Jamie’s Italian

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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

Jamie’s Italian
24-26 George Street
Oxford, United Kingdom OX1 2

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Spaghetei すぱげっ亭

Spaghetei recently opened near Robson and Denman, taking over a space previously occupied by Benkei Ramen. SB, Dolph, Justin and I decided to try out this new restaurant and its somewhat unfamiliar specialty, Japanese-style pasta. When we visited, the restaurant was still in its soft opening phase. This meant that our food was discounted by 30%, but that they were also only accepting cash as payment.

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We started off with some complimentary Pesto-Garlic Bread, with one piece being brought out for each person at the table. At first, we we were somewhat disconcerted by the vibrant green colour of the bread, but it simply tasted like regular garlic bread. It was well-toasted, crisp, and warm. This was accompanied by some kind of Soup or broth that looked like water with a few lettuce shreds floating around. We couldn’t really identify what this was, except that it tasted vaguely salty. Well, I’m not going to complain about free food, so whatever.

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SB decided on the Meat Sauce ($11) pasta, which was spaghetti with minced beef and vegetables topped with a Japanese Bolognese sauce, sprinkled with grated cheddar cheese. He thought that this dish lacked a clear Japanese element. The tomato flavour was quite mild, while the meat sauce itself was a little bit thin. I found the dish to be a bit bland overall, and would have appreciated some pepper, which wasn’t provided at the tables. The noodles were also done a bit past al dente, although SB found that this didn’t hinder his enjoyment of his meal.

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I opted for the Mentaiko ($13), spaghetti tossed in spicy cod roe with button mushrooms and dried seaweed. I’ve always been partial to the mentaiko udon at Sushi Garden, so I thought this would be right up my alley. Sadly, though, I preferred the version at Sushi Garden, which has enoki mushrooms and tastes a lot cheesier. I found the portion size to be a bit small for $13 (although we only paid 70% of this price because of their promotion). Overall, this dish was quite average. It was a tad spicy, but overall quite mild, which I suppose is characteristic of most Japanese food. The four of us thought that it tasted the most Japanese out of the four dishes we ordered–possibly due to the cod roe and the seaweed. The mushrooms included in the dishes had a strange spiciness to them that reminded me of wasabi for some reason. While I enjoyed my lunch, I didn’t think that it was worth $13.

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Justin had the Neapolitan ($12), which to my disappointment wasn’t spaghetti with chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream, but instead spaghetti in a mild ketchup sauce and served with chicken, bacon, sausages, and vegetables. Described on the menu as a “Japanese all-time classic”, it was again quite mild. There was nothing wrong with the dish itself, with all the meats being cooked correctly, but it failed to draw us in. The noodles themselves were again quite chewy and had good bite.

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Lastly, Dolph, our resident noodle aficionado, had the Butter and Soy Sauce ($13), which included shrimp, mushrooms, and spinach. She commented that the sauce tasted exactly like what she expected–simply butter and soy sauce mixed together. Like the rest of us, she failed to see anything extraordinary about the dish, commenting that it tasted like something that could easily be made at home. I suppose that the homey quality of the food could also be seen as a positive aspect of the restaurant, though.

I think that overall, the four of us enjoyed our lunch at Spaghetei, although that might be due to the excellent company we had in each other rather than the food. We were curious about the restaurant itself, since the concept of Japanese pasta isn’t a widespread one in Vancouver, despite the prevalence of other types of Japanese food available to us. The food was decent, but bordered on bland, and in general I felt that my mom could whip up many of the dishes on the menu. I also wasn’t sure about the Japanese influence on the dishes that we sampled. Still, the service is attentive, and there is a certain charming quality to the homeyness of the dishes that we sampled, so I would recommend that you give Spaghetei a try.

Spaghetei すぱげっ亭
1741 Robson Street
Vancouver, BC

Spaghetei すぱげっ亭 on Urbanspoon


Fable Kitchen

Before you read this, a word of caution: this was the best meal I’ve had in the history of the blog. If this post ends up being very rambly, glowing, and overall uncharacteristically positive, I apologize. It’s simply because I had a really great dining experience here.

