In the past, I have had my fair share of issues with Jamie Oliver. I love his recipes, but despite multiple attempts, I’ve never managed to see the connection between the ethos behind his family orientated, ‘bish-bash-bosh throw it all on a board’ style of TV chef cookery and the over contrived wideboy-cockneyfied presentation of the restaurant chain. It all seems too trite. However, by virtue of me having this blog that you lot still seem to be reading (thanks very much!), they keep inviting me in to eat there and because I’m nothing if not universal in my acceptance of a free meal it was with the glorious abandon that only the promise of a free lunch can provide, that Mrs P and I strolled into Jamie’s Italian Covent Garden.
It was a quick meal as I was due to catch a flight in a few hours time but first impressions were great, the staff were attentive and friendly, the atmosphere light and open with tables starting to fill up with the lunch time rush. The ambiance of a Jamie’s Italian is always very non-corporate by which I mean that as a casual highstreet chain it is nice and boisterous without the faff of a full-on Loch Fyne or conversely the take-it-or-leave-it approach of a trip to Nandos. This Covent Garden branch skirted the line nicely so I had no problems and enjoyed sitting in the window looking out at all the people rushing by looking on in jealousy as we sat enjoying our little bit of Jamies Empire in his Italian Restaurant in Covent Garden.
We sat and were shown the menu. There had been some problems with meat supply which had knocked out a few dishes but as Mrs P always looks for an excuse to enjoy a prawn linguine she remained unfazed. With the lack of rabbit, which was going to be my preferred option, my eye turned on some sausage action (easy Grandma), so that was mains sorted.
Starters arrived and ‘The Ultimate Garlic Bread’ presented something of a quandary for me. It was… suspiciously nice. Soft in the middle with a crunchy crust and doused in garlic butter; delicious. But the ultimate garlic bread? No. It’s that kind of hyperbole that usually sets me off on a Trump related rant that ends with me out of breath and my poor dining companions wiping the spit from their stunned faces*. Perhaps it’s the ultimate garlic bread for some but for me, it was too processed, too white and too fluffy to contain anything less than an 80% chemical to flour ratio. We also tucked in to some crispy fried squid served with lemon and a garlic mayo. Far from the rubbery, over-cooked greased rubber bands I always hope to avoid when ordering such a dish, this was light, cooked well, seasoned well and actually very nice thank-you-very-much.
I ordered a Libeta beer and guess what? That was also branded from Jamie’s own brewery (or most likely under license from someone else’s). I was starting to remember my previous feelings about the Jamie Oliver corporate product world and started to check the potted vegetation for their ‘specially planted for Jamie’ labels but couldn’t find them this time. Far be it from me to suggest that Jamie should start to rein in his ambitions but if the recent news of multiple restaurant closures is anything to go by perhaps the rest of the world is starting to agree with me. But then I remembered that this was a free lunch so I got over it. The beer was light and unmemorable, reflecting the best parts of the restaurant itself really.
I don’t know what it is about linguine but both Mrs P and I prefer it to spaghetti and this dish was no exception. Jamie’s recipe, various versions of which can be found in his online recipe empire or countless cook books (sigh). I’ll fully admit that it is a regular staple in our house and one that Mrs P likes to compare to the restaurant version, she orders it just to check if our version is better and because she is an inherently nice person, she always tells me it is. Here the dish was good if not great, well cooked pasta coated with sauce and the right number of prawns (i.e. lots) that meant the meal was a perfectly suitable example of the easiest way to get tomato sauce from the plate to my shirt in the shortest time possible. Meal time splatter damage is a constant risk in my house and I lived up to my reputation with aplomb by cluster-bombing my chest with the usual lethal efficiency.
I had some salad. It had parmesan and rocket in it. I like both of those things and it was nice.
My sausage ravioli were perfectly fine. They were initially presented a little under cooked but while Mrs P and I chatted, they softened to al dente and I enjoyed them immensely. I can’t say that a plate from Jamie’s Italian has ever won the ‘Best Plate of Pasta Rob’s Ever Eaten’ award (that pleasure goes Tora Tora in Pisa – well done to them), but it was pleasant and well seasoned with plenty of the standard Great British compliment of ‘very nice’ thrown in for good measure.
So in summary, Jamie’s Italian in Covent Garden is just like Jamie’s Italian in Milton Keynes, or Oxford or Manchester or actually pretty much every other Jamie’s Italian you’ve ever been to. It’s a great example of a mainstream Italian restaurant trying to improve the expectations of the British public and the fact that I think that it’s unremarkable only proves how far we have come in expecting higher and higher standards. Get yourselves down there because while it isn’t exactly a date night destination, it’s better to have more pasta in your life than less. Plus because they are busy getting battered on the highstreet you can get some half decent deals, the week that we visited there was 40% off for all meals ordered during the day and the offers seem to change from store to store so keep your eyes open.
I was invited to have lunch at Jamie’s and I didn’t receive a bill.
*Mrs P is well versed in spotting the impending signs of this, she takes evasive action if needed or seeks to provide an alternative, and more calming, conversation point such as the way that Jeremy Hunt has so delicately handled the NHS over the past few years.