Having been a long term fan of Jamie Oliver since the days of ‘The Naked Chef,’ it was with high hopes that I entered ‘Jamie’s Italian’ on a cold blustery lunch time last week. Situated in the city centre of Leeds, you could walk past the restaurant quite easily, unlike his contemporary Ramsey, Oliver has gone for a less flashy, less name dropping approach to the restaurant chain industry. A discreet, elegant piece of silver Tahoma font inscribes the bottom right of each window rather than the huge block capitals that overwhelm the restaurants of the former. ‘That’s Jamie,’ I thought as I pushed open the large wooden door an escaped the Baltic weather that ensnared the streets.
Greeted by huge glass vials filled with an array of pastas and an extremely friendly Canadian waiter with a grin that rivalled the Chesire cat, I was filled with great expectations. Guided quickly through an understated restaurant floor (wooden tables combined with aluminium chairs) I was soon nestled comfortably at a table with a pleasant glass of Pinot Grigio. ‘This is going to be good,’ I thought as the waiter bounded off to ‘grab’ me a menu.
The menu arrived and suddenly everything went drastically downhill. I don’t need a menu to be leather bound or gilded with gold, I don’t mind if it’s a laminated piece of A4 but what I do need from a menu is it for to be legible. Jamie’s menu was chaotic. Bright colours were combined with a small type face that was a struggle even for my 20/20 vision and starters and main courses were jumbled together without thought. In fact, the whole process of trying to decipher the menu left me feeling distinctly sea sick.
Aside from the fact that the menu was aesthetically displeasing, the contents too left me extremely disappointed. Though featuring Italian classics such as the ‘Carbonara’ and the ‘Lasagne,’ at least half of the menu had been contaminated with fennel. Would you pour Sambuca over a red pepper and goats cheese salad? No. So why add fennel? Why add that aniseed abomination to an otherwise perfectly delectable meal? Obviously I have a strong subjective, but I know that I am not the only one with this viewpoint. In fact, to check that I wasn’t giving fennel an unfair and biased criticism I took it to the streets. After asking 20 random individuals whether they liked fennel or not, I was met with the following results:
Liked Fennel: 2
Disliked Fennel: 16
Did not know what Fennel was: 2
So on a percentage scale, over 75% of people dislike (hate) the revolting vegetable, which means for three quarters of the populace half of Jamie’s menu is irrelevant and useless. A distinct lack of Market research for the Naked chef.
With my fennel rant now over, let me bring you back to my little table and the choices I made from the other half of the uncontaminated menu. For a starter I opted for the ‘Calamari’ and for the main I went for the ‘Truffle Tagliatelle,’ marked out as an indulgent delight. As I waited (a perfectly acceptable amount of time) I looked around the restaurant, with the kitchen in full flow and burgers being delivered left, right and centre I started to get food envy. That horrible feeling that creeps through you when you start to realise that not only have you made the wrong choice but that also you are salivating at the plate opposite you rather than at your own.
Licking my lips I looked back down at the multi-coloured monstrosity resting at the table, ‘no, no, no’ I thought, ‘I haven’t made the wrong decision, I’ve gone for the ‘Indulgent’; it’s going to be great.’ Again disappointment ensued. However first let me discuss the starter. A big fan of squid, the Calamari starter was one of the worst I’d had in a long time. Obviously fried for a good five minutes too long; as I dipped a tentacle into the rather bland garlic mayo and took my first mouthful I felt like I was biting into a rubber tyre. At the end of two I felt a filling at the back on my mouth loosen and decided it was in my best dental interest to give up.
The main course: the ‘Indulgent Tagliatelle’. A healthy portion, topped with an ample dousing of Parmesan, I began to salivate. Though as I took my first spoonful I soon realised that the release of my salivary amylase was completely unjustified and really rather a waste. It wasn’t rich, it wasn’t bland, it wasn’t creamy, it wasn’t dry…it was just completely and utterly mediocre in every possible way and mediocrity, for me, is not synonymous with ‘Indulgence.’ The only positive of the ‘truffle treat’ was that it filled a void, but then a tasty pasta dish would have done the same.
As I paid the bill and wrapped myself up to face the freeze, I couldn’t help feeling sad. An avid watcher and a long term fan, I felt let down by the man whose cookery books have been the core of so many of my suppers. For an Italian chain, it is with regret that I urge you not to bother with Jamie’s – but to go to Piccolino instead.
Star rating: 1/5
35 Park Row
(0113 322 5400)