Saturday, 1 August 2015

Jamie's Italian Visit

To respond to an invite from Younger Boy and his pregnant wife for a meal, mainly in celebration of his mother's birthday. I get to go along as a passenger! Jamie's Italian was the chosen venue; not going out much, we have no experience of this establishment and the youngsters not much either I think. Sitting outside, waiting to meet up with our hosts the overriding impression, through the full length windows was of a canteen. People sitting in the window would have relied on the forebearance and goodwill of those behind, to rise. Younger boy arrives and we enter, waiting 5 minutes or so for front of house to return to their station. This allowed a broader view into the room and confirmed that, unless you removed the bar and constricted the kitchen space, you couldn't fit another chair in. The decor semi-industrial with cable trays and air conditioning ducting visible in the naked ceiling. Shown to our fixed table and banquettes, we decided who goes where. Hint to the establishment; the success of fixed bench seating relies on the smooth surface of the seating making a glide across easy. Making the seat ribbed is no help at all. After an inelegant scramble we were in. Ambience gets 6/10. It was a little crowded (the place was very busy) but we were comfortable at the side of the room amd I quite liked the lighting. The piped music added nothing, but the staff seemed to like it. Ah yes, the staff. Now I like the ebullient, matey, cheeky-chap character that is Jamie Oliver on the telly. I am less sure about a waitress arriving with bon mots and a level 7 on the puppy excitement scale. A pleasant, professional manner would seem appropriate and if the clients bounce back with some amusing repartee, which is then responded to with wit and charm, would be the sign of an excellent, on the ball employee of a competent and thoughtful establishment. Now look, before this seems like a massive negative, let me give you the staff score now: 10/10. The service was efficient and attentive, the staff constantly busy. That the food delivery was slowish was due to the kitchen it would seem. We arrived at 7:30 and left at 10:20: we certainly were not hurried out. The food. This is the primary reason for dining, admitting good company is also a major contributor, however, the restaurant cannot be responsible for that so cannot be criticised. Our company was the best, so we only need consider our choices of plate. Well I say plate, my excited boy related that he had had their famous 'plank' starter so ordered that for us. I wasn't intending on having a starter so was not concerned with the selection. This spread of meats and cheeses, basically, can be for two or more persons. The waitress suggested a two person plank would probably do as a starter for four, many found it so. This was a good call on her part as, at best only three were likely to participate. It was elevated by the simple measure of three tins of Ragu from the store cupboard being placed on the table to rest the plank on, these presumably saving the kitchen the drag of having to make a tomato sauce themselves. I love mozarella, but it came smeared with chilli or something, so I gave it a miss. The girls dominated the bread elements, but I did try a proferred nacho. These we were told were Jamie's version; deep fried ravioli of mozarella and aged pecorino, resting in their bowl in chilli jam. Quite why you would go to the trouble of deep frying something, only to deliver it soggy is beyond me, but I had no idea at the time what was in the parcel (the menu's had been taken so I couldn't check) either. The chilli jam didn't enhance the whole either by moisture or taste, it made it quite unpleasant. Offered the tin of pork scratchings I went to pluck one, but instead got a tiny crust. Eating it, I got a nice crunch and then a lovely flood of toasted pork flavour. Then a bizarre oily, slimy after taste came on, so I didn't seek to investigate further by repeating the experience. When the waitress got the impression we had finished with the starter she did comment on the amount remaining, as only the boy had really engaged in any way with the plank. Personally, I would be more surprised at it being ordered, not least at £10.50 per person. For main course, the waitress launched into an explanation of the three specials available, breathlessly detailing every ingredient in such a torrent of tumbling words that none of us ordered one, I'd be amazed if anyone did. So it was from the menu. Younger boy had the Ultimate Burger, his pregnant wife the Summer Risotto, all of us forgetting Gorgonzola is a blue cheese, birthday girl had the Three Cheese Caramelle and I went for Jamie's Sausage Pappardelle, which got the circled fingers of approval from the waitress. This is the description of this dish on the menu, that is inviting you to choose it; Rag├╣ of slow-cooked fennel & free-range pork sausages with incredible Chianti, Parmesan & herby breadcrumbs. This is what I got; a pile of pasta, topped with baked Parmesan and resting in a red coloured water. On eating, I became aware that the 'sausages' were more 'minced pork'. I had wondered whether they would be whole or sliced and what spicing Italians did to make their sausages, but no, little pieces that because of the prevalance of crispy breadcrumbs may not have been present at all. Certaim;y the complete absence of anything tasting of pork didn't help. And the slow-cooked ragu sauce was watery, red and tasted slightly of fennel. The baked mozarella on top was lovely. Biggest surprise, nay shock was the pasta. For an Italian restaurant to put a clump of thick, dense chewy pasta in front of a customer, who then struggles to deftly prise it apart, is not something easily understood. We rounded off the meal with birthday girl trying to eat a portion of cheesecake that was reported OK, and the children sharing a plate of something that looked like a brownie with a dollop of cream, as the Chocolate praline Younger boy wanted wasn't available. Food thus gets 4/10 and value for money has to be a resolute 1/10. It isn't terrible, but I don't know what would draw you in to eat there, even if you were oblivious of cost.