Paul Wood reviews Jamie’s Italian, and it appears that the taste doesn’t live up to the hype.
I waited some time before booking into Jamie Oliver’s new flagship eatery, as I wanted the hype to die down and the newly recruited kitchen to get their menu in order before tasting their Italian wares.
After a six-week wait to get a table we still only manage a late night reservation. We hope this is a positive sign of things still going strong despite whisperings of indifferent experiences and the venue’s fabulous toilets being promoted almost as often as the food.
On arrival, we are corralled to the bar and offered drinks while we wait we are then handed a device that will “buzz when it’s ready”. Service seems procedural rather than warm, though we do get some attention from the barman who offers a drinks list and suggests one or two, then promotes their new South Australian wine menu.
Settling on an Italian drop, we sit back in some cosy armchairs and wait just a few minutes before the buzz-thing buzzes and the seating procedure commences. Juggling glasses and bottles of barely touched wine, we make our way to a table positioned just near the entry to the basement toilets, where shrieks of excited patrons can be heard as they discover the greatest of the venue’s design features.
Other features include the loftiest of ceilings, and fittings and fixtures that pay respect to the building’s former life as a grand old bank. A central counter obliges as the Charcuterie station, where platters of freshly sliced meats and antipasto are served on giant wooden boards to waiting tables.
These ‘planks’ also come as a vegetarian or seafood option and we order ours titled ‘Cured and Crispy Fish’ with delicious anticipation. Worth the reasonable wait, we are presented with a collection of fishy delights piled high on a board that is propped atop tomato cans to make the reach-across easy. Like the ultimate fisherman’s basket, crumbed and fried mini fritto misto (that’s little bits of battered fish, to us commoners) are faultlessly crunchy; each piece, with its flaky fleshy centre, is dunked into a zingy tuzi mayo.
Beetroot-cured salmon is flavoursome and fresh, with a sweet yet delicately tart flavour that pairs perfectly with an accompanying crunchy salad. Cheese slices with a dab of chilli jam are fine, though perhaps unnecessary when compared with seafood surroundings. A pot of mussels and pipis are roasted in their own juices and are both pleasantly salty and slightly chewy but not enough to offend.
The mackerel pate is so good I go back twice with the bread and again with some plump capers, throwing together my own little combination of plank leftovers. More of that please. As we finish our plank, I ponder those earlier whisperings and wonder if the indifference stems from a case of tall poppy syndrome geezer chef style – then the main course is plonked in front of us by waiter number two.
The Honeycomb Cannelloni Three Ways seems to be only done one way – haplessly baked for too long, so all edges are dry as a result. According to the menu, separate fillings include aubergine and sun-dried tomato, pumpkin, and ricotta and spinach, but in the dish presented, each piece is indistinguishable from its neighbour both in flavour and an unpleasant chewy texture. After sawing my way through the honeycombed arrangement of pieces, in an attempt to find some redemption for this poor dish, it all ends in a creamy stewy mess in the bottom of the plate. No mop-up bread required, thanks.
A taste from each of the other pasta dishes at our table ends in a similar fate, including a lackluster sausage pappardelle with slowbraised hunks of fennel-infused sausage trying their hardest to swim in a stodgy ragu, and a buffalo ricotta ravioli that, while inoffensive, has barely any flavour and somehow manages to merge into one piece.
It’s difficult to feel sorry for someone who benefits from the success of a celebrity chef husband, but Jamie’s tribute to his wife in the form of a dish named ‘Jools’ Favourite Tuna Fusilli’ resembles a pre-frozen heat-and-eat, despite apparently being made fresh daily using sustainable tuna. A quite sour tomato sauce grips to some hardly cooked spirals and any attempt at seasoning is missed, along with promised herbed crumbs that may have toned town the acidic sharpness of this dish in a way that the pasta has not.
We decide to skip dessert, despite a few tempting sounding options on the list; it seems that the second shift has come to an end and the efforts of our third waiter for the night are waning. Of course we all know that Jamie is not working in the kitchen and I do feel for the souls slaving away under the pretense that he has anything to do with the day-to-day running of his culinary empire, but unfortunately that’s not the point.
People come to Jamie’s Italian for an experience and while there are some redeeming features at his newest franchise they still have a way to go. Jamie never guaranteed seamless service, or even a South Australian wine list, but he did promise Italian food, so a decent pasta dish is the least we should expect.
2 King William St
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 11.30am to 10.30pm jamieoliver.com/italian/australia/restaurants/adelaide