It’s slightly annoying that you can’t book a table at Jamie’s latest offering on George Street. Feted for weeks as a student loan-friendly gateway to decent restaurant food, the steady trickle of twenty-something media types who wish they were still at university has dwindled to almost nothing.
This, however, does not stop the Jamie-accented waiters welcoming you into a small bar area where you are invited to buy wine decanted in perfect 175ml stainless steel measures. Never has so little drink been wasted. “Can I interest you in a luvely jubbley glass of this fruity Spanish red! How about a smashing Argentinian white with a hint of pukka gaucho!”
At £5 a glass, no you can’t! After forming a patter-proof circle in the corner of the bar, my three dinner mates are grudgingly ushered to a table near the back of the place, the walls covered by about 40 dark, empty photo frames. One of the girls worries she might have an existential crisis, and I look around desperately for the menu.
Thankfully, the staff at Jamie’s are eager to help. “I think the penne’s amazing!” says one of them happily. I look through the list – a pretty safe collection of Italian favourites, including spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne and canelloni – and feel a warm glow from the smattering of Jamie phrases. “Loadsa herbs… amazing chilli jam… old school tomato salad.” Sometimes exclamation marks even happen in the middle of phrases – “Turbo! Penne Arrabiata”.
It strikes the girls that there’s quite a lot of English food in this Italian restaurant. There’s steak, burgers, ‘half a chicken’, and lamb chops. Welsh lamb chops. “They might be cooked in Italian sauce,” one of us says doubtfully, but even so we all end up sticking to the pasta section.
After a rapidly eaten selection of breads, Italianised with rosemary gremolata, I get started on a parmesan-heavy slice of lasagne. There’s a bit too much cheese in it, and I’m sensing that English influences weigh heavy in the Jamie recipe book. I lean over the table and steal a bit of sausage parpadelle. It tastes very similar to my lasagne. In fact, now that I think about it, my lasagne tastes rather porky. I wonder if they used the right seasoning. I wonder if they used the right meat.
Our other mains are truffle tagliatelle and a mushroom-heavy canelloni, which seem like much better choices, thanks to a little less salt and a little subtler flavouring. All through this meal, by the way, I’ve been drinking. And it tastes pretty good – but since I don’t know anything about wine, I won’t try to review it.
As we move inexorably towards puddings, I take a break to look around the restaurant. The interior’s pretty impressive, and certainly a cut above most affordable places to eat in Oxford. If you end up going, it might be worth paying a visit to the loos, if only to gaze appreciatively at the giant steam-punk levers that flush them.
Hopefully, though, you will far too engrossed with your puddings to bother. These are genuinely great (apart from a slightly dry ‘Amalfi’ orange tart) and I’d recommend that all aspiring fresher chefs take a bite of Jamie’s brownies before starting out on their college cake sale baking. Charity will benefit.
In fact, for all my whining about the main courses, the food at Jamie’s Italian is pretty good, if a little overpriced. So long as you’re prepared to pay for the ambience and exclamation marks, it’s an enjoyable night out. As the girls agreed, it would be a pretty perfect place for a first date. The music is relaxed, the staff are friendly, and a lot of the food is great. My only complaint? Cheap meat.
PRICE: £20 for two courses and wine
IN A WORD: Decent!