Mon–Wed midday–10pm, Thu midday–10.30pm, Fri–Sat midday–11pm, Sun midday–9pm
Full disclosure here; I don’t like Jamie Oliver. At all. The man irritates me beyond belief. I know, I know—the nation’s darling, the blue-eyed boy of cooking, the proper cheeky geezer—how can I dislike him? Well, it’s a multi-layered and longstanding disdain that has built up steadily over years of watching the mockney prat shouting things like ‘bosh’ and ‘twizzle’ at bowls of terrified potatoes. What finally did it for Jamie and me, however, was a Sainsbury’s advert where he showed us how to make a ham sandwich. A HAM SANDWICH. Things had gotten a bit out of hand by that point in my opinion.
That said, he is obviously a talented man and a naturally gifted chef so it stands to reason that he would capitalise upon what nature afforded him, with his own massive restaurant chain. Jamie’s Italian, now a global enterprise, has been going since 2008 and presumably appeals to all the geezers and birds who, thanks to the great one, were no longer afraid of polenta or fennel and embraced squid ink in their pasta. I visited the Westfield branch of the empire on a Wednesday night with a teacher friend of mine who was only available because it was the summer holidays, which may have explained why it was so busy on a weeknight; Autumn may not be so kind to Oliver and his army.
The place was bustling, and inviting with its soft lighting, mismatching décor and stripped wooden floor/walls/ceiling—although the slightly awkward metal furniture meant everyone knew if you were getting up or moving your chair a millimetre from its original position. We started with a couple of vodka Martinis that took an inordinately long time to arrive but were very good when they did and a good aperitif.
For starters we shared some fried stuffed olives, which were fantastic deep fried nuggets of hot salty olive and sweet pork served with a delicious arrabbiata dip. A few scallops in their shell with crispy bacon and a drizzle of something green were well cooked and tasted fresh. The arancini were a bit stodgy, but then they are deep fried balls of rice, delicacy isn’t their strong suit. All of this made a change from the usual bread and olives.
My main of squid and mussel spaghetti nero was well presented but far too watery for a pasta dish and a bit too bland for something with so much promise. The squid and mussels were well cooked, but it all needed a lot more presence to it. The sausage pappardelle was a marked improvement and came in the rich, hearty sauce that you want from a porky Italian pasta dish. Full of tannic Chianti flavours and complex herbs, the ‘slow cooked’ aspect sang through. The side of Polenta chips were very good but nuclear hot and came with a heart-attack-inducing amount of salt. All dishes were covered in a suitably huge pile of Parmesan—this was Italian cooking after all.
I was the only one still keen for dessert and went for the Epic Brownie, which came served on a lagoon of chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream and caramelised popcorn. It was exceptionally good but a bit cloying by the end and I confess to having not finished it. Sorry Jamie.
A bottle of Pinot Grigio Rose Scarpetta, 2013 was an inspired choice by the waitress and worked well with such a diverse array of flavours.
Jamie’s Italian is clearly a well-thought-out offering that has some interesting and new ideas for what is now a mass-market Italian restaurant. And that may be the problem: the food sounds niche and crafted but the whole set up has ballooned because of the huge success that put him there. A Jamie’s Italian will now sit fairly easily amidst average high-street chain offerings. which isn’t a great thing for the man who pretty much invented the ham sandwich.