Jamie Oliver's Italian, Bath - Restaurant Review
Is Jamie's new venture worth the wait? Katie Jarvis finds out...
Hey, listen. I've got this brilliant idea. If you're feeling really really hungry and fancy a treat, why not go and stand outside for an hour?
What do you mean that's a rubbish idea? It's a great idea. It's a Jamie Oliver concept.
And there're about 25 of us doing it right now. In Bath. Feeling pretty silly. Waiting for a table to become free at 'Jamie's Italian'. "Look," I want to say to the people walking past with eyebrows mockingly raised, (obviously making for restaurants that will actually take bookings). "I have to do this for work. I wouldn't do it recreationally. Honest."
A woman with a clipboard comes out of the restaurant and takes our names. "You all need to have your exact dinner money ready... Are you chewing gum? Yes, you. The lanky one with the greasy hair. Spit it out now! And what's the joke? Perhaps you'd like to share it with the rest of the queue?"
She doesn't say that at all. In fact, she's quite nice. But as this is Jamie Oliver's restaurant, I can only assume the concept is based around the school dinner queue. The problem is that they won't take bookings unless you're a party of eight or more. The website promises, "If we're completely full when you arrive, we'll look after you until a table becomes free." Frankly, I've been better looked after in a queue for the Ladies at Paddington. There are rumours circulating among the waiting throng (we've begun to bond; I'll miss some of them) that, when it first opened, waiters brought out tidbits. "And my sister came at Christmas and they gave everyone Jamie Oliver puddings," says another. But clearly, that Halcyon age has passed.
The Clipboard Woman comes out again 20 minutes later, checking we're all still here. "So Jarvis has gone," she says mystifyingly, crossing us off the list. "No," shrieks Ian, in a panicked falsetto, making several people jump. "We're still here." I feel oddly proud.
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We missed a trick, though. The minute we arrived, we should have formed an ad hoc octet with the lady with the eerily-striped hair in front of me and the grumpy couple behind, and used my mobile to book us a table for eight. (I might not have known them beforehand, but we're close friends now.) An alternative tip is to bring along large pieces of card and marker pens so you can write messages to the hapless diners forced to stare through the glass walls at the antagonistic queue: "Eat quickly or we'll storm the building."
When we finally get in - to the bar; in a religious analogy, this would be purgatory (a sort of holding place) - we order overpriced drinks and wait another 10 minutes. When we finally get to our table (80 minutes after arriving), the very wood from which it's made looks scrumptious. "Menu or glucose drip?"
But things do start to get a lot better (NB the competition threshold is low at this juncture). Though the young chefs in the on-view kitchen looked stressed, they're not as het up as we are. And though the d�cor is distressed (faux torn wallpaper, trattoria-style), it's not as (etc, etc).
For the food turns out to be... just fantastic. Superb. Wonderful. Yes, really. And not expensive, either. We've brought two of the three children, and even Ellie (when young, the fussiest eater ever; at a family friend's once, she refused to eat Weetabix because the poor woman had 'put the milk on in the wrong way') agrees to try lasagne for the first time and loves it. I almost pass out. Mad with joy, we order a meat antipasti between us (cured meats, mozzarella, pecorino with a gorgeous chilli jam); and a tagliatelle Genovese (only disappointment of the meal). And we follow that up with said-lasagne (rich, creamy, just lovely), a chargrilled organic buffalo burger, and chicken cooked under a brick (free-range Devonshire red, with a fab tomato, chilli and caper salsa). The bread basket isn't, at face value, cheap (�3.25) - focaccia, sourdough country bread, grissini sticks 'snappy music bread' with lemon and rosemary gremolata - but it's so good, the kids would happily make a meal of it alone.
The service is medium to slow at times; the staff are almost entirely character-and-charmless. But, hey: we're here to eat. We finish with a chocolate banana brownie, a bakewell tart and a bowl of Italian ice cream. 20 billion, zillion calories but we pre-burned most of them off during the wait.
And all for under �100. Lovely jubbly.
According to Mr Personality, our waiter, you can expect to queue like that on Saturdays and most evenings from 6pm. Take a sleeping bag and sandwiches. You'll come away feeling full, forgiving, and with a whole new raft of lifelong friends.
Value for money 8
Jamie's Italian, 10 Milsom Place, Bath, BA1 1BZ; 01225 510051 www.jamiesitalian.com