At Jamie’s Italian in London, it feels like we’ve stepped into another world. Outside, the streets of Canary Wharf are almost deserted. Their surface is covered with a sheen of rain falling consistently on a cool and wet October weeknight. Inside the restaurant, the place is buzzing, much like London during our brief visit.
“It’ll be roughly an hour and a quarter.”
Jamie Oliver’s restaurant does not take bookings but the welcome at the front desk is warm and inviting. Our name is jotted down and we are given a buzzer that signals when our table is ready. We make our way past the thick logs where well-dressed people are gathered with their drinks. We pass the fresh produce on display and the oddly-placed bright red sausage machine.
With only elbow room to move, we manage to secure a spot in the corner of the bar. Do Londoners always pack restaurants on weeknights or is this a sign of economic recovery?
The pace at the bar is frenetic. Watching the bartenders mix cocktails and serve drinks is enough to trigger anyone’s thirst. Bar service is also swift. A bottle of Barbera D’Asti Ca’ Del Matt from Piemonte makes time pass surprisingly quickly.
The restaurant is dimly-lit and while the eyes adjust to the mix of neon and halogen lights, the camera lens struggles. The décor is a little funky with an almost modern industrial feel. There’s a marble counter where cold cuts are prepared, a rustic wooden table in the centre with a variety of breads, olive oils and balsamic vinegars. A waitress glides past offering us a sample of cold meats while we wait.
The device finally buzzes and we are shown to our table by a perky waitress who hands us the long menu and disappears. We unwrap the cutlery from the serviette, a Jamie’s Italian tea towel and sink into the green metallic chairs which are surprisingly comfortable.
The waitress makes eye contact during her busy runs and returns to take our order with an enthusiastic charm that isn’t missed by Mr G.
We start with a Selection of Italian Breads, focaccia, ciabatta, sourdough country bread, grissini sticks and ‘snappy music bread’ with lemon and rosemary gremolata. We dip the bread into extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We haven’t eaten since we flew in from Dubai a few hours earlier and checked into our hotel.
Parmesan chunks with fine balsamic vinegar are the next item to be served in an earthenware platter. The cheese, to our taste is rather piccante, and the rough chunks give it a good texture.
Next, a generous serving of baked chestnut mushrooms with scamorza is placed on the table. The mushrooms are thinly sliced, fanned on the plate with melted cheese on top. Our vivacious waitress takes her time to explain to Mr G that scamorza is like a smoked mozzarella. While I’m not a fan of smoked cheese in general, I am enjoying the robust flavour of the mushrooms with the stringy melted cheese.
The crispy polenta chips with rosemary salt and parmesan arrive, wrapped in a paper wrapper. The polenta chunks are crispy on the outside with a hint of rosemary and shavings of parmesan; another winning dish that goes down easily.
When the main courses arrive, we are far too relaxed with the easy drinking style of our second bottle of Barbera D’Asti. The aroma from the truffle tagliatelle is evident once the plate is on the table. Described as “a real luxury”, the dish consists of finely shaved wild black truffles folded with butter, parmesan and nutmeg. The pasta is paper thin, soft and tender with a light creamy sauce.
Mr G and I swap plates. The crab spaghettini has a strong aroma of the sea, served with cherry tomatoes, chillis, capers and a light tomato sauce.
Our vivacious waitress, who I am now convinced is flirting with Mr G, or the other way around, explains that the pasta dishes are sold by weight not volume therefore some dishes appear larger than others. Mr G takes the opportunity to ask her if by any chance Jamie is in the kitchen. She looks rather apologetic and assures us that he occasionally drops in.
A quick glance at the time and we’re reminded that we should be jet-lagged but the flow of the wine and lively conversation efface any thoughts of fatigue.
For dessert, we choose to share Lucy’s amazing pear of almond tart served with vanilla mascarpone. Branded as the only disappointment of the evening, the almond flavour was lost in the pastry, and for tart that claims to be amazing, it was too bland for our taste.
As the name suggests, Jamie’s Italian is unpretentious in what it promises and that is, Jamie Oliver’s version of Italian food. The ambience is busy and buzzy and while watching the service can be dizzying at times, the waiting staff are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and ensure you have a good time even if you have to wait long for a table.
We leave with a sense of experiencing a most enjoyable evening. Jamie’s Italian was a great choice for that first night in London.
More photographs in the gallery below including a look at the impressive Ladies and Gents at Jamie’s Italian:
Jamie’s Italian, Canary Wharf
Unit 17, 2 Churchill Place
Edit: Jamie’s Italian is due to open in Sydney in August 2011.
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