Walking into the historic Lendal Cellars – which now houses a recent addition to Jamie Oliver’s Empire – is an underwhelming assault on the senses. Despite the rich enchanting atmosphere and a menu as gutsy as the naked chef himself, the portions are just not worth the prices.
Jamie’s Italian is set over two floors in a deliciously eccentric old Tudor wine cellar. The old features, open kitchen and long Italian table create a real buzz which taps into that fabulous Italian family vibe. Jamie’s Italian is charming, but for hungry students on a budget it’s just not the accessible and affordable place it promises to be.
The pace picked up after waiting a good fifteen minutes to be served and the staff were warm and attentive. There’s an original cocktail menu, and a dear £6.50 will get you a gin and Earl Grey martini, which is a gin-based cocktail infused with Earl Grey syrup, fresh lemon, apple juice and Angostura bitters.
The four of us went for a litre of the house red which, at £20 was the best value for money item on the menu. Jamie’s is all about presentation; the wine is served in a ‘pichet’ and the antipasti and burgers come out on rustic wooden platters.
The menu is bursting with Italian specialities, spiced up with a dollop of Jamie’s gastronomic enthusiasm and style. Crispy risotto balls of smoked mozzarella and porcini arancini, large juicy green olives served on ice, fish baked in a bag with clams, and turkey Milanese stuffed with prosciutto and fontina are a handful of highlights on the menu. I went for the Beautiful bruschetta, with pea & mint ripple, grilled asparagus, smashed broad beans, mint and chilli, and smoky mozzarella. It was delicious and melted in the mouth, but it was only a slither in size, so not worth £8.95. Risotto should cling to the cutlery. Jamie’s wild truffle risotto, finely minced with butter and Parmesan, was undercooked and uninspiring. The desperately small serving of ravioli primavera, stuffed with smashed new-season peas, mint and ricotta, in a silky asparagus sauce with mascarpone, was light and creamy. The monachelle puttanesca: a seashell pasta with tomato sauce, capers, chilli, anchovies and olives, was slightly salty but it slipped down nicely.
If only all the food had tasted as tantalising as it looked. The Jamie’s Italian menu is simple but slick and the ingredients are fresh, sourced locally, or come from Italy itself. Fresh pasta is made from scratch on site every day and the atmosphere in the restaurant is spot on. Unfortunately the food is nothing extraordinary and the character in the presentation is not enough to justify spending £7 on a few pieces of pasta.