Another trip to Bluewater, and another opportunity for lunch. This time we thought we’d try Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant, partly because Val prefers Italian food over many cuisines, and partly because they’re soon to be opening a branch of Jamie’s Italian in Chelmsford.
The décor is urban chic – exposed girders and distressed wood – with a retro Italian flavour. There are reproductions of sixties Italian posters, again all tastefully distressed. Oh, and several large video screens showing the eponymous chef, just in case you hadn’t sufficiently bought into the branding. It’s all a bit ‘Big Brother’ – in an Orwellian sense.
The menu is strikingly similar to Carluccio’s, also present at Bluewater, but with some additional options; from memory Carluccio’s don’t offer pizza or burgers.
Another unusual offering is in the ‘nibbles’ section, which features ‘Italian Nachos’ – fried pasta with guacamole and salsa. I figured I simply had to try those, so we ordered them, along with single meat platter to share between us.
I had also signed up to Jamie’s ‘Gold Club’ which offers discounts, gifts and prizes. I quoted my membership number to the waitress and she returned with a couple of ‘tasters’. In posher restaurants these would be ‘amuse bouches’, comprising demi-tasse coffee cups filled with delicious (presumably) wild mushroom soup.
The ‘Italian Nachos’ were very, very similar to the Mexican variety, accompanied by sour cream, guacamole and crushed cherry tomatoes.
We were a little startled when the waitress placed two full, sealed cans on the table, but all became clear when the meat platter starter was placed on them. The actual platter was a large plank of wood, tastefully branded (in both senses of the word)” Jamie’s Italian”, but the meats were tasty and nicely presented – a little pricey at a tad under seven quid – but a nice starter.
For the main course, Val ordered the seafood linguini, one of the daily specials, while I ordered the “Italian Job” burger. This would only be served well-done (the ‘Elf & Safety’ fascists strike again), but I thought I’d risk it. You get a choice of ‘chips’ with the burger, ranging from plain, skinny fries through chunky chips with truffle oil to polenta fries.
Val enjoyed the linguini, although she confessed that she preferred Carluccio’s Vongoli version, while the burger came piled high. It was served well-done, but not over-done, slightly moist, and while the caramelised onions and Gorgonzola were in evidence, the ‘crispy, smoked, pancetta’ was harder to spot. The polenta fries stretched the ‘fries’ description somewhat, resembling roast potatoes, the polenta proving a carb too far. I managed less that half my portion.
The drink selection is reasonably comprehensive, a few aperitifs, a few cocktails, an adequate selection of wines, and a couple of Italian beers. Oh, and Jamie’s own ‘birra’, in bottles and on draught – it was okay, although served way too cold.
It’s probably worth mentioning that, by joining Jamie’s Gold Club, you get a tenner off your first meal after joining – nice.
On leaving, you run the gauntlet of branded merchandise, this too is similar to Carluccio’s, except that instead of Italian delicatessen foods, it’s almost all Jamie’s books, branded serving boards – in a variety of sizes – and even branded napkins. Quite why one would want to use ‘Jamie’ branded napkins at home is beyond me, but hey ho.
Overall, it’s a close run thing between Jamie and Antonio, I liked the wider range of food offered by Jamie’s, while Val would go to Antonio’s.
I never said we were compatible!