Another meal out in Manchester; big surprise, it’s another Italian – the city seems to breed them. This time it’s the behemoth of Italians – the big, new, pukka kid on the block that’s fittingly set in a big, bold, behemoth of a building. Even in the city where there’s more Italian places than you can shake your spaghetti at, Manchester hasn’t escaped Jamie’s ever expanding eating empire.
Set in the grand old HSBC building at the top of King Street, Jamie’s chain has sympathetically moved in – most of the stunning old features are there, there’s just the addition of tables and a dark wooden bar with it’s customary parma ham legs and charcuterie hanging off it. Downstairs the personal vaults have hardly been messed around with, they’ve just been turned in to loos with reclaimed toilets. The main vault is now a private dining room, replete with the safe deposit boxes that hundreds of rich Mancunians stuffed their ill gotten gains into – pretty much the same thing that’s now happening in the tills upstairs.
We were sat by the busy kitchen, watching the hustle and bustle of the chefs and the serving staff running in and out – service was pretty spot on and quick; the chap who served us knew everything about every dish and refreshingly, advised us on our food and drinks choices not by price, but by what we wanted and what he felt would show off the kitchen to the best degree.
Starters are the winners at Jamie’s; filled, fiery pepperdews were tamed by a sharp creamy filling; the meat board for one was massive for the £6.95 it cost and t’boy’s special of chargrilled squid salad on fregola was soft, smokey and had an amazing depth of flavour for the simple dish that it was. Despite looking a little sus (or was that just my dirty mind?), the baked courgette with stuffed flower retained a toothsome crunch in both the veg and the crispy panko coating, the sharp stuffing a great answer to the accompanying heavy sauce.
Compared to the well thought out and full of character starters, all the mains – bar the bream acqua pazza – were nothing more than average. Jamie’s makes a big thing of advertising their homemade pasta; that’s great, but if you’re going to shout about it, cook it properly – most were a lot more than al dente whrn they arrived.
The special pasta of the night was a ‘British seafood celebration’ and described as a zesty bowl of gurnard, cockles, scallops and squid. A celebration is a great thing in a bowl, but most of the fish must have been at another party as there was only one rubbery piece of squid, six cockles and a tiny piece of gurnard in attendance: all I got from the ‘refreshing’ chilli, lemon and extra virgin olive oil dressing was some overly aggressive heat and no layers of flavours. Other pastas seemed as middle of the road but fared better with the amount of ingredients they contained (apart from one other British seafood celebration, which contained an even scantier amount of fish than mine did).
As mentioned before the bream was a bit of a star – just pan fried (I hate that as a descriptor) and simply dressed with a sweet cherry tomato and chilli dressing. All that was needed was a bit of bread to mop up the juices but, thankfully, we’d ordered some ‘posh chips’ (covered in truffle oil and parmesan) and they did the trick nicely – unlike Trof’s version, these were heavy on the truffle, crisp, fluffy and a generous portion to boot.
Pudding was predictable – an almond tart was basically a bakewell – good pastry, sweet filling, job done. The chocolate pot with vin santo cream was a hefty portion that we shared; chocolate wasn’t too bitter, cream was interesting – again nothing brilliant, just well done.
As you’d expect there was a lot of wooden board action, enamelled dishes everywhere and beakers to drink from – Jamie’s styling team are pushing out that Jamie signature slap dash, share it with your friends vibe – it’s just a bit too thought out and they’ve kept it on the conservative side of edgy – as you don’t want to be scaring those patrons off. It’s easy to hate Jamie for his shouty, full on character and his seemingly unstoppable money-making machine, but he must be doing something right as the place was full to bursting on the Monday night we went and you have to admire his business acumen. (for more Jamie Oliver love/hate postulating and articulating it much better than I would, check out Jay Rayner’s Guardian comment).
Jamie’s Italian is a chain; a well thought out, profit maximising concept that sets out to bring Jamie’s brand of Italian food to the masses. People need to remember this when they come here – if you want something authentic, Manchester’s got at least a dozen other places you can head to. The place succeeds in what it sets out to do and will probably continue to do very well in a city with no Michelin stars, plus a clientele of mainly provincial families and eager-eyed students.
Ps I live, work and play in Manchester’s provinces and have done for the past 11 years, before you get all het up about my description of the general population.
Price for six starters, six mains, two puddings, two litres of organic house white, two shorts and a port, plus 10% service charge (as we were a large party) – £217.57
Food – 6/10
Service – 8/10
Atmosphere – 8/10
Value for money – 6/10 Starters spot on, mains tad expensive esp the pasta.
Total – 30/40
Go again? Only if food wasn’t going to be the main reason I was going. For families, teenagers’ birthday parties and food-conservative friends it’s the destination to head.
Jamie’s Italian, 100 King Street, Manchester M2 4UW – 0161 241 3901 – Website – Twitter – Facebook