Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Jamie's Italian: Rustic. Casual. Eating.

The Highlight: Polenta Chips

Having heard mixed reviews on the collection of Jamie Oliver restaurants, I was eager to visit a branch and determine for myself. The Birmingham branch reflected the city's industrial history with steel structures and overexposed lightbulbs, whilst the yellow (hard metal garden) chairs gave it that rustic Italian feel they were strongly advertising. With 270 seats, it was clear why booking was unnecessary.

Upon being seated, we were approached by an enthusiastic waiter who actually reminded me of Jamie Oliver himself; the way he knelt by our table; the speed he spoke at; even down to the hand gestures whilst he was talking, resembled the celebrity chef (thinking back on it, maybe it was intentional). It was all very casual and as diners, we were very much at ease already.

For starter, we had the Devonshire crab with chilli, lemon and mayonnaise. A generous portion of crab was loaded onto the chargrilled ciabattas, and the meat was surprisingly sweet. We also tried out an artisan meat board and ordered the salami flavoured with truffle and black pepper. These were noticeably less greasy than a packet of your local Tesco Finest. The flavours were subtle and I was pleasantly relieved not to be overwhelmed by saltiness after a few slices. The delicate presentation was also a bonus.

Devonshire Crab on Ciabatta

Their "all our beautiful pasta is freshly made right here every day with love" statement is a definite appeal to carb lovers such as myself. I initially wanted to try the scallop and squid ink angel hair with anchovies, but the ladies on the next table did so and subsequently complained about the fishiness. I therefore went with the hearty cockles linguine instead. The buttery cockles were cooked to perfection and sweet in taste; I also noted that none had failed to open, which is always an indication of fresh shellfish. We also tried their Fish Baked in a Bag, which was actually just wrapped in tin foil (anticlimax). Nevertheless, the dish was full of flavour and the cod was succulent enough to distract me from any previous disappointment.

The highlight of my meal was most definitely the polenta chips. Sure enough, the skin was deliciously crispy, as promised on the menu, whilst the inside was soft and intriguingly fluffy. Flavoured with the right amount of rosemary salt and parmesan, this was a perfect choice of sides. You know they tend to dramatise food adverts so that when the character bites in, he stops, looks into the camera and beams a huge sheepish "I am experiencing the best taste ever right now" smile? With these chips, I could have starred in that advert.

Lastly, dessert. We ordered their ultimate chocolate raspberry and amaretto brownie. The sharp tang of the raspberries complimented the dark chocolate well. The panna cotta was sadly accompanied by a rather sour fruit compote (rhubarb and cinnamon). But the creamy pudding did melt delightfully in my mouth, similar to the smooth melting filling of an original Lindor chocolate.

Ultimate Chocolate Raspberry and Amaretto Brownie

Whilst he has sold 1.5 million copies of his 30 Minute Meals so far, it is clear that Mr Oliver's restaurants are also doing very well. The rustic casual Italian style is certainly achieved in this branch, easily beating the comfortability and ambience of other chains such as Carluccio's or Ask. And at £30 per head for 3 courses and a drink, Jamie's Italian is one competitive high-street restaurant.

Visit http://www.jamieoliver.com/italian/ for further information on the collection of restaurants.

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