Going back several years now I was given Jamie Oliver's "The Return of the Naked Chef" cookbook for Christmas by a very good friend V Mary H. She came to Sydney from the UK looking for accommodation and within a week she moved into our then Pyrmont apartment for the duration of her stay in the country. Her friend at the time worked in marketing or something and was helping with some kind of Sainsbury's/Jamie Oliver promo and happened to get a cookbook signed by the then very young Mr Oliver.
"Merry Christmas, with love, Jamie x"
To be honest, to this day I've never made one thing from this cookbook but I'll hold onto it as it's a special gift and proof that Jamie loves me ;)
One balmy evening on our recent London trip we gathered with Mr K's mum, sister and vivacious friend Roxy and had dinner at Jamie's Italian at Covent Garden. There are actually 15 other outlets across the country, something I was a little surprised to learn. The no bookings policy prompted us to get in early and it ended up being a wise move as for the approximate two hours that we were there, a constant queue of 25-30 people was snaking out the door.
Seated at the central communal bench I noted the familiar tins of Italian tomatoes scattered down its length (I did my research) and already knew that these are not generous gifts but instead props to keep the antipasti planks elevated from the table. Nice touch. It makes me wonder how many people have swiped these to put on their mantels?
The menu at Jamie's is relaxed Italian. In fact the whole place is relaxed, with a generous shot of typical Covent Garden bustle. This town always reminds me how small and quiet Sydney really is.
nibbles, antipasti, pasta, secondi, sides, dolce, vini
...plus a few specials on the board far away in some dark corner where people with eye's as good as mine have to get up and squint at to see what specials are going. The vino is poured ( I think it was the Sauvignon Blanc di Friuli (£18.4), we order a selection of starters to share and the lights are dimmed to a disturbing level. Hello?! There's a blogger in the room! Which Roxy couldn't help but point out to the charming and dimpled David, our brilliant host for the night.
The start to the food was sensational and most of the antipasti prep can be seen up on the counter beneath the glorious forest of hanging smoked legs of pork. Our gorgeous bruschetta (£4.75) topped with glossy trussed cherry tomatoes sits gently on creamy ricotta and garlic-rubbed grilled ciabatta. A splodge of olive oil and a few basil leaves and it's complete. It's as pretty as a picture and simply delicious.
Another brushcetta (£4.75)comes laden in smashed peas, broad beans, buffalo mozzarella a bit of lemon and mint. I find it lacks seasoning, but nothing a bit of sea salt flakes won't fix. Not that we had any.
The crispy squid (£5.1) came with all-round disappointment due to its minuscule size of five meagre pieces but aside from that the flavour was there and the garlic mayo was a nice touch.
Baked figs wrapped in prosciutto (£5.95) were a winning item from the specials board and these sweet and salty little treasures were worthy of an applause.
The last of the starters is the smoky scamorza arancini (£4.75) - crispy rice balls stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and porcini mushrooms. The mild arrabiata sauce is a perfect accompaniment to the crunchy shell and creamy cheesy centre.
The kitchen doesn't mess around between courses as our mains come marching out in succession not too long after our last arancini was swallowed. Mr K's choice of pappardelle meatballs (£10.75) is a taste sensation I was truly envious of. Nothing fancy, mind you. Just simple yet rich flavours and just enough tender slow-cooked melt-in-the-mouth balls of meat interlaced with the frilly pasta and tomato basil sauce.
Roxy tucks into her shell-roasted Brixham scallops (£15.25) with glamorous vigor. These guys come perched on a mound of rock salt, they're grilled with crispy pancetta and each one of them is dolloped with fresh tomato salsa, shaved fennel and lemon.
Mum goes for the light choice of bresaola and rainbow beet salad (£11.25). It's a simple arrangement of finely sliced air-dried salted beef with roasted beetroot, rocket, fennel, horseradish, parmesan and a dressing of ex virg olive oil and balsamic.
The mushroom panzerotti (£9.95), Miss K's choice, is a generous bowl of ricotta and parmesan filled parcels topped with a tasty gremolata and crispy fried sage. Very delicious.
My dish of scallop & squid ink angel hair (£13.5) was verging on being a dud. Brixham scallops with chilli, anchovies, parsley, capers and wine all sounds supremely promising but with a stodgy mound of angel hair pasta, it was a pasty mess. It's difficult to separate with a fork, it was well beyond al dente and methinks a thicker pasta would save it from becoming the dogs breakfast.
Sweets anyone? Mum samples her first ever affogato (£4.35) while the rest of us tuck into two superb specimens from the dessert menu. The chocolate espresso tart (£4.95) comes topped with sticky glazed figs and orange crème fraiche and gives all 'round fuzzies with its silky rich texture and that tiramisu (£4.95) had me moaning in deep pleasure. The best I've ever had. Not too wet from coffee, perfectly thin layers of sponge and mascarpone with a bit of orange and Vin Santo. This really ought to be jarred up and sold off next to adult body paint. There you go Jamie, something else you could branch into ;)
An overall damn fine meal.Jamie's Italian10 Upper St. Martin's LaneCovent Garden WC2H 9FB0208 912 0110Mon-Sat 12pm-11.30pmSun 12pm-10.30pmjamieoliver.com