So the story goes that it was my birthday. I always get really excited for my birthday, which usually results in some kind of disappointment. This year I had a perfect birthday. It started with a lovely dinner with all my friends at Cardero’s Restaurant a week before the actual day. On the day itself, I went to the flea market with my mom in the morning, had lunch with her at Belgian Fries (review upcoming), and then dinner with SB at Fable.

I pass by Fable on the bus everyday on my way to and from school. Once called Fuel, then Refuel, the newest incarnation is called Fable. The restaurant has a classy yet cozy interior, and the tables are quite close together. I actually liked it that way because we were sandwiched between a hipster couple and a group of older couples, and the atmosphere was quite friendly and appreciative of the food. Also, the server was very accommodating and genuinely friendly.

For our appie, we shared the misleadingly named Spaghetti with Meatballs. It’s actually tagliatelle with a single duck meatball and parmesan foam. In one word, this was great. The meatball had bits of mushrooms and onions, with the mushrooms retaining their natural chewiness and adding texture. The meatball itself had a crispy exterior, with a prominent duck flavour that we both enjoyed. The noodles were very chewy, and tasted organic, handmade, and overall, fresh, while the parmesan foam meshed the ingredients together.

For  his main, SB chose the Flat Iron Steak, which was served with black pepper jam, broccolini, and potato fondant. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare and tender, and the portion size was perfect. The steak itself was flavourful, and eating it together with the black pepper jam made it heaven. Yup, heaven. The black pepper jam tasted slightly oriental, with SB commenting that it reminded him of hoisin sauce.  The potato fondant had a crispy exterior and perfectly uniform consistency. The broccolini tasted fresh, but was nothing special. At first, it didn’t appear to be a lot of food, but it actually turned out to be quite filling, even for SB, who I believe is capable of eating more than anybody else I know. As far as steak goes, this did not disappoint in the slightest.

As for me, there was duck on the menu, so of course I had to order it. In this case, it was the Duck Breast, served with scallion perogies, fiddleheads, and sauteed cauliflower. The duck was cooked perfectly, being juicy, chewy, and not too fatty. It was complimented very well by the perogies and cauliflower. Overall, I felt that the dish was unique, and the flavours were delicate but balanced each other out. The perogies were quite soft, while the cauliflower still retained some natural snap.

Lastly, we shared the Lemon Pot de Creme for dessert, since it was recommended to us by the server. This was served topped with lemon granita, gin foam, and tangerine slices. The granita was almost shockingly refreshing, but in a good way, with the smooth, silkiness of the dessert offsetting the strong, tangy citrus flavour nicely. The gin foam was mild and the tangerine slices tasted as you would expect, but the granita was the star of the dessert. We both enjoyed how this wasn’t overwhelmingly lemony or sweet, since we’re both not fans of really sweet desserts.

The two of us were really impressed by our dinner at Fable, with every aspect of it being nothing short of excellent: the food, the service, the ambiance, etc. Every dish we sampled was delicious, creative, and unique. Generally after meals, I have to pester SB to get the details on his food; this time, as soon as we stepped out of the restaurant, he forced me to whip out my notepad so he could rave about the food. And the great part is, the whole meal cost under $100 even after tip and tax, despite us having had both an appie, a dessert, and a drink in addition to our entrees. I definitely hope Fable sticks around for a long time and doesn’t end up becoming ReFable, or something. Yum.

Fable Kitchen
1944 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC

Fable Kitchen on Urbanspoon


La Villetta Ristorante

Having spent the entire day (and the day before that) studying for my finals, it was definitely time to take a break from the university food and unhealthy snackage I was ingesting too much of, and go for a nice meal with the fam. Since I was up at SFU, we decided to go to La Villetta, an Italian restaurant on the corner of Hastings and Ingleton.

I didn’t actually know which restaurant this was until I looked it up on Google Maps– turns out I pass by this place every Sunday on my way to church, but we’ve never been (probably because it isn’t open for lunch anymore… and if it were, my cousins’ picky eating would definitely prevent us from going in). The restaurant was really warm and cozy when I entered, which was great because the weather that day was supremely miserable.  The decor is reminiscent of a B&B… very woodsy and rustic, and with all the candles and couples, it seemed slightly too romantic for a family meal. Whoops.

