Jamie Oliver’s Italian

Jamie Oliver.

Now there’s a bloke who raises a mixed opinion.

Yeah, he’s a bit of a nob with all the over affected Essex boyisms and unnecessary pounding of work surfaces and yes, his shows are often full of painfully scripted ‘friends and family’ who randomly turn up to devour and praise his makings but all appear to be TV actors mostly employed in Sainsburys adverts or the odd episode of Doctors.

However it’s been a long time since The Naked Chef and as well as my above listed misgivings Jamie has also opened a nice little earner of a restaurant that basically employs very naughty boys and gives them a chance at a vocational future that doesn’t involve getting kicked out of full time education. That’s nice. Who missed his one geezer campaign against the tendancy of this country to feed their children utter rot for lunch? That was a good bit of work too, no matter how much positive personal press he got out of it. Yes, he might be a slobbery gobbed oik but he got the Turkey Twizzler out of our schools and when you get right down to it, he tends to turn out very nice food indeed. More often than not it’s easy enough for the layman to prepare and not laden with too many exotic or unaffordable ingredients. So he’s kind of irritating, but he knows his stuff. I’m not sure if I like him or not.
My facebook brethren mirror my conflicted opinions on JO too as within minutes of asking the general opinion on his Italian style restaurants I was hit with two opinions of Go there! and For the love of God don’t go there! But we were in Norwich and had one treat meal left before heading for the train home and there it was on The Royal Arcade, Jamie Oliver’s Italian. It seemed rude not to give it a go.

20130728_121750

Overall, I’m glad we did. The JOI is a sort of chain I suppose, themed on well executed traditional Italian eating with ‘a twist’, or so the official gumph tells us. The restaurant itself is lovely, located at the Castle end of the Royal shopping Arcade in central Norwich. High ceilings, big windows, clean tiles and from my experience incredibly amiable staff. You can see the slaves at work in an almost open kitchen on the first floor, where we enjoyed a gloriously comfortable table by the windows with lovely deep arm chairs (a pleasant surprise as we booked for Sunday lunch roughly half an hour before turning up and half expected to be in the pack with all the San Pellegrino crates). There is a shameless amount of Jamie Oliver kitchen paraphernalia and cook books available for purchase, scattered at eye level throughout the main areas of the restaurant but it doesn’t look too out of place so it’s not too offensive. Neither is the ambience provided by a seriously Naked Chef era soundtrack playing throughout service, heavy on the Britpop and modrock which I enjoy but is not to everyone’s taste. And the loos are frankly marvellous, with tiny monochrome floor tiles and classic vintage looking Crapper toilets. Fab.

first serving of antipasti

first serving of antipasti

It’s not cheap, but not eyepoppingly expensive either unless you really try to hit the most expensive options for each course. The Mr and I opted for ‘Jamies Italian Feast’- a sharer style menu selling at fifteen quid a head. I was pleasantly surprised and Mr was bloody thrilled. It was served in two halves, first off a lovely long plank of antipasti and their freshly handmade foccacia which was beautifully light and moreish. The highlight here was the mozarella, dressed with chilli and mint but they were so tender and creamy, almost liquid in the centre a real joy to consume. There’s a lovely pink pepper dressed lettuce just off camera too which was pretty special. Once this was demolished, and demolish it we certainly did, we were given five minutes repose before round two.

round two, the hot stuff.

round two, the hot stuff.

Second up we had some spaghetti with a lovely rich tomato and aubergine sauce, local roast chicken with potatoes and more olives, a perfectly executed risotto primavera and a pile of polenta chips- which they are apparently famous for there. I can see why, they were bloody amazing and I will be researching how I might recreate these crunchy, not quite sweet bundles of deep fried parmesan dusted amazingness for my own excessive consumption at home. Good work.

We were told that this ‘feast’ sharer is a showcase of what JOI do best, sadly only available until six pm and not really representative of the menu as a whole so it’s difficult to call a full on review from this one sitting. Especially difficult when I’ve since spoken to several people who found the food a bit of a non event and the bill somewhat explosive.

Huh.

It’s not like I’m easily pleased in these matters, so it seems curious to me to hear this but each to their own, I have to say I thought the food was more than satisfactory and the price reasonable in respect to the quality of our lunch. I should maybe add that the Mr was hungry again an hour later, but that’s not a rare occurrence for him and we didn’t have any dessert.

To sum up, yes, I would recommend it and I would like to go back and sample the menu proper so as to regurgitate to my readers a review proper! But if you do happen by and have time to spare, give it a go and give the sharer feast platter thing a go, it really was nice. My only regret was not having a big fat glass of wine to go with it.

check out the offerings by clicking here

20130728_120613

Advertisements

The Waterside Inn

20130723_184320The overwhelming realisation as I sit here to begin my review of The Waterside Inn is that I am in no way qualified to write a review of The Waterside Inn. I mean, I’ve eaten some good food in my time and not all of it from a random food festival stall or M&S £10 deal I’ll have you know. Silver service, separate fish course, menu translation requirements yes, I’ve been there and done that and wasn’t it lovely. This however, was something else entirely.

