I’m back, finally, with another of my assignments – this time a restaurant review. I don’t mean to brag or anything (well, actually I do) but I got 95% for this one, which is a high distinction! To put that into context, I got just 70% for a journalistic article on Wagyu beef, which is only equivalent to a merit. I guess restaurant reviews are my forte!
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With the second Australian Jamie’s Italian opening in Perth later this year, adding to a thirty-something-strong international chain barely five years old, it’s timely to check out how the Sydney outpost is going.
Jamie’s Italian Sydney opened in late 2011 to great fanfare and it’s just as popular as ever, judging by the quickly growing queue under a sculptural, rusted J at just 6.15pm on a Wednesday.
A spunky, black-clad Brit moves down the line proffering a wooden board groaning with antipasti, explaining that the waiting time for a table is 45 to 50 minutes. It feels a bit like queuing for a fun-park ride but the snacks are a great touch.
Inside is a cavernous but narrow industrial space, all cast iron and tiling, with a bar up front and an imposing concrete staircase to a mezzanine. The pretty hostess calls the patrons ‘darling’, several times, hands them a bleeper and invites them to stay for a drink – or go and come back later. A peach Bellini with a curl of lemon rind eases the wait.
Small tables and red or blue studded leather banquettes run the length of the ground floor, sandwiched between distressed mirroring and caged, back-lit wine bottles. Young couples and groups of friends lean in under copper lamps to hear each other over the hubbub of chatter and soft rock.
A perky Canadian waitress brings charm, knowledge and a glass of zesty Victorian ‘Jamie’s Prosecco’ from a concise but rounded Australian and Italian wine list with many by the glass. The food menu, too, reflects Signor Oliver’s philosophy of simple Italian fare made from the best locally sourced produce. It’s reasonably priced too.
A ‘meat plank’ of nutty San Daniele prosciutto, earthy Wagyu bresaola, peppery finocchio (cheek and jowl meat), and capocollo with fennel and garlic also includes buffalo mozzarella from Victorian artisan cheese-maker Giorgio of That’s Amore. Milky and mildly acidic, from Australian-reared Asian water buffalo, it’s just as good as its Italian cousin. Tying in the inevitable British flavour, a wafer of pecorino is topped with chili jam made by ‘a couple of Jamie’s friends in London’.
Tomato bruschetta is luxurious with creamy ricotta beneath concentrated, garlicky roasted tomatoes. The bone in a sea of umami-loaded, saffron-yellow risotto Milanese promises gelatinous marrow but is filled only with crunchy gremolata. Wild McLeay Valley rabbit, slow-cooked with carrot, mascarpone and Amalfi lemon, is sweet and saucy atop fresh tagliolini. Overcooked veal saltimbocca disappoints with too little prosciutto, and the accompanying ‘spicy tomato salsa’ is scarcely more than halved grape tomatoes.
Desserts redeem the situation: an Italian ice cream bombe has panettone encasing candied fruit, ricotta and ice cream with a shot glass of bitter hot chocolate sauce. Eton mess (another nod to Jamie’s roots) is hard to get wrong and this one delivers, with raspberries, blueberries, pistachios, mint and candied citrus zest.
Shelves filled with Jamie Oliver cookbooks and other ‘merch’ suggest, once again, something of the theme park. It adds another bum note to the disconcerting feeling that this slickly run establishment, that doesn’t quite deliver on its food promise, is erring on style over substance.
107 Pitt Street, Sydney
Visited 13 March 2013