Jamie’s Italian, Oxford
24-26 George Street
Oxford OX1 2AE
Tel: 01865 838383
Opening times: Mon-Fri noon-11pm; Sat noon-11pm; Sun noon-10.30pm
GILL HARRIS finds out why people are prepared to queue for a taste of celebrity fare
MANY’S the time I’ve walked past Jamie’s Italian restaurant in Oxford, seen the blockbusting queues outside and wondered what all the fuss was about.
Celebrity name – in this case, Jamie Oliver – aside, can any restaurant actually be worth queuing for?
Luckily, we didn’t have to find out because we booked our pre-theatre supper for 5.30pm and strolled right in. Even at this time of day, though – too late for lunch, too early for dinner – the place was bustling with a mixture of solo business people having a snack and boisterous families treating their youngsters.
The restaurant is smart and chic without being stuffy and formal, and with the doors flung open and the positively Mediterranean temperatures outside, we could have been forgiven for thinking we were actually in Italy.
Our friendly waitress showed us to our table and left us to dither over the menu. Both of us had already had a sneak peak online (www.jamieoliver.com/-italian/oxford) but the dishes all sounded so tempting it was hard to choose.
For starters, we agreed to share crispy squid with garlicky mayo, lemon and chilli (£5.75) and the Sicilian spaghetti fritters with ricotta, parmesan and parsley in a tomato sauce (£4.50).
The squid was quite simply the best I’ve ever tasted, perfectly cooked and deliciously buttery. The spaghetti fritters were also nice, and if that’s damning with faint praise, it’s only because they made us think of the kind of thing we used to rustle up out of desperation when we were students: ‘here’s some leftover cooked spaghetti and some cheese – let’s make fritters…’ (although I’m sure ours wouldn’t have tasted so nice).
For mains, Steph went for wild rabbit taglioni (£10.95 or £6.75 for a smaller portion), a slow-cooked ragù with garlic and herbs, mascarpone & Amalfi lemon. It was rich and flavoursome and looked and smelled heavenly.
I’ve always fancied the look of black spaghetti, so I chose black angel spaghetti (£13.90/£8.20), which was a generous plateful of squid ink pasta, British scallops, garlic, chilli, anchovies, wine, parsley and capers. Bursting with deliciously cooked, melt in your mouth seafood, it even smelt of the seaside. Stunning.
Now I’m not one for dessert, but we still had plenty of time, thanks to the swift yet not in-your-face service, so we thought we ought to check out the puddings.
We shared the Amalfi lemon curd slice (£4.95), a smooth curd with toasted pistachios and crushed berries, which was zinging with citrus flavours, and the delightfully wobbly panna cotta (£4.95) with compote of seasonal fruits. As we oohed and aahed unashamedly through both, it was impossible to decide which was the best. They were both divine.
The food bill came to £45, which is great value for three courses each in one of Oxford’s most fashionable restaurants.
Of course, we washed it all down with a couple of glasses of wine, which bumped up the price somewhat (a bottle of white will set you back at least £15.95 or you could treat yourself to a glass of Prosecco for £6.70) but it was worth every penny for top notch food in a classy, relaxing atmosphere.
I’ve since discovered on their website (I’m still drooling over the menu) that Jamie’s officially does pre-theatre suppers and you can even opt to have your coffee and dessert after the show. Now that’s service.
And even more time to spend over those delicious puds.