Thursday, November 3, 2011

Say cheese at Jamie’s Italian

I’ve been lamenting the lack of decent pasta options in the city for so long I have to smile every time I pass the newly opened Jamie’s Italian on Pitt Street, where every morning and throughout the day fresh pasta comes magically out of two machines in the window. And not just the noodle-y stuff; frilly shells and rigatoni-esque shapes too.

Inside Jamie's Italian, Pitt Street, Sydney
After many months of anticipation, I was at dinner on the ground level of Jamie’s Italian with an after work Dal Zotto prosecco just the thing to start the evening. Even at an early 6.30pm Wednesday night, we had to have a drink in the bar while waiting before being seated, with queues out the door not much later.

Complimentary bread basket
A quick skim of the menu shows up traditional Italian at extremely reasonable prices: starting with bread and nibbles, antipasti, pasta in two serving sizes, mains and a wealth of side dishes.

I’m not sure it’s possible to not order the pasta, even if everyone starts with a complimentary bread basket with ciabatta and white and rye half slices from Brasserie Bread, rosemary focaccia, a bread stick and a thin, not-quite-as-crunchy-as-it-should-have-been carta di musica thin flatbread.

Creamy mozzarella
With such reasonable pricing, I was more than happy to go the whole three courses plus sides, not to mention the well-priced wine list with a good range under $60. The light and fruity Umani Ronchi Montepulciano D'Abruzzo was reasonably fruity and a good match to all the flavours throughout dinner.

The mozzarella cheese called to me and arrived as a simply torn ball of buffalo mozzarella with a new take on insalata caprese – same white, red and green colours but substituting non-spicy red chilli slivers for tomato and mint for basil.

The mint combined with lemon zest and olive oil really lifted the flavours of the dish while the chilli added interest to the subtly creamy and salty mozzarella, which could easily get boring being such a big serve.

Crispy squid
One of the hot antipasti dishes – and one of the only ones without cheese – was the deep fried squid, served almost tapas style in a terracotta dish with chilli, garlic, lemon and "really garlicky mayo".

The thin and still crunchy batter was a highlight, yet it was still outshone by the most garlicky and tangy mayonnaise/aioli I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. It was so good that once the just tender squid was finished, we continued dipping pieces of bread into the aioli.

Meat platter
On a per person order, the antipasti boards are ceremoniously placed atop two cans of tomato at the table – a bit gimmicky but cute enough to think it’s something Jamie Oliver might do at home.

Crunchy salad (left), bocconcini (middle) and pecorino with chilli jam (right)
The board features meat, cheese and vegetables, and would make an excellent drinking companion. The ‘Crunchy Salad’ is one of root vegetable slivers; beetroot most noticeably and heavily doused in olive oil.

The cheese is both a bocconcini ball with diced chilli and mint, and a thin slice of pecorino on flat bread with a puddle of chilli jam.

Cured meats and vegetables
There’s a scattering of two olives, a caper berry and a pickled green chilli over the feature meats which I believe are sourced from Quattro Stelle: a lush, melt-on-your-tongue San Daniele prosciutto, wagyu bresaola, fennel salami and capocollo that was declared the best of the lot.

Spaghetti bolognaise (entree size)
The meal started extremely promisingly and as the noise and crowds ramped-up, the attentive waitstaff were still smiley and on the ball amid the rather loud chart-topper pop music, which is an interesting choice. The pasta was the moment we were all awaiting for secondi; some entrée sized and some main sized.

I had expected the spaghetti bolognaise to deviate somewhat from the traditional and it was by no means classic to the Australian palate. Featuring house made al dente spaghetti with a pangrattato bread crumb topping and pecorino shavings, the sauce was inexplicably sweet and lacking a little in moisture. I’m sure Jamie Oliver would have fixed that with half a bottle of olive oil “to finish” but we didn’t.

Crab and squid ink risotto (entrée size)
Dramatic black risotto never fails to impress the eye while here the rice maintained a nice bit of bite. The flavours were fairly restrained though I didn’t try the spanner crab, and the dish was said to be fairly good overall. The entrée size risotto is so generous I’d be a little scared to see a main size.

Mushroom panzerotti (main size)
It’s so refreshing to see a filled pasta dish of reasonable price and decent serving size. Four ravioli are never going to fill anyone with a proper appetite, but this main size panzerotti quite huge – especially considering starters and sides.

The brown sauce of mushrooms was again on the sweet side while the filled "half moon" pasta shapes were simply perfect in texture and obviously freshly made. It was somewhat let down by seasoning (or lack thereof) despite grated pecorino on top, while the pangrattato added a fun crunch to every mouthful.

Bucatini carbonara (main size)
While I know a perfectly decent carbonara sauce is achievable at home, it’s always good to see the professionals do it too.

