Jamie Oliver. I remember watching him for the first time on his cooking show. He appeared to be at the business end of a night out, and was standing in his kitchen bleary eyed and cooking bubble and squeak. I liked him instantly. Since then I have watched keenly on as he has made over the “school dinners” of kids everywhere and taught them that “potato crisps” are, ironically, made from potato. I have cooked from his recipe books, quoted him at dinner parties and now I have dined at the first of his restaurants in Sydney.
Jamie’s Italian, located in Sydney’s CBD where Industrie Bar once was, has been attracting crowds since it first opened its doors a few weeks ago. On this night, a Tuesday, we get a buzzer at around 6:30 and are told the wait will be at least an hour for a table. Sure enough by the time we go back 40 minutes later, order a cocktail and peruse the menu we’re just about ready to be seated at around 7:30. I wouldn’t want to go here hungry, but if you’re ok with having a drink at the bar and doing a bit of people watching, you’re in for a good night.
Our waiter recognises immediately that our Negronis have had soda added. My date, a cocktail connoisseur, has already been complaining about this and trying to explain to me various bartending sins (which seem to differ from country to country so it’s no wonder there is no consistency in cocktails). They share a knowing nod and the waiter whisks away the defective drink, speedily replacing it with the more traditional version. It appears we’re off to a good start.
As I salivate over more than 13 vegetarian entrée options, I decide to leave the choosing up to my charming dining companion who has been here 3 times in as many weeks. He is especially partial to the Mushroom Fritti, described as “our own-grown crispy fried mushrooms with a garlicky mayo”, and I am glad I have conceded control when they arrive. Deep fried with garlic aioli and a lemon wedge, and presented on a “Jamie’s” branded Alsco-style towel, this is the most hedonistic way to consume any foodstuff.
The Italian Nachos, “crispy fried four cheese ravioli with “angry” arrabiatta sauce is similarly indulgent. The tomatoey arrabiatta helps to cut through what could be an excessively greasy dish if done badly, and the whole thing is exceptionally addictive. The only concern I have is that the sauce isn’t “angry” enough, but after a delivery of fresh chopped chilli to the table I am more than satisfied.
A basket of complimentary breads including house-made focaccia, sourdough, ciabatta, tortano and carta di musica arrives soon after, and tides us over until the mains.
What is described on the menu as “pure heaven”, the Buffalo Ricotta Ravioli, delicate parcels stuffed with creamed ricotta, lemon, mint and parmesan, is a great suggestion for a main. I had been tossing up between that and the Truffle Risotto, but am glad I haven’t let my fungi fascination interfere with my better judgement as the ravioli is soft and creamy and sitting in a delicious puddle of lemoney sauce. Accompanied by a great glass of red, I can’t wait to see the dessert menu.
I am kind of fussy when it comes to desserts. Anything I think that will probably have gelatine in it I avoid, and as soon as I see the usual chocolate inclusion I often find it hard to go past. In this case there is some discussion as to whether it would be worth trying something different and we almost settle on a pineapple offering until I see the Ji Warm Brownie and am unable to shake the craving. Chocolate, raspberry and amaretto with vanilla ice-cream… Seriously, can you blame me? It has a pool of berry emulsion threatening to erupt over the sides and is sprinkled with snow-white icing sugar. Yum.
According to the Jamie’s Italian website, this new brand of fast-paced, affordable chain of eateries is designed to deliver a menu similar to “what you’d find ordinary people eating over in Italy”. The prices are outrageously respectable and in a society where paying $300 a head at a top restaurant evokes murmurings of “well, you get what you pay for” as credit cards are slid into black leather binders, it really feels like a bargain.
I totally respect the idea behind Jamie’s Italian which is to offer great food and service in a glamorous setting but without the high prices. In order to make this work, Jamie Oliver’s theory is that is has to be busy. With an hour’s wait at 6:30 on a Tuesday, I’d say he’s on to something and I hope it’s going to be big.
107 Pitt Street Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 8240 9000