I visited a book store in Oxford today .. mainly to introduce myself and to drop a BLAD in. It's pretty local to me bordering on Northamptonshire. I took advantage of being there and my friend and I lunched at Jamie's in Oxford. ( It's a chain owned by Jamie Oliver ) . Before going to the original first ever Jamie's, I googled it. . I felt rather humble in my intentions to write a review of this restaurant following the likes of Giles Coren from The Times and Tracey Macleod from The Independent and Jasper Gerard from the Telegraph. The restaurant reviews described Jamies as a great mid market dining option, another pointed out the great value pasta options for students, whilst another suggested that the raw brick walls made her feel too old to be eating there! (How peculiar)
As the first of many Jamies this one could be described as the prototype. Prima. Before I go into a restaurant I like to look in through the window. I could see a girl making fresh pasta by hand. Whole Daniele hams hang from hooks in the window and solid wooden tables with comfortable red chairs seating a good wide variety of customers, all chattering and smiling as waiters and waitresses weaved through the tables. I am enticed. The smell is unmistakable - Italy. It feels comfortable, and I am happy to be walking in. Tuesday lunch and there is a buzz and a slap of Jamie in the feel.
The menu is clearly written. Dishes are well described and it is easy to navigate. The sound is a perfect level. Not too loud - the sort of level that keeps the atmosphere at a level making for good conversation. We choose. Starters from the specials board- Spaghetti Con Granceola, fresh spaghetti with Devonshire crab, garlic, chili, capers , parsley, cherry tomatoes and lemon juice. Surprisingly the first taste is sweet with the capers leading the way, followed by garlic, then chili and to finish the crab. It’s a good combination with each flavour having it’s moment of attention. The pasta is cooked to perfection and topped with a generous tablespoon of freshly grated parmesan. (£6.50)
For the main course - Burger Italiano. Ah the simple burger. It’s a wondrous thing if it’s right, but I have rarely found a great burger outside of my kitchen. I ordered medium rare. It was perhaps the best burger I have eaten, I kid you not. British beef, with crispy salami, onions, pickled chilies. ( £11.25) I couldn’t resist the funky chips with garlic and parsley. (£3.25) Heaven. Utterly scrumptious.
Finally to the desserts. Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice-cream with butterscotch sauce and honeycomb topping. (£4.50) This was the only slight let down. Not through lack of taste. No - the chocolate was deep and wholly hit the mark, whilst the strawberry fragrant on not too sweet, but neither really blew me away – not like gelato in Italy. I thought afterwards that perhaps because, in comparison to the presentation of the previous courses, this was less generous. It lacked the finish I expected.
As we paid I had the chance to speak to the (Italian) manager Francesco. He explained that Jamie Oliver's friend and mentor Gennaro Contaldo had been heavily involved in restaurants concept. He smiled and said he would like me. Chattering away he recounted one night when two ladies sitting together complained that the pasta he’d cooked was too hard. (Yes .. I was somewhat wide eyed .. the hand made pasta has a delectable softness to it!) So Gennaro slightly over did the next one. The two ladies sent this one back too complaining that this time to was too soft! (Now being a half Italian chef myself I appreciate the temper brewing.) Gennaro, he went onto say, took a large plate of uncooked pasta and delivered it to the table himself. Presenting to the two grumbling ladies with a flourish, he said there was no charge whatsoever, however, seeing as he was unable to please them in anyway, perhaps they would like to take the uncooked pasta home with them and cook it to their liking themselves, before returning to the kitchen. Fantastic ! I’m not sure he would like me - but I can say right now - that I would certainly like him !
In essence Jamie's is a translation of Italy on the main beaten track in Oxford. It works. It’s got passion and atmosphere. The restaurant was spotless, the food was beautifully cooked, fresh and generous; we left, as my friend pointed out, not feeling soporific, as is often the case following a leisurely three-course lunch - but up beat. This is Jamie's. It's great and I will be going there to eat again. With the launch of Prepped I shall have the perfect excuse to pop back .. soon.
NB This article was later published by Jamie Oliver's team on his website !