Dinner at: Jamie's Italian in St Albans
What's in a name? Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne samples the hectic world of Jamie Oliver
What’s in a name? Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne samples the hectic world of Jamie Oliver
About the restaurant
The Jamie’s Italian bandwagon rolled into St Albans in early February, taking over the historic former Bell pub in the city centre. Although not the biggest of the chain, it seats 150 and has been pretty much fully booked since the opening. The concept is a success - there are 27 JIs as we speak, and more on the way.
Atmosphere and decor
If two’s company, 100-plus is definitely a crowd. Jamie is pushing his legendary luck with this sardine-can approach. Tables are crammed together and the noise is up to TV-celebrity levels. Naturally, the customers so far seem to love it. You can’t argue with that.
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The word hectic springs to mind. I am scolded for not booking until the scolder realises I have. Grudging apology. The numerous staff scurry about looking harassed and pausing briefly to take orders. Smiles are a rare treat.
The promised ‘Jamie twist’ is soon in evidence with some interesting dishes and clever use of herbs. Sea bass comes with crunchy sweet and sour veg, a salad with shaved root veg, chilli, lemon and mint. Pasta is made fresh daily on the premises.
A plank of sliced seasonal vegetables chargrilled and marinated in herbs and olive oil (�6.85) is fresh and flavourful and includes an outstanding mini-bruschetta. Baked chestnut mushrooms (�5.25) with smoked mozzarella, thyme and crispy bread form another tasty choice.
Wild rabbit tagliolini as a main course (�10.95), a slow-cooked rag� with garlic and herbs, mascarpone and Amalfi lemon, has the proper hint of gameyness infused into the pasta and proves a good choice. The generously-sized chicken cacciatore special of the day (�12.95) tastes good but is unadventurous. By contrast, ‘Jamie’s Favourite’ turkey Milanese (�12.25), stuffed with prosciutto and fontina with a fried free-range egg and truffles sounds like a strange mix but gets the taste buds tingling.
No room this time but the peach and almond tart or Amalfi lemon curd slice (�4.95 each) suggest a return would be a good idea.
The noise and confusion are irritating but the food is mostly good – and there’s that name over the door. Go for it – it’s an experience.
The cost of this meal for two was �46.05 plus service. House wines are from �15.95.
BOOK A TABLE
22 Chequer Street
St Albans AL1 3YD
This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.