It’s a cold and misty dusk; the sun beams between the dreamy spires of our wonderful academic hell as Jamie Oliver strolls anonymously through the streets of Oxford. Hungry for hearty Italian food after a hard day moralising, Jamie is loathe to join the ridiculously long queue in front of his own restaurant, sidesteps it, and where does he go? To the quiet authenticity of Gino’s.
He is, after all, a man of taste. Jamie Oliver’s attempt to introduce an ethical restaurant to the franchise wasteland of Oxford may have deteriorated into a temple dedicated to the cult of celebrity, but if you stray just a little from the monotony of George street, there is hope. Not the revolutionary hope of a figure-heading charitable establishment but the bleary-eyed nostalgic kind of hope, wishing for a time when restaurants weren’t controlled by anonymous corporations or idealistic celebrities.
Jamie’s vision of championing excellent student fare at an ‘affordable’ price is collapsing under the weight of its own self-satisfaction. Somewhere in the misty planes of admirable idealism something was forgotten; skilful cooking. Worse than not having quality ingredients is butchering quality ingredients; that’s why, this time, we went to Gino’s.
Gino’s isn’t conceptual or branded; it doesn’t have a colour scheme, only bandy legged tables and reasonable food. It almost feels like stepping back in time to a traditional Italian family restaurant, where parmesan and freshly ground pepper fall onto plates of perfectly cooked Italian fare, made from fresh ingredients oozing the vitality of the Mediterranean sun. In the cold light of day, however, this fantasy is replaced by the assault of bus fumes and noise from the Oxford tube station opposite, which somehow insidiously seeps into the food and makes Gino’s more appealing for lunch than dinner.
The menu reads as Jamie Oliver would have wanted his to, before his dissent into the Jamie-Brand. There’s antipasti, pasta and pizza with a selection of meat dishes that sing out from the page with pure Italian accents. Political correctness and fears about cruelty take a backseat to taste, with an extensive veal selection.
As an exvegetarian with a soft streak for baby animals, it was not to my liking, but it definitely appealed to the desensitised guy I dined with, who simply stated, “It’s their own damn fault for being so delicious!” Trying to
hide the fact that I had been so busy talking that I hadn’t even glanced at the menu (Gino’s is the kind of place where the soft chrome tone acts as a lubricant for conversation and intimacy), I had a look at the specials board and picked a crab ravioli with cherry tomato sauce.
The crab filling was dense with a surprisingly appealing texture and, best of all, encased in perfectly al dente fresh pasta. The sauce was freshly made and enlivened with bursts of whole roasted cherry tomatoes, sweet and caramelized from being given enough time to cook slowly.
A lasagne and pork tortellini with cream sauce were also ordered, and were well executed enough to be indulgent and satisfying. Only the pizza caused any disappointment, a traditional thin and crispy base had been superseded by something thicker, which was a real shame. I was more than consoled by the desserts however: the gelato icecream was as good as any in Italy, with a good selection of flavours and the tiramisu was a hefty slab of creamy mascarpone. Better yet was the bill, with prices as nostalgic as the ambience, it came to under £10 a head for two courses. I’m sure Jamie would approve.
94 Gloucester Green
PRICE: £10 for two courses
IN A WORD: Pukka