I was meaning to write about my two month journey in the order that I traveled but if I do that, I’d never get anything written in this blog. My lack of posting is due to a new job that has me in front of a computer screen all day and you know, I don’t want to get online as soon as I get home…
In September 2008, I spent some time in Oxford (a place close to my heart) to present a paper at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery (more on that later) and to visit some old friends. I haven’t been to Oxford in two years and I noticed that a few new restaurants had popped up – one of which was Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurant simply called “Jamie’s Italian” on 24-26 George Street. I can’t even remember what was there before (if you remember, email me please). It is the first restaurant in a planned 20 restaurants completely backed by Jamie and his business partners (currently the other locations are Bath and Kingston). The idea behind his Italian restaurants is to provide good, casual Italian food – similar to Antonio Carluccio’s successful chain through Britain called Carluccio’s.
The restaurant doesn’t take reservations but according to their website, if you are a group of 8 or more, they may accommodate you. Luckily we arrived at around 2pm, which was after the lunch rush but we still had to wait a little while for a table. The restaurant was buzzing with people and while we waited, I watched an employee making fresh pasta in front of the large window that faces the main street. I was quite impressed that they made the pasta fresh, as needed. We were seated in the back of the restaurant and because we were starving, it didn’t take us long to decide what to order but me and a friend were both agonizing whether to get the prawn linguini or truffle tagiatelle so we decided to split them. The other thing that impressed me was their children’s menu. Jamie is well-known for educating children to eat healthy, real food – no chicken nuggets and chips or hot dogs at this joint – the kid’s meals were basically smaller portions of adult pastas such as spaghetti bolognese served with free, all-you-can-drink cordial. Kids even got crayons, stickers and a cool twirly fork to eat their spaghetti (which probably requires your child to be at least 4 or 5 yrs old to maneuver properly). Our friend’s daughter is 3 and she was too young to understand the concept that if you run the fork between your thumb and forefinger, it will automatically twirl your pasta for you but it is a very cool concept if you are a kid!
We ordered a bruschetta and two bowls of gorgeous green olives which my friend’s daughter relished nearly all by herself. We as a table ordered the pumpkin ravioli, sausage pappardelle, truffle tagiatelle, prawn linguini and a kid’s spaghetti bolognaise. I loved the sausage pappardelle (very meaty, rich and satisfying) and the truffle tagiatelle was just simple buttery and truffle-y pasta – yum! The bruschetta was a bit odd – toast was so hard that it sort of ripped the roof of our mouths. I have a feeling that we ordered another starter but I cannot remember it – which means that it was not that great. I would definitely stick to the fresh pastas and next time I go, I want to try some of the meats (which sounded very good).
For a party of 4 adults and one child, the price of the meal wasn’t too bad – it was actually affordable by English standards but with our Australian dollar so weak at the moment, after I saw the currency conversion on our credit card statement, I nearly had a heart attack!
The only complaint I have is that the service was forgetful and although most of the tables around us were pretty empty, our young 20-something yr old server seemed to have friends eating at the table next to us and just kept chatting to them while we kept trying to get her attention. The bad service should be no excuse especially since we started eating after the major lunch rush. Perhaps it would have been more attentive if we sat in the lighter, airier at the front of the restaurant.
Overall, it was one of the best meals I had in my travels when considering value and quality. We did eat at a couple of Michelin starred restaurants (more on that later too) but of course, the price was much higher and the food was often more complicated than I was in the mood for at times. Jamie’s Italian is a good, casual place to eat that is also very child friendly without compromising on quality.