Love him or hate him, Jamie Oliver must be doing something right. He was the recipe book Christmas top seller and he seems to be on television more than Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and Lord Sugar put together. I even bought his recent scandal-making book for the virgin chef NewMan for Christmas. (Shock horror a man mis-times how long it takes to finish something!?! I am certainly counting on the recipes keeping NewMan busier for much longer than 30 minutes.)
The other week I went for lunch at Jamie's Italian with one of my best friends Bella, who has just recently moved back to UK after a few years in Africa. We had a lot to catch up on so we didn't mind waiting the necessary 30 minutes (!) for a table. It was the week after Christmas... I actually don't think our wait was that long but it's amazing how distracted I can get with a glass of Prosecco in my hand and a good friend by my side.
We were shown to one of the canteen-esque tables just to the side of the bar. It was neither uncomfortable or unpleasant but it wasn't the best table in the restaurant and I must admit a less metal chair and a lack of waiting staff running around us in all directions could have gone a long way. We shared a mushroom bruschetta as a starter which was exactly how it was described in the menu, though perhaps half the size of what I would like to pay over £5.00 for.
For a main course I wanted to try Jamie's Beautfiul Bucatini Carbonara, one of the most basic but trickiest Italian dishes to really master with flair, while Bella went for the Grilled Chicken with some Posh Chips. When making our order we also jovially enquired whether Jamie was sweating away in the kitchen that day awaiting our order. Our waitress informed us that he wasn't. Her polite yet patronising smile lingered a little too long.
My carbonara was more carborama, if I'm honest. The bucatini pasta was deliciously different but pretty filling and I could have done with more therefore being made of Jamie's additional touches. The "ribbons of leak" were more string like and I had to discreetly retrieve no fewer than five half-chewed pieces of pancetta from my mouth due to some nasty fatty gristle.
Bella, on the other hand, described and disposed of her chicken with considerable gusto calling it "soooo flavoursome" and "well lush". I passed up the opportunity to try it but did rob a few of her so-called Posh Chips. They weren't quite "insanely good" as no doubt one enthusiastic member of Jamie's team chose to describe them on the menu, but they were very good.
Our overdue catch-up must have been a calorie catalyst, as we fond ourselves ordering pudding, both choosing to go for some old school scoops of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. Old school was perhaps quite an apt description as they came out in little metal desert dishes like the ones I used to eat out of during primary school lunches. (Ahh so that's why he wanted to re-vamp school meals so he could steal all the retro receptacles for his posh restaurants!) Presentation aside, the ice cream was delicious and the honey comb and caramel sauce toppings a nice touch and a hint at Jamie's loyalty to tried and tasted flavours that will always work.
I think that's why I have never really minded Jamie, despite the OTT media circus that now follows his every splash of olive oil. Mr Oliver actually does know what works in cooking and rather than change it, his creativity is in adding to it or indeed in finding new ways to achieve it. With the occasional exception his recipes reflect this. Unfortunately I'm not sure the same can be said for his attempt at an Italian restaurant. Jamie's Italian puts too much focus on an elaborate and increasingly corporate image and brand (complete with a list of merchandise included in the menu). He's missed a real trick here as I do believe he's more than capable of delivering a wholesome, well-designed and lovingly cooked Italian menu, which is something, unlike possibly Jamie Oliver The Brand, that will never, ever be unpopular.
* An excellent song by the excellent band Weezer.