Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Jamie's Italian for Dinner

Jamie's Italian

Aside from Quay in Sydney (which I never ended up making it to), Jamie's Italian in Brisbane was the most challenging restaurant I have ever experienced getting into. I believe that in bigger cities like Sydney and Melbourne, this is a 'normal' thing. It's normal to have to book months in advance for a table. It's normal to wait in line for 30+ minutes outside for a seat at a breakfast hot spot. But, it's NOT normal for me in my expectation of Brisbane dining.

I'm an enormous Jamie Oliver fan. I own most of his cook books (I can spot 5 on my bookshelf just from where I'm sitting). Back in the day when I used to publish a lot more cooking posts, I even put up some Jamie Oliver recipes on this very blog. I tried to get into Jamie's Italian in London but we didn't plan well enough and hadn't made a booking. I thought about going to the Sydney one but I read about long waits and that deterred me. I was thus incredibly excited to see that it would be coming to Brisbane, not realising that it would be more failed attempts before I would get to try it.

Soon, every person I knew and certainly everyone on my foodie social media feed had been to Jamie's... except me. It was a busy time for Marc and I (I can't recall why) with limited opportunities to eat out. I tried booking on their website, which is the only way you can make a booking, but everything was booked out for all the dates I entered. I tried an arbitrary date months in advance and even that was supposedly booked out for all times before 8:30pm. Was it really that popular? I just assumed there was a bug with the computer system and filed it away for later.

Marc theorized that it might be easier to get a table at lunch time on a weekday. He was working in town on a couple of occasions so we met up to try our luck. Nope, no such happenings. Both times we were quoted over 30min wait and because we had limited parking time, we couldn't risk it. Add to my frustrations the fact that most of my friends were saying they got in without bookings and that it was a huge restaurant and that it wouldn't ACTUALLY be a 30 minute wait. Sorry, but I'm not from Melbourne. If you tell me a table is going to take longer than 30 minutes, I'm going to eat somewhere else. I love food but I value my time more.

Finally, to get around the uncertainty of waiting times, I committed to booking a table a month in advance. I normally hate doing that type of thing because who knows if in a month's time whether I'll be in the mood for Italian food. We ended up going with another couple last Thursday for dinner. It was a cold and rainy night and whilst the booking confirmation threatened that we would not be seated until the entire party had arrived, I was glad they forwent that rule and guided Marc and I indoors to our table, where it was nice and dry. Jamie's Italian is indeed spacious. There's the ground level seating and another floor down a flight of stairs. We were seated in this basement level which even has its own bar.

Blossom and Adolf arrived not long after and we selected some drinks for the table. My pick was a gin and tonic, the boys ordered beer (Peroni to fit the Italian theme) and designated driver Blossom went for a ginger mocktail, which was quite refreshing.

The menu at Jamie's contains a tantalizing selection of starters, some pastas that can be served as entree or main, protein mains, sides and dessert. We wound up ordering 2 serves of the mushroom bruschetta (special of the day) to start with and a pasta each. Blossom and I chose entree-sized pastas so that we could enjoy sides too.

Mushroom bruschetta

The mushroom bruschetta were lovely to look at but I'm sure they were intended to be served as one per person. I thought they were very tasty though. The mushrooms were juicy and seasoned with herbs. I loved the creaminess of fresh ricotta in bringing everything together. Whenever I make this type of dish at home my bread goes soggy but Jamie's managed to deliver a crunchy bruschetta base.

Mussel linguine - sweet blue mussels, garlic, chilli, white wine and lemon butter

There was a moderate wait before our pasta was served. The boys had ordered the mussel linguine and these arrived first. Needless to say I dug into Marc's plate to have a taste for myself. The first comment I made (not even kidding here) was "this just tastes like plain pasta". Adolf convinced me that there was some sauce but it had all sunk to the bottom of the plate and wasn't of a consistency that could actually be picked up by the linguine. You basically had to take a bite of pasta and slurp a sip of soupy sauce to taste both in one mouthful. There was a decent amount of mussels but they were average mussels, not giant or fresh in a way that would leave a strong impression. The sauce was better than not having sauce at all but it was also unremarkable.

Sausage pappardelle - slow-braised fennel sausage ragu with red wine, parmesan and crunchy, herby breadcrumbs

I tasted my sausage pappardelle next. This was a dish I was excited to try because it's in one of Jamie's cookbooks and I've been meaning to make it for a long time. I haven't yet attempted this dish for myself so I can't say for sure but I'm quite confident I can cook this better than the restaurant did. Again, there are no glaring faults. The dish was entirely edible. It was just very... nothing. Marc summed it up as "if we got these for $10 as a lunch special at some takeaway in the city, we'd be happy" but at $20-30 a plate, the price point and brand name of the restaurant raise expectations. I've had some amazing pasta dishes so far this year (1889 Enoteca, Dell' Ugo and Colle Rosso to name a few) and I don't even need to compare to those to find Jamie's standard disappointing. Think: generic meat sauce and slightly overcooked pasta.

Squid ink risotto - creamy black rice, crispy squid, white wine and crunchy, herby breadcrumbs

I took a little bite of Blossom's squid ink risotto. It had a dominant lemon flavour and I couldn't detect anything else. The calamari looked a bit rubbery too. The colour of the risotto was striking but that's about the only positive I can say. Blossom found this dish to be too salty and she was grasping for water by the end of it.

Primavera salad - peas, broad beans, rocket & asparagus with ricotta and a Sicilian-style orange dressing

Our sides included a salad and chips. The primavera salad was quite fresh and contributed welcome greenery to our mealscape.  It was a small serve though so I see it more as a side for one rather than a shared side.

Posh chips - with truffle oil and parmesan

The same can be said for the posh chips, which is a shame because I see chips as a shared item. I liked that these had a rustic cut to them and detectable truffle flavour. Marc thought the chips were average because they weren't crunchy enough. Back to the petite portion size though... Jamie Oliver is all about generosity and sharing. Bring out more chips! A bigger salad! Multiple bruschetta on one plate, please! Give us something to get excited about.

This whole experience makes me think that perhaps things happen for a reason. Maybe it was so difficult for me to get into this restaurant because the powers that be knew I wouldn't enjoy the food. I had to find out for myself anyway and aside from the tasty bruschetta starter, I found no redeeming features in the pasta mains. I can describe them all as 'edible' but in the current restaurant market that is 100% not good enough. It bothers me that restaurants develop an attitude about them like you MUST book online, you MUST book aeons in advance, you MUST all be present before being seated. Restaurants serve people, not the other way around. It's especially irking when the food quality doesn't back up the high horse attitude.
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