Jamie Oliver. Like him or loath him, the man’s been successful, and presumably this is in some part due to his cooking (as well as use of the word ‘naked’ early on in his career).
So when a TV personality chef of his stature puts his name to a restaurant – especially to the extent of calling it ‘Jamie’s Italian’ – you could be forgiven for getting just that little bit excited that what you’re about to eat is a taster of what the man himself would serve up.
Located at the top of King Street, Jamie’s Italian in Manchester looks impressive, almost ostentatious, in the vast, marble columned building that was formerly a bank.
Inside the atmosphere is something special. Among all the little antechambers and cutaways housing pockets of people, and the visible cured hams hanging up as you walk in, there is an air of authenticity that cannot be ignored.
It has the queues out the door to go with it too. Note: expectations are now soaring.
The menu is exciting. The mouth waters reading it. The only thing threatening it is the surprisingly extensive and varied cocktail menu – impressive stuff.
And the cocktails do live up to their descriptions; the Blueberry Smash really is smashing. The hint of basil works well and compliments the gin and blueberries nicely. The Gin and Earl Grey Martini is another gin-based favourite with some big flavours worked carefully together, including the title tipples and Angostura bitters.
Rumours of the ‘plank’ starters have already circulated the office so there’s no question when it comes to ordering time. At £7 a pop for a starter, I am pleased to see they don’t skimp on the length of the ‘plank’.
The fish plank offering crispy battered white fish with a truly exceptional tartar sauce – chunky, flavoursome and plenty of it. Throw in some tasty toasted shellfish, beetroot cured salmon and smoked mackerel pate and your average fish lover is sure to be pleased.
On the other hand, the meat plank looked surprisingly lacklustre. A few skimpy cuts of cured meats appeared more like a Tesco sandwich selection prepared for an office finger buffet. Disappointing, especially when this is one of the signatures of Italy.
Relying on the fact we’d already seen that they do fish well, the prawn linguine was a go to. A generous portion for sure, with juicy, chunky king prawns bathed red in sauce – even if the sauce was a little ‘flat’.
One of the specials of the day – a homemade ravioli stuffed with sausage meats in a light butter sauce – was up next. The sausage shone through the tasty, bloated parcels – yet there simply wasn’t enough of it. Spread out over an elongated plate almost as if to make it look more than it is, it decisively leaves you wanting more.
Something we were just a little embarrassed to order in an Italian was Jamie’s Italian Burger. But when it’s listed as prime British chuck and flank steak with fontina, mortadella, sticky balsamic onions, tomato, pickles and chillies, we really couldn’t resist. It comes so tall that it has to be served on a spike, with the pickle hanging out like a lovely wagging tongue to mimic our own now openly watering mouths.
The taste? Unfortunately not so special. The meat is good and not gristle bite in sight, but the overall flavour lacks any real punch that some burgers we’ve had elsewhere packed. We have no excuses: we ordered burgers in an Italian. Perhaps this was a planned pitfall from the start… Jamie’s revenge.
There’s a decent range on offer for dessert (though no cheesecake, but then that’s me being fussy). The tiramisu is rich and carries a decent whack of fruit flavourings too through the orange mascarpone. The chocolate and vin santo pot was particularly heavy, so make sure you’re in the mood for chocolate when you order it.
There’s also a tasty range of ice creams on offer along with an assortment of toppings. Yes, that’s right, quite childish to order but with smashed honeycomb and butterscotch sauce this is indulgence we’re happy to savour considering we’ve been underwhelmed by some of the other dishes.
All in all, we left feeling slightly short-changed. Jamie claims the food served is ‘what you’d find ordinary people eating over in Italy’. That’s fair enough then – except he’s not charging the prices that ordinary people in Italy are paying. This is getting towards the higher end, and with a higher price you expect a higher quality.
Yes, the tartar sauce was delicious, one of the best I’ve had in fact. The ice cream trio was a treat. The building and furnishings is fairly stunning to say the least. The problem is that we’re citing ice cream, tartar sauce and the decor as the highlights. Something’s gone wrong.