20130718_164151To bring you up to speed you will find The Waterside Inn in the village of Bray, a Michelin Star heavy postcode in Berkshire. It lives up to it’s name with a glorious Thameside location and is a self billed ‘restaurant with rooms’ rather than a full service hotel. It is a Roux family restaurant, currently headed up by Alain Roux who I had the fortune to come into contact with during our stay and can summarise as charming and gracious and clearly not entirely comfortable with his level of celebrity. We didn’t like, hang out or anything…..Anyway, here we are in beautiful Bray, blazing sunshine, watching the rowers and the sailors and the rest of them from the shore with a glass of bubbles to kick off the celebrations of my Dad’s 60th birthday. It is a willing understatement to say that my family and I were ‘treated’ to an overnight stay and a private dining experience here- reason number one that I cannot really put together an actual restaurant review. We were in a decadent private dining room away from the main restaurant with a menu selected by the old man over several torturous previous visits. A real struggle for him, that was. An equal struggle for the rest of us to relax in glorious surroundings with constant but subtle chair holding and wine pouring service and eight courses of absolutely exquisite cuisine. This is reason number two why I can’t write a proper review- because I don’t have the relevant experience or refinement of palate to go much beyond ‘exquisite’ as the main adjective. The Waterside Inn is the only restaurant outside of France to have held three Michelin Stars for over twenty five years, it shouldn’t take a schlubby amateur like me to tell you that they make some ridiculously wonderful food.

In brief, we sampled a slivered sea trout with a bright, vibrant avocado shot that tasted every bit as green as it appeared; fois gras (yes, yes the shame, I know I know) with brioche toast, a fantastic punchy salad bundle and popcorn; just cooked salmon in a fresh herb sauce; a rose sorbet made from the petals from the neighbours’ garden (red for the ladies, yellow for the chaps); beef-not-quite-wellington wrapped up in a mushroom pate and ultra thin, crispy brioche shell; a selection of cheeses two of which were surprisingly British with apricots and celery; the piece de resistance dessert plate of seven miniatures (introduced by Chef Roux himself. Squee!) and finally coffee and the most beautifully presented, perfectly formed little morsels of pastries and chocolates. It. Was. Exquisite. If I’m going to go on about anything it will be the beef- which was just rare in the middle and melt in the mouth tender but somehow not a trace of blood or excess moisture to be found. How the hell do you manage that? I will also go on about the wine served, ceaselessly, to compliment each course so well including a fish course Chablis that I shall continue to weep dream about for years to come. Oh and the pastries, the tiny, light tarts, the cloud like melting macarons, the little chocolatey pralinely thing that tasted like a big bite of Heaven’s Gates. I could go on about all of the food. But again, in brief, Exquisite.

20130718_224247

But the food, well, that’s not all of it. You might get your stars from bloody great food, but it’s the entire experience which keeps all three of them there for a quarter century in a changing world rife with competitors. It is the Waterside Inn experience that is truly wonderful. Taking a drink on the terrace while the evening rowers slip by. Settling in airy luxury, literally waited on hand and foot by gracious and friendly staff who don’t miss a beat but avoid making you feel embarrassed about having such a jolly time while they are all at work. As the manager Diego told us as we took our table for the evening, ‘you are at home’. It really felt like that, relaxed, indulgent and comfortable. Actually not much like my little slice of home in Colchester but that’s besides the point. It’s a beautiful sentiment. They even let Dad have his ipod on throughout dinner, Barry Manilow tracks and all. And they waited patiently, smilingly, topping up the after dinner drinks (cognac for the chaps and a complimentary pink champagne for the rest of us) until we came in from the private terrace or out of the back room with the dramatic arm chairs and taxidermy exhibits and reeled our merry ways to bed.

Our little boathouse room.

Our little boathouse room.

And what chambres they are! Mr and I were in ‘the boathouse’, along with a little tray of fruit, a stack of fabulously moreish almonds and full air conditioning (praise the lord). The final, heart warming touch was the little personalised card on the bed as we got back upstairs, wishing us pleasant dreams and a good strong coffee in the morning. Plus a bag of sweets. You can’t beat that shiz people, not anywhere! You can read all about it, and make bookings or just be jealous of me by clicking here. I can’t do somewhere like this justice on my little slice of cyberspace here. I’m not daft about food, but I’m prepared to admit that I’m far from expert on a lot of it. It was just all utterly wonderful and I don’t expect to ever have another evening like it in my life, I feel rather pathetically grateful to have been a part of it, just for that evening and just for a little while.

I could spam you with more photos or wikipedia facts, or the history of wines in Bordeaux or a load of other stuff but I shan’t, I shall leave it here. I can offer no great insights or scandals. The three Michelin starred Waterside Inn is awesome and if you get the chance to go there, do it. Save up and do it. Sell your mother in law and do it. Just don’t sell a kidney to do it, you’ll need both of those to process all that Chablis.

20130718_224139