The hollow tubes of bucatini, or hollow spaghetti, virtually swim in the eggy sauce which is best described as an edible silk. Slinky, smooth, luxurious – this carbonara had it all going on, while the bucatini pasta was much fun to slurp up, elegantly and splash-free, of course.

Posh chips
One Jamie Oliver audience member couldn't resist the "posh chips" dressed with truffle oil and grated parmesan cheese. Hauntingly similar to some at a nearby shopping centre burger outlet, these were not chips of the crispy variety; more the chunky, skin-on variation that took on the posh flavours just as well.

Best humble green salad
Amongst all the cheese and carbs, I had to see some greenery, which arrived covered in cheese. I'm not sure where the "humble" part comes into play, but the mint and lemon buttermilk dressing seemed anything but.

A selection of crisp mixed leaves was actually rather rich and creamy, though still appreciated amid the carb-loading and boozing that was happening.

Bread, wine, starters, pasta main and sides were filling - no surprises there - but for once I wasn't going to leave without dessert. Perhaps it goes back to the affordability or that so many of Jamie Oliver's desserts in his books and television shows look extraordinarily tempting.

Brioche con gelato
I didn't expect mini burgers when I ordered the brioche con gelato dessert; even if they were very cute burgers. Warmed brioche bun halves held together gelato, a lemon marmalade and crushed pistachios, which all together had the very flavours of cassata.

The warmed buns meant the gelato melted quickly and messily, while the bun to gelato ratio swayed heavily towards the former which was a bit much to handle after the numerous courses.

Dessert special: Eton Mess
The evening's dessert special of Eton Mess was a pile of ingredients that each sounded better than the next. To start, the waiter wasn't kidding when he said chewy meringues, as they were the chewiest, teeth-sticking meringue pieces I've ever come across.

Creme fraiche, pistachios and raspberry jam rounded out the mess which was actually quite light, despite appearances. The worn look of the enamel dish was a cute touch although potentially worrying for some mothers.

Creamy panna cotta
The panna cotta was more creamy than wobbly, but luxuriously so. The berry compote played second fiddle very well to the vanilla bean speckled milk pudding, which had a perfect sweetness and texture. It disappeared in less than a minute but stayed on the mind for much longer than that.

The crowd had cleared in the later evening, though the kitchen still seemed to be pumping and having a bit of fun even. Music blared; those that were left were into their food or the pretty impressive fitout; and me - well, all that cheese and fresh pasta meant I just had to smile as I walked past those pasta machines in the window.

P.S. Minor gripe: when paying with a credit card, staff re-print and re-deliver your bill to add on a 0.8% merchant fee. The staff then process your credit card as they stand/squat next to you via mobile EFTPOS terminals and ask and wait as you input a tip amount, which is a little awkward. Would be nice to streamline this process.

Jamie's Italian on Urbanspoon


JB said...

I can confirm that the crab and squid ink risotto is awesome.

I know what you mean about the credit card payment being a little awkward. Personally, I don't appreciate them passing on the merchant fee. It's a cost of business they need to bear. It's a bit Jetstar, really.

Awesome dessert selection too! Yummo!

john@heneedsfood said...

I think I'll give this outlet a go when the novelty dies down. I really like eating at Jamies in Covent Garden and at that time hoped it would come to Sydney. Here we have it.
Pity about the awkwardness with the EFTPOS. While all businessess have every right to pass on a merchant fee, especially with the high percentage Amex and Diners, to stand there and have you enter a tip is just pushy and presumptous.

joey@FoodiePop said...

I think I would order a pasta too; how can you not? I love spag bol so would order it even though it underwhelmed you, and the black ink risotto is a must for me too.
I love the cuteness of the brioche gelato dessert but you're right about the messiness! Conceptually a disaster!

gbf said...

i would happily eat all of that! great post & pics...i want to go! dayle

gastronomous anonymous said...

i can also confirm that the black ink risotto is superb! and the main size was HUGE!!!! loved the squid also...

cant wait to go back and try their other dish.... everything looks good!

MissPiggy said...

I want everything that you've shown on your post - I've heard good things about the Spaghetti bolognaise, but that Cabonara looks to die for!

Lisa said...

Looking forward to heading over on the weekend, but your post has left me even more indecisive over what to order. Everything looks great!

Anonymous said...

I'd be happy with the mozzarella (OMG!) even in this weird Asian-inspired version of Caprese. Great wine choice!

Mike T said...

Maybe you are all reading the wrong menu because the food here is bland and the choices are terrible. The carbonara is awful! Don't believe the hype.

Anonymous said...

@Mike T - maybe your talking about somewhere else! I have been in twice, and have had numerous 'picky' and 'food elitist' friends go and and have had no negative feedback like yourself to mention. Seems like you just have a gripe about Jamie's Italian in general.

