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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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