Saturday, 15 May 2010

Jamie's Italian, Cambridge, UK

Image from Jamie's Italian website

I was a bit unsure about reviewing Jamie's Italian as it is essentially a chain, though currently only a small one. But it's my blog so I've decided to go ahead anyway, especially because the opening of this venue was quite a big deal in a little place like Cambridge. The excitement of a new Jamie Oliver branded outlet (and it's no bookings policy) has led to long queues ever since it opened in February, and on a previous attempt to go and eat there we were given a waiting time of around two hours. We ate elsewhere.

But I was still keen to sample some of the Oliver magic, so me and the male companion person (MCP) returned a couple of weeks later. It was still packed on a week night, but at least there was no queue round the block so we were into the bar area pretty promptly with a predicted wait of forty five minutes. The Jamie's Italian in Cambridge is divided into two sections- a bar and small eating area at the front, and a much larger and rather grand dining room at the back. Somewhat randomly this is separated from the entrance by a long black curtain, giving the impression that it contains 'first class' diners who need to be hidden from the economy hordes of those merely waiting to eat.

Anyway, our wait was quite pleasant as I managed to bag us a couple of bar stools and we had some drinks and snacked on some huge green olives that were incredibly nice (as to why they were served on ice I have no idea). We'd been given a buzzer on arrival and when this went off we were escorted into the main dining room. The restaurant is located in part of Cambridge's Guildhall which used to be the tourist information centre. Jamie Oliver's team have done a great job in uncovering the large marble pillars and domed ceiling, adding some subtle lighting and turning it all into an impressive space.

And so the food. We ordered a lot and everything was acceptable if unremarkable. An antipasti dish of crispy squid and garlic aoli was disturbingly small and quite bland. My pasta starter of wild mushroom ravioli was nice enough, but probably would have been much better if it had simply arrived with fried sage leaves and parmesan (as described on the menu), rather than an attempt at a sauce with more mushrooms, chilli and tomato. The MCP's spaghetti bolognese was declared a success though, and to be honest both pasta dishes disappeared pretty rapidly.
I had the fritto misto and a green salad for my main, and the MCP went for the steamed sea bass jauntily called 'fish in bag'. My huge plate (covered in brown paper- reason unknown) contained a selection of sprats, squid, red mullet (I think), a (single) prawn, and a giant deep-fried spaghetti garnish.

The fish was all quite nicely cooked, but I do think the batter could have been lighter and seasoned more. The green salad was entirely comprised of little gem lettuce, and covered with yoghurt and parmesan cheese, and though perfectly fine I really would have preferred a simple oil and vinegar dressing. The MCP enjoyed his fish but did comment on the parsimonious quantity of the other ingredients. Two mussels and a single potato didn't seem particularly pukka. The MCP treated me to this dinner, but you can work out from the menu that the cost of our food, a couple of alcoholic drinks and a couple of non-alcoholic ones was reasonable but certainly not cheap.
But criticisms aside there are a lot of positives about Jamie's Italian. It's a fab venue, little things like the olives, and tap water on the table demonstrated some good thinking, and all the staff we encountered seemed genuinely enthusiastic about their work. But would I be prepared to wait for two hours to eat there? No.

Jamie's Italian
The Old Library
Wheeler Street
Cambridge CB2 3QJ


anna said...

Buzzer! That's a bit down market innit? Food and environment sound lovely though. Will have to check it out next time I'm in C-town.

Anna xx

meemalee said...

Icy olives, mmmm.

Nowt wrong with reviewing a chain - see my Pizza Express review ;)

Stingy portions, eh?

PDH said...

I fucking hate those buzzers, send me into bouts of horrific tourettes when ever they go off. Love the old Guildhall so must check this out when I next get back home.

TheFastestIndian said...

Anna- To be honest the buzzer wasn't even totally functional either, as they couldn't seem to to locate us very easily at the bar when it went off!

Meemalee- Giant icy olives are the way forward.
I actually didn't have any complaints about the portions but the other half thought his was a bit non-generous. I think I may have ordered better.
Also watch out for my upcoming reviews of Nandos, Pizza Hut and All Bar One!

Paul- Buzzer did result in a lot of OCD checking every 2mins to see if it was still working, hadn't gone off without us noticing, etc. Main dining room is definitely seriously impressive!

grimblefish said...

As the MCP, I can confirm that the portion sizing is very much at the wrong end of the binoculars. I thought we had mistakenly ordered off the children's menu.

The two starters we ordered to share - olives and squid - turned out to be 8 (that's EIGHT) olives, and 5 small pieces of squid that I could easily have forked into my mouth and eaten in one go. The olives were exceptionally nice though.

The grand total of two mussels that were to be found in my fish-in-a-bag (which was actually in foil) were literally the smallest mussels I've ever seen anywhere in my life, ever... the meat of each one being approximately the size of one petit pois.

The staff were indeed very enthusiastic however. This might be partially explained by this: When I went to ask at counter for change I was told to ask one of the waiters since "they've all got tonnes of cash on them". I duly asked one, and as he counted it out I couldn't help but notice that his transparent money pouch appeared to have several hundred quid in change in it - presumably all tip money.

TheFastestIndian said...

Hello dear. I think there were an adequate number of olives as they were so big, but the squid was quite small. And you might have been a bit swizzed with your main.
You didn't tell me all the serving staff were so wealthy though.

grimblefish said...

Hello FCP. Well, you might have a point; they were very big olives. And there was the dip thing too.

We should mention that despite our moaning about portion sizes, we were both in fact in the rare position of being too full up to eat dessert.. so I guess they were adequate really. I did eat half of your main though, as well as my own.

I don't tell you everything you know. I am an international man of mystery.

TheFastestIndian said...

I think we have now fully addressed the issue of portion size and our levels of communication.

The Ample Cook said...

Oh that's a shame. We don't have one near us, but I was anxious to try a branch somewhere.

I really like Jamie and everything he does.

Very good review though.

TheFastestIndian said...

Hello Mrs AC and thank you! But don't get me wrong, nothing was terrible. I just think that if we had waited for several hours I would have been quite disappointed (and hungry).

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Clairvoyant said...

Enjoyed your review of Jamie's Italian. Here's mine on the Liverpool branch: