When I was in high school, in the days long before Buzzfeed, I had a penchant for collecting articles from magazines, specifically articles that were in the form of a list, which either tells you something about my lack of teenage social life, or shows how ahead of the curve was (I opt for the latter, of course). My tastes were eclectic: 30 Things You Should Have Done By Age 30; 101 Things About Living in South Africa That Brighten Your Every Day (and its companion piece 101 Things About South Africa That Blight Your Every Day); Top ten foods for a beautiful skin… you get the picture. Among them was one called Ten Things Even Nostradamus Could Not Have Predicted, and I remember that on the list were those Garfield toys with suckers on their feet that you could attach to the inside of your car windows. And if that does not confirm my lifetime membership of the Remembering Useless Trivia Club, nothing will.
Something else that I am sure even Nostradamus could not have predicted was the rise and transformation of Jamie Oliver. When he rode onto our screens in the late 1990s on his scooter all floppy hair and boyish lisp, talking about lovely jubbly and bish bosh bash, who could have imagined that a decade later he would not only be a national icon and food campaigner who has given unemployed young people a start I the industry in his Fifteen restaurant and campaigned for healthier school dinners, but that he would also be at the head of a global empire that includes restaurants, a publishing business and a thriving online community. But as they say, tall trees catch the most wind, and when people heard he was opening a chain of Italian restaurants, there was much eye-rolling disbelief. But every time I have visited, I have been nothing less than impressed with the food and it seems I am not alone – the chain seems to be going from strength to strength with over dozens of branches across the country, and now you can even enjoy Jamie’s Italian at sea as a result of his collaboration with Royal Caribbean cruise lines.
As I was unable to join the pre-inaugural sailing of Harmony of the Seas, they recently invited me to enjoy dinner at Jamie’s Italian on terra firma instead, and I chose to visit the Westfield Stratford City branch. The space itself is more New York loft than Tuscan trattoria, with filament bulbs, a zinc bar and a mixture of different seating options over two levels of the double-volume space but the hanging mezzanine level above the bar stops the space from feeling cavernous. As in other branches, there are whole Prosciutto hams hanging above the service kitchen, as well as selection of Jamie’s books, merchandise and Italian produce available to buy. We visited on a chilly May evening and sat inside by the floor-to-ceiling windows with a view over The Street, but for warmer days there is also outside seating. The menu features a good selection of cocktails and a predominantly Italian selection of wines, divided into categories like light & fruty; aromatic & intense; or bold and robust to help customers make up their mind. There is also a selection of wine by the glass, including prosecco, which always pleases me. On this occasion, Nick and I shared a bottle of Vigneti Zabu Nero d’Avola (£26.00) which was a ripe, fruity and uncomplicated wine – perfect for an evening when you need to get up for work in the morning!
I started with bruschetta primavera (£4.95), a slice of excellent toasted sourdough topped with ricotta, grilled aubergine slices, broad beans, fresh peas and pea shoots. This was light and lovely – like a taste of Spring on a plate. Nick, by contrast, chose something which seemed more in keeping with Jamie’s English roots: pork scratchings with apple sauce (£3.95). These were delicious – crispy, not overly salty, ad very moreish. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the apple sauce for dipping but Nick enjoyed it.
For our mains courses, Nick chose the 35 day dry-aged sirloin steak with funky chips and herby garlic butter (£22.95); while I went for the lamb steak on the bone with charred peppers, sticky balsamic onions, rocket and pine nuts (£16.95). Sadly, Nick’s steak turned out to be the weak point in the meal. Although it was perfectly cooked with a pink interior and a charred crust, it was pretty tough for a sirloin and lacked the flavour that you’d expect from well-hung meat. The funky chips were also not a favourite, being not crispy enough on the outside and too floury inside. Perhaps the lesson is to stick with Italian food in a restaurant specializing in Italian cuisine? My lamb, however, exceeded all expectations. I should have known that it would not be small (see below for the giant pork chop enjoyed at another Jamie’s Italian last year) but I was still surprised at the sheer size of it. The balsamic onions were perfectly caramelized and enhanced by the tang of balsamic vinegar; while the peppers added sweetness and the rocket, a bright pepperiness. The meat itself was tender, succulent, pink and packed with flavour – imagine the best barbecued lamb chops you’ve ever had and you’ll know what I mean. It’s a humdinger of a dish and terrific value for money. On the side, I ordered the JI superfood salad of fresh avocado, roasted beets, pulses & grains, sprouting broccoli, pomegranate & spicy seeds with harissa dressing & cottage cheese (£6.00) which was substantial and satisfying, with a good kick of harissa.