I can second the panna cotta, it was amazing! And it did anish in a flash...and it was all I had on my mind when I walked out. Believe the hype guys, it is good!

Heavenly Ingredients said...

I'm looking forward to going after hearing lots of positive feedback from English friends (they are everywhere in UK now).
Shame about the credit card fees - they are hardly bargain basement prices, even if reasonable.

Mike T said...

Dear Anonymous
If you think this is good Italian food then you have no idea what good Italian food is. 95% of Italian restaurants have better food than this. Even the pictures posted above look bloody awful. What's that gloop with the panna cotta? Jam?
Sorry, you have fallen for marketing hype hook, line and sinker.

Anonymous said...

@Mike T
The food there is far better than most places in the city that claim be be "authentic Italian". And far better in priace. And yes I am Italian and have a Nonna who makes her sauces from scratch. Its not your backyard traditional Italian at Jamie's, but it is still good.
And thanks letting me know that I have fallen for the hype, I'm amazed my taste buds managed to get confused! Silly taste buds thinking that they actually enjoyed the food.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mike. The food is rubbish. Save your money. You get better food at the RSL

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I love squid ink risotto and have heard from so many people about it here!

Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said...

There is definitely a lot of cheese action there!

I'm almost disappointed to see a spaghetti bolognese on the menu - with Jamie Oliver's respect for Italian food I thought it would've been a ragu with fettucine/pappardelle.

thesuzchef said...

Wow, thanks for the detailed and fair post. I thought CARBOCIDE as I was reading it!
My favourite pasta place in Sydney is definitely Pendolino, so it'll be great to check out Jamie's and see how it measures up. I ate at his Fifteen restaurant in London and loved it. I'll wait a bit for the crowds to die down before giving it a try.
Shame about EFTPOS though - merchant fee shouldn't be passed on, and awkwardness re: waiting at your shoulder when you're deciding on tip!

Hotly Spiced said...

It all looks fabulous to me. I'll definitely be going there. Love Jamie!

Tina said...

Hi JB - I can't seem to remember if other restaurants do something like this (Amex always has a surcharge, but usually not the others...)

Hi John - Yes, I think there may be some ironing out needed in the payment process.

Hi joey _ I think the pasta itself is pretty good, probably just depends on the sauce.

Hi gbf - Thanks Dayle! It was a nice after work treat :)

Hi gastronomous anonymous - I'm looking forward to trying more of the pastas too :)

Hi MissPiggy - I didn't love the spag bol but I'd love to hear some other opinions on it.

Hi Lisa - Hope you enjoy your experience too :)

Hi lateraleating - The mozzarella totally works though!

Hi Mike T - Hype or not, it's each to their own opinions - especially in the very subjective area of food.

Hi Anonymous1 - Granted not everyone has the same view of "boring" old panna cotta; dessert done well is dessert done well.

Hi Heavenly Ingredients - I'm not sure how similar (if at all) the menu is to the UK outlets.

Hi Anonymous2 - I'd love to know where your local RSL is ;)

Hi Lorraine - It was definitely one of the better dishes among our table selection.

Hi Rita - I would definitely have ordered a fettucine or pappardelle with ragu if it were on the menu. A non cheese eating friend had some trouble choosing from the menu...

Hi thesuzchef - It's all about the pasta ;) Jamie's is not quite Pendolino - but then again, it's also half the price.

Hi Hotly Spiced - You'll see bits of Jamie in the way the menu is written, and all his books in the front too ;)

sugarpuffi said...

omg everthing looks so good i dont know where to start! going to jamie's this saturday. gonna try everything on the list since we have 13 ppl! mwahahaha

Anonymous said...

those brioche ice cream burgers made me suddenly crave of ice cream!!! :(

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Why hellooooo crispy squid. The squid ink risotto looks great too, and the tomato can thing does sound a little gimmicky. lol

Tina said...

Hi sugarpuffi - Yep, 13 people should get through most of the menu :)

Hi minibites - Yes, just the weather for ice cream consumption..!

Hi Helen - Definitely recommend the crispy squid with oh-so-garlicky mayo.

Tambourine said...

Oh wow. I keep hearing mixed reviews of the place - it's good to know that you like it. The tip thing is a little bizarre though, isn't that a part of the service charge?

Vivian - vxdollface said...

Wow that spag bol looks fantastic! I went again the other night and the table behind me ordered that and it smelt divine haha I think I'm due for another visit

Tina said...

Hi Tambourine - It's definitely the place du jour. I don't believe there is a service charge - the merchant fee relates to credit cards.

Hi Vivian - Hopefully the next visit/s don't include a super long wait, as everyone seems to be facing...

Tom said...

Great post! Do check out our post about Jamie's Italian Sydney and Jamie's Italian Singapore and let us know what you think!

Happy Travels Everyone!



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