It’s obvious Jamie’s Italian isn’t going to be overflowing with raw, traditional peasant dishes, cooked just the way Mamma used to make them. Mr Oliver is big business, embarrassingly lucrative, and no artisan front or charming Mediterranean waiting staff can reconcile that this is just as much a shop as it is a restaurant.
I’m not crazy about a restaurant selling you their chopping board range (range of sizes too: S, M, and XXL, for when you carve that braised shank of whale) while you eat. It’s nothing aggressive – no secondhand car salesmanship gimmicks here – more passive-aggressive. It’s often been derided as cultish, all walls blessed with the presence of Kim Jong Jamie. But I don’t think it’s all that overbearing and sinister. Only the casual shelf here and there, loaded with merchandise that no apple-pie homemaker could live without, and all so delightfully rustic! Like a flasher or a high-rate Amsterdam whore, the Naked Chef flirts with you, boasting all the utensils for a perfect meat and two veg, an arsenal that will cost a pretty penny to get your hands on. He’s not shoving it down your throat; he’s merely presenting himself suggestively to those rich or desperate enough to indulge.
I’m not actually that taken aback by it all. It’s a joint with a TV chef pasted all over the windows, it ain’t going to be subtle. You do have to deal with this Jamie-flavoured white noise though, and if you’re not too keen on the cheeky chappie a night here might leave one with a bitter aftertaste. Visually one can appreciate the shabby (but not actually shabby) chic vibe, with the deli set-up and one of those counters where, if you’re piss-bored or have no friends, you can watch them cook your food. It’s bucolic without the knee-deep cow shit, perfetto.
Jamie’s does show there’s more to Italian cuisine than a Margherita, by serving no pizza whatsoever. Bereft of my staple choice, I started with arancini, continued with an aubergine, spinach and ricotta cannelloni, and ended on macerated strawberries with elderflower and frozen yoghurt. It was delicious, with good-sized portions and speedy service. A Pizza Express plus, despite the lack of pizza.
There are only so many places to bleed the parents dry, when they pop down to remind you that you can’t afford nice things beyond a night sodden in store-brand lager. For those this side of Broad Street, Jamie’s has that balance between exquisitely marketed dishes (a selection of artisan breads followed by wild rabbit casarecce) and Michelin costs that satisfies both the stomach and the inevitable guilt-ridden loosening of purse strings.