The last of the four novels we studied during our time in London was Angela Carter’s Wise Children. I’d previously read a few selected stories from The Bloody Chamber, so I was excited to delve into Carter’s curious world of magic realism. To be honest, I preferred The Bloody Chamber, as there’s something about reimagined fairy tales that really sparks my interest. Anyways, as part of our tour of the neighbourhood in which Wise Children takes place, we had lunch at Jamie Oliver’s Diner, a pop-up restaurant on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue. It was a decent meal, but nothing memorable.
Then fast forward a couple weeks to one night in Oxford. The girls decided to try out Jamie’s Italian, another of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant ventures. Due to the size of our group, we were seated at two different tables, but served by the same waiter. I’m not sure how to describe the waiter, except to say that we honestly didn’t like him. He was quite awkward and seemed disappointed that some of us only ordered drinks or appetizers. Sure, I realize that you need your tips, but to overtly express disappointment isn’t going to help you, right?
Katy wasn’t too hungry, so she just had the Crab and Avocado Bruschetta (£6.50), grilled sourdough topped with Start Bay crab, avocado, and Yeo Valley yoghurt, with apple matchsticks, chili, mint, lemon, and olive oil. Despite the decadence of that description, Katy found her bruschetta a bit unappetizing, as it was served quite cold, which she didn’t enjoy.
Chantallyhoo and Shawarma both had the Tagliatelle Bolognese (£9.95), with a ragu of British beef and pork, with herbs, chianti, Parmesan, and crunchy, herby breadcrumbs. Again, a decadent description, but the dish didn’t live up to it. The pasta was undercooked, being quite clumpy and hard to chew, while the sauce was underwhelming and very bland. It needed a lot of pepper to be somewhat enjoyable. Also, we were all surprised by the small portions. The items mostly came in two sizes (a smaller “entree” size and a larger portion), but even the larger portions were quite small. I had no idea, but apparently outside of North America, “entree” means a small course served before the main course. Having spent most of my life on the West Coast, this was a rather strange concept to me, and one that actually impacted our enjoyment of our meal here overall. When some of us accidentally ordered entree-sized portions without realizing that “entree” doesn’t mean the same thing it does in North America, the waiter reacted by condescendingly informing us of the difference, as opposed to offering us the larger portions. Considering how awkwardly he recounted the specials, I think that he was relatively new at his job, but wouldn’t it be common sense to try and make a customer feel happy as opposed to stupid?
As for me, I had the Seaside Risotto (£12.50), with clams, mussels, prawns, cockles, gurnard, chili, and white wine. I found the risotto to be a tad undercooked, but I believe that’s personal preference, as I generally prefer my pasta to be softer than al dente as well (blasphemous, I know). The fish was well-prepared, being moist throughout, and the mussels were plump and briney, exactly the way they should be. However, I thought that the risotto itself could have been creamier; perhaps more cheese would have helped? I also was dissatisfied with the portion size, especially considering the price tag.
Madeline’s Fish Stew (£13.50), which was on special that night, was comprised of the same seafood as my risotto, although in a tomato-based broth. Although the seafood was well-prepared, with plump and juicy clams and mussels, she commented that she wished she’d ordered a pasta instead, which would have been much more filling. It was a pricey dish, probably due to the amount of seafood included. I feel like it would have worked well as a risotto, pretty much the same as mine above but with a tomato-based sauce.
Overall, we were all quite disappointed with our experience at Jamie’s Italian, especially considering its association with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. The food was mediocre, and the service was startlingly inept, awkward, and even condescending. Based on the two experiences I had with Jamie Oliver’s restaurants during my time in the UK, I probably would not return.
24-26 George Street
Oxford, United Kingdom OX1 2