the same level of enjoyment though, it was more an academic point on my part.
When we finished, the waitress came to offer us the sweets menu and very diplomatically told us that she’d asked the chef as she was curious too and that, indeed, they’d run out of spaghetti and were using spaghettini. It was really good of her to find out without being asked and it was all goodhearted and I was so pleased I wasn’t mad!
I finished off with a delicious teapigs peppermint tea (my favourite) but we decided against pudding as I was just too stuffed and TLM wasn’t sold on the gelato. We saw the size of the gelato scoops coming from the kitchen and, knowing the Italian-family-owned icecream shop with scores of flavours was just around the corner, TLM decided we should stop there on the way home.
So all in all we had a lovely meal. The staff were really great and made a big difference to our experience. The food was delicious, though there was too much fancy pants faffing in places (the tinned tomatoes, the discombobulated bruschetta) and not quite enough attention to detail in others (the lemon pips and crab shell in my pasta, subbing one pasta for another without notice). I would, however, not hesitate to recommend Jamie’s Italian and will certainly enjoy going again for a late and leisurely lunch. The food was good value for such quality (we paid £45 in total for our meals and an alcoholic drink each – though we did buy a round separately at the bar before the meal) and it’s clear why there is nearly always a queue of 40+ people waiting to wait for a table!
p.s. We spent a good 2 hours there, sipping and scoffing with our courses and drinks coming at a nice slow pace. I do wonder if they whole experience would have been different if there was the strain of the hordes outside and inevitable pressure to move along?