I have mixed views about chain restaurants – I don’t visit them very regularly simply because I like variety and I don’t believe in paying for something I could whip up easily at home. I’ve been called a food snob on more than one occasion due to my resistance to drop upwards of a tenner on work outings by visiting chain restaurants where I suspect the kitchens do more reheating than cooking.
I know other food enthusiasts are against chains in principle and I have read many posts about how chains stifle creativity, raise rents and make our cities look too similar. At the other side of the argument – chains provide jobs the same way independent restaurants do. I would love to see more protection in place so that we don’t end up with totally identical streets up and down the country, ones that give independents a better chance to flourish alongside good chains and stop smaller names being priced out of rent deals. I’m not about to pay someone a tenner for a meal they’ve merely defrosted and plated up but I don’t boycott chain restaurants completely either. Las Iguanas has long been my chain restaurant of choice when the occasion calls for it – it usually has options for vegetarian friends, the cocktail happy hour is great and service is usually good too. I’m pleased to say Jamie’s has now been added to the list of high street names that are really rather good at what they do.
We were recently invited to try the menu at Jamie’s Italian Newcastle. We received a discount on our meal but this review is a true reflection of our experience on what was a very busy Friday evening. We were greeted at the door and taken to our table by floor staff and introduced to our waitress who was able to explain the menu fully, recommend sides and managed to offer water for the table unprompted, all good so far. We dined early (around 6.30) so there were a fair few family groups in and I do suspect its with groups like these that Jamie’s really excels. I noticed the little touches such as flags on children’s ice creams that show that father Jamie has thought about little ones when putting this offering together.
I’m by no means a Jamie devotee but we do have a few of his cookbooks and my attempt at his Vodka Chilli Pasta remains a lasting and prominent memory for one of my former housemates (I went a bit crazy on the chilli). I’ve never really seen a Jamie Oliver recipe and thought “that sounds horrible”, in fact, when his perky face pops up on screen I’m usually drawn in, so it was to be expected that we found it quite difficult to narrow down our choices from the menu. In the end we selected crispy squid with crushed garlic mayo (£5.95) and Italian nachos (£3.95) to start and were impressed with what turned up at the table.
As you can see the portions were pretty generous considering the price. The garlic mayo was perhaps a little too potent (I was still tasting garlic hours later) and I would perhaps have liked a slightly crisper texture to the fried ravioli nachos but there was a lot to enjoy about this dish. A look around at the other diners confirmed that these portions were a fair representation of what everyone was being served. The place itself is huge, far bigger than I had realised but I found myself enjoying the buzz of the place – the lights and family friendly radio tunes meant the ambience was upbeat. And so, on to the mains.
I ordered the fish special – seabass with fennel, beetroot and carrots and under some duress from me, Steve chose a pizza (Italian Hot £12) and polenta chips. The surprising star was the polenta chips, I wish they weren’t so filling because they were also very more-ish, I’d eaten half a bowl without blinking. I do love rosemary though. All of the elements of Steve’s pizza tasted fresh and it had a good balance of sauce and cheese, it wasn’t at all greasy. Meanwhile, my seabass was a little overwhelmed by the olive oil it was dressed with (I’m still pretty sure Jamie has a personal sponsorship deal with the olive oil industry). I do like a crisp fish skin and that just wasn’t possible with the amount of oil and I’m probably a little more resistant to the stuff as a slimming world follower. The veg was cooked perfectly though and sat great alongside the fennel. In future I’d probably just ask the serving staff to hold off a little on any oil.
There’s a pretty decent drinks selection at Jamie’s – the boy stuck to Moretti, while I started off with a homemade lemonade, which was perfectly refreshing after a bit of rushing to make our reservation. By dessert I was ready to move onto something alcoholic and made a vague attempt to match my Florence Fizz cocktail (£6.95) with my Amalfi Lemon Meringue Cheesecake (£5.45). The Limoncello, pomegranate juice and elderflower fizz went really well with the soft meringue and curd. Sometimes I think the other half orders food because he knows I will like it – other times I know he orders it because I think I will like it (ahem) and I think his dessert choice of Sour Cherry and Almond Tart (£5.45) was the former on this occasion. It was good but not quite as wonderful as my cheesecake, which I had to battle him a little to finish.
We were more than pleasantly surprised by Jamie’s – I think in terms of price points, they’ve got things right, I like what they have on the menu and there are a lot of deals you can access through membership to their gold club. Jamie’s is unlikely to become our favourite restaurant but it could well become a regular pre-drinks spot.
Have you been to a Jamie’s? What did you think? Do you steer clear of chain restaurants or do you think they have their place? I’d be interested to know how you feel about the topic so please do comment below.