Upon getting seated, we were presented right away with a basket of warm and crusty homemade bread. By now you probably know about my love for bread… would it surprise you that both my grandma and my mom love bread too? So much so, they were raving about how warm and delicious and soft it was all night long. My dad just sat there looking very amused, but he probably thought we were crazy.

Anyways. The four of us ordered 3 pastas and an appetizer to share. First up was the appy Vongole a la Marinara–steamed clams in a sauce made with tomato, white wine and garlic. The good thing about this dish was that almost all the clams (except for 3) were open and very fresh, albeit on the smaller side. The sauce, however, wasn’t to our liking at all as it was far too bland. It tasted like the juice from a can of diced tomatoes, only a little thicker, and I couldn’t taste the wine or garlic at all. I think we were meant to dip our bread (they had brought over a second basket) in the sauce, but all that resulted in was bland, soggy bread. Definitely not that great a start to our meal.

Our three pastas arrived shortly after the clams did, which meant that our small table was getting a little crowded, what with all the dishes and cups. We dug into the vegetarian Linguine Della Casa, which was tossed with sun-dried tomatoes and a variety of mushrooms in an olive oil-tomato sauce, and topped with fresh bocconcini. The slightly melted cheese tasted mild and fresh (as it should), and there was a plethora of mushrooms and tomatoes in the pasta. However, there was far too much olive oil used in the cooking process, so that the tomatoes ended up being oil-logged, and there was a rather unpleasant-looking thick coat of oil left in the plate after we had finished the dish. I know it says in the menu that the sauce is made with olive oil, but I didn’t think that there would be THAT much of it… so I’m not sure if it was a misunderstanding on my part, or if the restaurant overdid it. The dish definitely would have been better if there was less oil, though.

The waitress had recommended the Cannelloni to us, so we ordered that as well. This pasta was stuffed with veal, spinach and ricotta cheese, then baked in a tomato cream sauce. I thought that the cannelloni itself was well executed, in that the pasta was al dente and that the filling tasted quite good. However, this fell short again in the sauce department. We thought that the sauce had a weird, mealy consistency to it, and tasted more cheesy than tomato-y, which was a bit of a turn off. I mean, the dish was fine if we scraped off the sauce, but really… we shouldn’t have had to do that, especially if it was a recommended dish!

At this point in the meal I was feeling a little bleh about the place, but our final dish, the Linguine Pescatore, helped redeem the night a little bit. Loaded with mussels, prawns, clams, scallops and salmon and cooked in a white wine-butter sauce with garlic, this pasta was definitely our favourite of the night. In terms of the sauce, this one tasted like it should, and wasn’t too heavy despite the butter. The seafood tasted fresh (though the scallops were a little on the overcooked side), the pasta was al dente, and everything just meshed well together. I ended up dipping my bread into this buttery and garlicky sauce because it was just that good.

By the time we were done with the pastas and the 2 baskets of bread we were feeling quite full… but then the waitress came by and asked us if we wanted dessert. It turns out they had Spumoni Ice Cream, which is one of my favourites (I would buy a gigantic tub if I knew where to get it). For those who don’t know, Spumoni is a three-flavoured ice cream much like Neapolitan ice cream– both have chocolate and vanilla, but Spumoni typically replaces the strawberry flavour with pistachio. You might have had it before if you’ve gone to the Old Spaghetti Factory, but the “authentic” version of the ice cream usually contains candied fruits or nuts. Our plate of ice cream came with a little dollop of whipped cream and cinnamon, and there were candied fruits (like in a fruit cake) in the vanilla layer, and chopped nuts in the chocolate layer. The pistachio and vanilla flavours were both really light, which really let the creamy and rich chocolate layer shine. This is definitely one of the better ones I’ve had!

