When you think of Jamie Oliver, what comes to mind? Ok, his personality may not be to everyone’s taste, or his concept of food on a budget within everyone’s budget, but I can’t help admiring his passion and sheer enthusiasm for what he believes in – preparing good, fresh food and empowering others to know how to do the same. At least, that’s how he comes across to me. In fact, and this is surprising even to myself, I can’t help but write the word ‘authenticity’ when I think of him, even if he does know a few things about self-promotion…
So when I was asked to review his Jamie’s Italian restaurant, I immediately was up for it. Not only would my kids love the treat of a meal out, but I’ve eaten there a couple of times and enjoyed it.
I chose my daughter’s 11th birthday as our date to visit, thinking it’d be neat for them to write a review themselves. In fact, the whole lot of us have given our ‘pennies worth’ so read on, dear readers, this won’t be dull – my son’s comment is priceless. (This collaborative effort also explains why it’s taken so long to get this posted!)
Jamie’s Italian in St Albans is a well-known, very popular restaurant, that is a buzzing yet not over-noisy place. Set in a converted pub on one of the high streets, its style is both light, modern and slightly quirky. Starters are served in creative fun ways that make this place a fantastic choice for lunch (‘planks’ are rested on two large tins of tomatoes). However, we found it an excellent place for dinner for adults but also families and was surprisingly good value (it has a reputation for being a little pricey).
Jamie’s Italian bills itself as being hot on offering food that is fresh and authentic. And I have to say, it lived up to this. My pasta dish from the Specials menu (Hot smoked salmon linguine with chilli, garlic, tomatoes and marscapone sauce) was delicious and very fresh; a string of dried hams hang from the ceiling over the bar and the pasta machine is placed in the restaurant where my daughter told me it is used to make fresh pasta each day (she came with school on his Food Revolution day recently, and they made a piece of pasta that went the length of the 31 children in her class). One of the desserts that we ordered was supposed to have Italian pears in it, but as the pears weren’t in season, they used berries instead. It was perfect with berries.
The kids’ menu wasn’t the cheapest at £5.95 but it had a fairly good range of dishes, mostly served up with a dash of creativity (the mini hamburgers looked fab, although my two both ordered the same pasta dish, so I haven’t got a photo of them). They didn’t look like the most exciting pasta dishes, to be honest, but they both loved them (kids like simple after all). The portions weren’t massive for my 11 yr old, but she shared a starter and had an adult dessert (being her birthday). That said, at only £1 each the scoops of italian ice-cream were delicious and good value. Apparently some Jamie’s have a choice of Small or Big Children’s portions which is a fantastic idea, but we didn’t get offered that.
Here’s what my son & daughter thought of their food:
“I loved the awesome pasta-bake,” wrote my 8yr old son. “It had just the right amount in the dish. I can’t say what I had for pudding because you would be jealous. I liked how we were sitting next to the loud speaker.” (I think he’s inferring that he liked the music as I don’t remember noticing any speakers!)
At risk of making you jealous, his dessert was 2 scoops of salted caramel ice cream and strawberry ice cream both tasting like the stuff you eat on holiday (too good for my son!) with 3 home-made sauces on the side – the sauces were an extra freebie, offered by the waitress in response to my son’s crest-fallen “I’ve been hard done by” face at his big sister’s enormous special dessert. This’ll be why he said he couldn’t say what he’d had as he knows its not on the menu!
The birthday girl has even higher praise:
“Going to Jamie’s Italian was a really nice experience as all the staff were friendly and helpful. It was especially nice as it was my birthday that day, and it was definitely a birthday treat; I wasn’t surprised when I tasted the food – it was delicious! What I chose for dessert was extra special, because it was meringue topped with cream, honeycomb pieces, berries and a candle! They also wrote ‘Happy Birthday’ beside the meringue in toffee sauce!”
Dad was equally happy, enjoying his favourite kind of starter, and plenty of red meat in his main:
“Deep fried squid has to be my favourite starter, and the one they serve here is excellent; the calves liver & bacon served Italian style (with mashed potato, smashed squash, pine nuts, raisins and onion gravy) had great flavour and the portion was a decent size too, making a nice change from some places where flavour and portion size rarely match; Jamie’s beer was strong & tasty. The final bill, coming to £73, wasn’t a nasty surprise, and actually very good value for what we had.”
The service was excellent, something you don’t expect from a more ‘cafe’ style restaurant. We went early evening so it wasn’t buzzing then, but by the end it was. Still, the service remained as good at the end as the beginning, which is a good sign in my book.
The only downside was the Italian Nachos (starter) that had quite a smokey ‘kick’ to them but weren’t described as such on the menu (stuffed with 3 cheeses). My kids didn’t particularly like those.
Overall though, we had a really enjoyable, delicious, and relaxing meal out with our children (yes, relaxing – they are particularly good at sitting and colouring in so we’re quite lucky).
I’d rate it as a good place for a meal out with either friends, your other half, or with the kids. The food is both fresh, full of flavour and doesn’t break the bank.
And as for Jamie’s trademark enthusiasm and passion for good food? I can genuinely say that these all came through in the restaurant experience. I’d say that’s authenticity.
Disclosure: Jamie’s Italian paid part of the bill in exchange for a review in this blog. However, be assured that the opinions are entirely our own.