There are several tell-tale signs in restaurants which I firmly believe should make any diner flee. There are certain features so ominous that I would advise running back to the ready meal in your fridge rather than sitting down. Number 1: Photographs of food in the menu are a definite turn off. Number 2: If said menu is laminated then the joint is clearly suspect. Instilled by my mum is number 3: the conviction that a paper napkin is just not right. But trumping all warning signals is number 4: the bizarre phenomenon of plastic food displayed in the window. It baffles me every time: I am aware of what food looks like, so a PVC mutton chop is hardly instructive. A make-believe steak is most certainly not decorative. And so, with these principles so close to my heart, you will not be surprised that upon seeing the phoney leg of lamb hanging from the window of Jamie’s Italian I am left flummoxed. The leader of good taste and social virtue who graces The Times’ Saturday magazine in a five page spread this very week dares to flout my rules. With a review to write and parents to feed, however, I am forced to swallow my pride and cross the threshold.
Those principles of mine are in for a beating. Having made it past the hunks of meat, I am actually pleasantly surprised. The larder décor theme continues but does so with real Italian produce reminiscent of the ‘trattoria’ interior of La Cucina (reviewed 12th May) rather than the Fisher-Price toy kitchen suggested by the window display. While we browse the menu we are quickly offered a selection of breads in elaborate shapes and intriguing flavours. And what a menu it is. I am finally confronted with the prospect of actually eating the dishes in all those cookbooks that I’ve been optimistic enough to buy but have never quite had the energy or skill to tackle. While Jamie’s Dinners gathers dust back home, we choose from a wide range of antipasti ‘planks’, meats and homemade pasta dishes. From crab and squid ink risotto to fish baked in a bag, good old Jamie has provided for the intrepid and the faint-hearted alike. My prosciutto, pear and pecorino salad is the perfect antidote to my largely vegetable free undergraduate diet while my parents’ choices of the spaghetti Bolognese and feather steak meet with similar approval.
The meat swathed windows forgotten, I find the menu, presentation and service all perfectly poised between the everyday and the exceptional. While the prices do veer more towards those of the special occasion, it is a great place for just that. Take heed of the classic restaurant omens identified above in general, but for this particular place I can vouch that it is safe to set those standards aside.
Food: Gourmet comfort food
Service: Fast and friendly
Price: Pricey – most mains around £13
Beware: It can get very busy and groups smaller than six can’t book