In Adelaide, one of the latest additions to the Jamie Oliver empire is worth a visit or several.
BY JOHN CORBETT. The psychology of celebrity chefs, and indeed of anyone who succeeds on a global scale, is always intriguing. Whatever impels them to embark on fleets of own-name restaurants, TV shows, websites, cookbooks, magazines, merchandising deals – and latterly, in the case of Jamie Oliver, philanthropy and G20-level political activism – usually involves a personal demon or two.
In Oliver’s case he comes from a working-class background, is dyslexic and left school at 16 with two Year-11 qualifications. These may or may not be his drivers, but regardless of whether the 40-year-old cheeky-chappy from Essex eventually publishes his memoirs or chooses to tell all in a YouTube interview, the rest of his career is rather impressive history.
One of the latest additions to the ever-expanding Oliver empire is the Adelaide branch of Jamie’s Italian, which opened in September 2014. There are now, according to the Jamie’s Italian website, six Jamie establishments in Australia: in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Adelaide, plus a Jamie’s Trattoria (a spin-off venture) in Parramatta. Four more restaurants are planned for Australia and two for New Zealand, in addition to the 30 now operating worldwide.
Jamie’s Italian Adelaide does – and doesn’t – have the feeling of a franchise. On the one hand you can’t miss the wall of Jamie-branded merchandise – coffee mugs, tea towels, tins of Acquerello risotto rice and cookery books (all, no doubt, signed) – as you enter, or the name printed on the cloth napkin at your table. Nor can you miss the antipasto bar with its montage of artfully lit charcuterie that is the centrepiece of every Jamie’s Italian dining space.
On the other hand, the 172-seat Adelaide restaurant has a unique physical charm that must have thrilled Jamie’s location scout: the Deco-style banking chamber of the former Westpac Building at 2 King William Street (close to North Terrace) is surely one of the most beautiful rooms in a city that brims with stunning historic buildings; you feel aesthetically pleased and energised as soon as you walk in.
Some of that energy is contributed by the service, a seemingly well-oiled machine that seated us immediately, offered menus, explained specials, brought water to the table and took our drinks orders straightaway; super-efficiency like this always warms my old crocodile heart. And, wonder of wonders, the table staff also came past at regular intervals and actually paid attention to us. Service-starved diners of the world, what more could you want?
A drink, for a start. The table staff made much sure we noticed the Jamie’s South Australian Wine Selection menu (five whites, five reds), which may have been an aftermath of the restaurant’s opening a couple of months earlier with an all-Italian wine list; in South Australia this is practically a lynching offence and the social mediasphere went into orbit.
I wasn’t fussed by the glass of First Drop Vivo Arneis (2013, Adelaide Hills, $12.50) I chose to go with a Caprese Salad ($12.00), but that was my bad because a red wine would have been a better match with the tomatoes. The glass of Vigna Cantina Sangiovese (2012, Barossa Valley, $11.00) I chose to accompany an antipasto serving of Three Cheese Gnocchi tasted fine.
The food had a couple of minor bumps as well. The Caprese Salad was underseasoned but I soon fixed that with a sprinkle of salt. My lunch companion’s ricotta tortellini looked gluggy and congealed on the plate, but apparently tasted good – I took her word for it. I enjoyed the gnocchi, which were topped with chopped basil and shaved parmesan and fetchingly arranged on a rustic-painted plank.
One of the desserts redeemed all: the Tutti Frutti Lemon Meringue Pie ($10.50) is apparently a creation of one of the Adelaide chefs and has received Jamie’s personal nod. It is the most towering example of a lemon meringue pie I have ever seen and with its limoncello-infused base and scattering of crunchy pistachio brittle it tasted wonderful. Six older ladies contemplating coffee at the next table eyed it and promptly signalled a waitress.
Which brings me to some of the reasons why Jamie’s Italian is a place you genuinely want to come back to.
“The remit,” Oliver was quoted as saying recently, “[is] about really accessible, affordable Italian comfort food. Sort of the greatest hits album.” In that vein, the ample menu (Antipasti & Sides, Mains, Pasta, Desserts and even a Kids’ menu) strolls along the boot of Italy with (amongst much else) Osso Bucco-Style Lamb, Tagliatelle Bolognese, Tuscan-style Chicken Liver Bruschetta and Sicilian-inflected seafood dishes. The quality of the food, while not stellar, is good and there is a lot you feel impelled to try. If your friends are in a mood for sharing, the Antipasti menu is a useful way to sample a variety of tastes.
Another other attractive thing about Jamie’s Italian is its energy and buzz. From our corner table, we had a good view of the near-capacity crowd of locals, tourists, family groups and suits – a pretty good achievement for a Monday lunchtime. The older ladies at the next table also provided us with amusing intelligence about the downstairs toilets, which are apparently “like the ones you see on dodgy websites.” The loos, we later found, are located in the former vaults where the bars and rails of the old bullion cages create an amusing S&M/prison-type ambience.
That’s probably the main thing about Jamie’s Italian: it’s fun. It conveys a sense of dining as theatre and the prices are reasonable ($12-$13 average for antipasti; $14.75 to $29.95 for pasta; $21 to $47.50 for mains). And as you would expect from a chef who has been fascinated with Italian cuisine since the age of 20, there are enough knowledgeable and well thought-out dishes to reward repeat visits. At various Jamie’s Italians across Australia they include (Trend Alert!) Onglet (a.k.a. hanger steak), a little-celebrated and marvellous cut of beef long prized in Italy and France and now set to sweep the world. Get in ahead of everybody and try it at Jamie’s Italian.www.alimentary.co.nz. #RestaurantAustralia
Photos: Jamie’s Italian Adelaide; John Corbett.
John Corbett travelled to Adelaide courtesy of Tourism Australia and South Australian Tourism Commission.