This was our case with Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant on the corner of George and Gloucester Streets in Oxford. Moseying along, we noticed a long line of people coming out of this one particular restaurant – must be good, we thought. Soon enough we found ourselves in the crowd, not quite aware of what we were getting ourselves into (not necessarily recommended, but in this case it worked).
The line outside moved fairly quickly, as the place is rather large (two floors). Once through the doors, we were given a beeper and told the wait would be about 15 minutes. Not so bad, I’m thinking, as a young woman directs us to the bar and waiting area. As soon as we order some wine, the restaurant’s entire computer system crashes. That means no food orders, and no more seating until the problem is solved! This is where the impatient customers shout, “Pen and paper, pen and paper!” I agree, but I’m having fun sitting on a high stool overlooking the modern dining room with a glass of red wine in one hand and roasted almonds with chili and fennel salt in the other. These nuts were the only computer-independent food in the lot – lucky for Jamie, they were quite nice and tied us over until we were finally able to be seated.
The Oxford restaurant opened in 2008 and was the first in the line of Italian restaurants Jamie Oliver has opened around Britain. While the general atmosphere was contemporary, the smells coming from the kitchen (which you could peek into via a television screen) were reminiscent of old-fashioned Italian cooking. I think Jamie’s secret is garlic.
What we ordered: Monachelle Putanesca – a traditional sauce I have always been fond of. This version was excellent, slightly tangy with ripe Kalamata olives and juicy capers. I was disappointed with the pasta, though. A lighter noodle would have done better justice to such a delicate sauce. Instead, the putanesca was served with thick, heavy shells that were too overwhelming. Jamie’s Italian Spaghetti Bolognese – here, the chefs took a traditional dish and revisited it. My husband thoroughly enjoyed it, as there was a balanced combination of different meats, and the pasta was cooked just right – al dente. We continued drinking our wine (2003 Piemonte – Barbera d’asti superiore ‘Tere caude’, ca’ del matt), which was smooth and plumy – highly recommend.
In sum, our experience wasn’t perfect, but the sauces, wines and smells were worth it.
Oh wait, I forgot to mention the Funky Chips with fresh garlic and parsley. These home-made fries were the tell-all and why I’m sure Jamie’s secret ingredient must be garlic.
Jamie’s Italian, Oxford
24-26 George Street
Oxford, OX1 2AE
Tel: 01865 83 83 83 (No reservations!)