Nick is not a huge dessert person but even he said that every single dessert on the menu sounded tempting. he was persuaded to try the organic ice cream (one scoop each of chocolate, vanilla and salted caramel) plus two toppings of his choice (butterscotch sauce and honeycomb) (£4.95). This was a simple dish, done well – I tasted the salted caramel ice-cream which was excellent, and Nick loved the dessert. I have always been impressed with the desserts at Jamie’s Italian and I knew that they would all be good but I the end I could not resist the lure of the baked white chocolate cheesecake with berry compote (£5.95)– and it did not disappoint. The texture of the cheesecake was dense and creamy as only a baked cheesecake can be and it was given an Italian twist by the addition of am Amaretti base.
Service was friendly but a little patchy, with our young waitress being unable to uncork our wine without having to call the barman for assistance, and forgetting to bring Nick’s mayonnaise with his fries. After dessert was finished she also did not offer to bring the bill and then disappeared until Nick went to find her (why oh why is paying always the most difficult part of a restaurant meal??). Her distraction may have been down to it being the end of a long Bank Holiday dinner shift, but little things like erratic service can leave a lasting impression on customers. Still, it was a minor annoyance, rather than an evening-ruining experience.
And just in case you think that our good meal was a fluke, here’s a bonus review of the Covent Garden Branch where I dined last year. My dinner companion Rosana and I both ordered a glass of prosecco, but both turned out to be flat and when we complained they were immediately replaced with apologies and no murmur of dissent. To start, we shared one of the restaurant’s signature antipasti planks – a long wooden board of antipasti balanced on 2 Italian passata tins on the table. The board included fennel salami, pistachio mortadella, Prosciutto & schiacciata piccante served with mini buffalo mozzarella; Pecorino & chilli jam on crisp flatbread; a selection of pickles and olives; and an excellent remoulade (£13.90 for two). Rosana ordered off the daily specials menu: a grilled pork chop with new potatoes and slaw (£18.95) This was utterly impressive – approximately the size I’d imagine a T-Rex chop to be, and served on a plate that in my house would pass as a serving platter! I chose the lamb scottadito (lamb chops grilled or blistered under a brick), served with polenta chips, pickled red onion, smashed pistachio nuts, fresh mint and a spicy yoghurt as well as a grilled half-lemon (£18.50). You could customise each mouthful of meat with one or more accompaniments and I absolutely loved it! I had already discovered the many delights of Jamie’s desserts on previous visits and needed no persuasion to order the Amalfi lemon meringue cheesecake with a berry compote (£5.95) while Rosana had chocolate and salted caramel Arctic Roll (£5.95) which she also pronounced to be delicious. For another perspective on this meal, see Rosana’s post.
As I mentioned, if you have enjoyed Jamie’s Italian on dry land, you can now also dine there on selected Royal Caribbean cruise ships – and if you are a Royal Suite passenger, you can have your reservation made by your own personal genie! Royal Suite Class is Royal Caribbean’s new luxury onboard offering for guests seeking a world-class getaway. Royal Suite Class guests can indulge in a range of premium experiences including exclusive access to the Coastal Kitchen restaurant, a private sundeck and complimentary access to the luxury Spa Thermal Room. Guests in the Star Class – Loft Suites or higher categories – will also have the opportunity to have their own personal Royal Genie to cater to their every whim. The Royal Genie will serve as the ultimate insider helping curate personalised experiences based on a guest’s personal style and preferences. For example, after a day in port enjoying customised shore excursions, guests can return to their suite to savour handcrafted cocktails made in-suite. The Royal Genies will also assist with chores such as laundry, ironing and unpacking as well as in-room dining requests or making reservations for shows or at restaurants aboard – such as Jamie’s Italian. Royal Suite Class is now available on board Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas as well as Harmony of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas (Sydney departures only).
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