So La Villetta was a bit of a hit and miss. I thought the prices were pretty reasonable– although the dishes seemed small at first, we ended up getting really full off of what we ordered. The pastas themselves were alright, but there were some pretty big execution problems in terms of the sauces for most of our dishes, which to me is a bit weird at an Italian restaurant. The servers were also hit and miss– we had one who was really nice, and another who was a little brusque and made us feel rushed. Perhaps it was just that night and those dishes that didn’t showcase the quality of the restaurant (many people do like it on Urbanspoon)… in any case, I would be willing to return sometime in the future to try the other items on their menu, but I think I would try some other Italian restaurants in the area so I can get a better picture of the cuisine first.

La Villetta Ristorante
3901 East Hastings Street
Burnaby, BC

La Villetta Ristorante on Urbanspoon


Jimoco Cafe and Pasta

Jimoco is a pasta place on Austin Ave. in Coquitlam, across from this Safeway that seriously needs a renovation. (They don’t have any self-checkout or customer service counter…what??) It’s a pretty small restaurant (maybe narrow is a better word), with booth seating as well as tables. The one thing I find odd about Jimoco is that the chef is Korean, much of the clintele is Korean, and yet the owner only hires Caucasian servers…I’m not sure if he did this to avoid the stereotype that Asian servers are rude. To be honest, I find the service here rather brusque and unprofessional…maybe it’s simply because this restaurant is ALWAYS busy. My most recent visit was on a random Thursday afternoon, around 2pm, and we had to wait for a table.

The real attraction of Jimoco is the prices. They have this “Grand Opening Special” (they’ve been open for a couple of years now, I think) where you can get two pastas for the price of one! Their pastas are priced around $15 or so, so technically a meal for two will cost around $20 including tax and tip! Not a bad deal at all. Well, on to the food…

Like a lot of pasta places, the meal starts off with complimentary bread. I’d rather get more than two slices of bread, but at these prices I guess you can’t complain. The bread is not baked in-house, but bought (as you can tell from the photo). It’s basically just two slices of bread toasted with garlic butter. It was toasted nicely, but really nothing special. I went with my dad this time and he wanted to save his slice of bread to eat with his pasta, but by then the bread was stone cold….

On this trip, my dad had the Linguini Soul. The picture’s a little blurry, I got too excited about the food…anyways. This is linguini in a rather spicy tomato sauce, with seafood (mussels, clams, squid, shrimp, baby scallops, etc.), served in a hot bowl. I believe this is one of the most popular dishes here. Well, for one thing, my parents have this every single time we come, and I’ve seen many other customers order it as well. It caters to the Korean customers–my parents often compare it to the Jambong at Korean-Chinese restaurants. This dish is definitely worth your money, considering how much seafood is included. The noodles were cooked al dente.

I had the Penne Alla Bombay. As the name suggests, this is penne served in a curry sauce, with bite-size pieces of chicken and diced tomatoes. I’ve had this a couple of times and always enjoy it. For one thing, the chicken is moist and flavourful, and not too dry. The pasta itself was cooked al dente, again. The serving size might look small, but I actually was unable to finish it myself (my dad ate the rest). I don’t think this is one of their most popular dishes, but it’s my personal favourite! I would have liked some fresh ground pepper though…

On a separate, earlier trip, my brother had the Risotto al Frutti di Mare. (We also had calamari on that visit–you can see it in the background, but I didn’t bother taking a photo of it. Pretty much an average and forgettable calamari). In any case, this is also one of the most popular dishes here, consisting of risotto cooked in a choice of tomato, cream, or saffron sauce (shown here in the cream) with mussels and other seafood. I believe the ingredients are the same as the Linguini Soul, not exactly sure…this also arrives in the hot bowl. It’s quite rich and creamy, and can get to be a bit too much once you’re about halfway through. Personally I love cream sauce so I don’t really mind, though, I guess it all depends on personal preferences! But once again, I really feel like fresh ground pepper would help, no idea why we weren’t offered any…

So to summarize. Jimoco is a bit out of your way unless you live in the area like I do, and the service leaves much to be desired. Still, the prices are too good to pass up–a decent and filling meal for two people for a round $20. Definitely worth a visit!

Jimoco Cafe & Pasta
1046A Austin Ave
Coquitlam, BC

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