Saturday 18 February 2012

Jamie’s Italian, Manchester

On Valentine’s Day I got the chance for a sneak preview of Jamie Oliver’s new Italian on King Street, Manchester (see here). After having a good look around, I fell in love with the place but as they say, ‘The way to a man's heart is through his stomach.’

So for the love to last, the food had to match the impressive surroundings. Today I got the opportunity to taste that food at one of their ‘soft openings’ before the official opening on Monday 20th February. The result? I’m smitten!

I feel it’s right and proper to point out that my wife and I were dining out as guests of Jamie’s restaurant publicist but our ‘VIP’ status and the fact that the meal was ‘complimentary’ has not swayed my opinions.

As we arrived all seemed to be running smoothly (although, no doubt, there was some duck action going on, with their little legs paddling furiously beneath the surface). All staff were well trained – the service from our knowledgeable waitress, Rhianna, was faultless as she was clearly  well versed in all of the dishes.

Of course as a ‘soft’ opening, it could rightly be argued that we did not experience a typical service; although, the restaurant was fully operational, serving a full house from the full menu.

Going into the Naked Chef’s ‘naked restaurant’ earlier in the week, it had seemed a little like the Mary Celeste and I was keen to see it dressed with diners. As it started to fill up, good vibes were palpable from the clatter at the open kitchen, clinking of glasses and chatter from contented customers.

To start my wife and I decided to share an antipasti ‘plank’, starring the seasonal charcuterie for £6.85 a head (we ordered one head’s worth); a selection of Italian breads and some of ‘The World’s Best Olives’.

Antipasti Meat Plank
Charcuterie always tastes better when served on a plank and the meats were all good quality. Featuring: Tuscan fennel salami, Schiacciata picante, pistachio mortadella and my favourite, the San Daniele prosciutto.

Also on the platter: fresh buffalo mozzarella; pecorino topped with chilli jam; a green chilli; a plump caper berry; a gorgeous Gaeta black olive and a ‘Nocellara del Belice Castelvetrano DOC olive’ or as Jamie calls it, the ‘World’s Best Olive’.

World's Best Olives On Ice
Thankfully, after getting a taste on the antipasti platter we had also ordered a serving of the ‘World’s Best Olives, served on Ice’ for 
£3.75 - I wouldn’t know if they are actually the world’s best but I’d certainly enjoy trying to find some better as these were certainly something special. The accompanying black olive tapenade containing sundried tomato was absolutely delicious - I can see myself ordering these every time we visit.

Italian Bread Selection £3.75
Feeling I should select something especially Italian I decided to choose two small pasta plates instead of one main dish.

Wild Truffle Risotto
The ‘Wild Truffle Risotto’ for 
£6.75 sounded perfect – what could be better than a risotto made with butter, Parmesan and Acquerello (the King of Carnaroli) rice, topped with finely minced and sliced heady black truffle?

Wild Mushroom Panzerotti
My other main choice was the ‘Wild Mushroom Panzerotti’
for £6.55.
 Half-moons of pasta filled with brown cap and porcini mushrooms topped with chilli, thyme, ricotta and Parmesan – tasty but not set to become as firm a favourite as the risotto.

Cockles Linguine
My wife selected a small pasta plate, the ‘Cockles Linguine’ for £8.20. 
Most  of other Jamie’s Italian restaurants serve ‘Linguini Vongole’ or ‘clam linguine’ but it’s good to see that they are making use of the North West’s excellent cockles (if you are thinking they are one and the same, simply put - all cockles are clams but not all clams are cockles). Steamed with with garlic, chilli and white wine and tossed with butter and lemon the sauce was deliciously winey. 

'Famous Polenta Chips' and 'Posh Chips'
Sharing portions of Jamie’s ‘Famous Polenta Chips’ for £3.45 and ‘Posh Chips’ for  £3.25, it was tough to decide which were better. First, I tasted the perfectly cooked posh chips with their truffle oiled goodness and Parmesan punch; then a polenta chip with its Parmesan and rosemary – both were exceptional; I kept going from one to another and before I knew it they had inextricably all gone leaving me unable to come to a decision. Only one thing for it, I’ll have to go back, order them both again and try once more to decide.

Gorgonzola Winter Salad
Finishing our sides, a ‘Gorgonzola Winter Salad’ dressed with 
walnuts, pear and sticky balsamic for £3.75 – my wife loved this. I was unsure; strangely, I tasted a hint of chocolate. We both agreed that the ‘Buttered Sliced Brussels’ with garlic, chilli and capers for £3.60 was excellent.

Buttered Sliced Brussels
For her dessert, my wife chose the creamy, wobbly ‘Panna cotta’ for £4.95 
served making the most of great seasonal produce with a “tart” rhubarb compote.

Panna cotta
For my dessert I selected an ‘Amalfi Lemon Curd Slice’ for 
£4.95, an unusual choice for me but one which I was very happy with. Smooth, lemony curd, soft buttery base, toasted pistachios and tartly sweet crushed berries – vibrant and wonderfully fresh, it marked a fitting end to an excellent meal.

Amalfi Lemon Curd Slice
What better way to end an Italian meal than with a glass of the ‘wine of friendship’ Vin Santo? (Tegrino Tuscany, 2005 Cantine Leonardo £4.99 for 70ml)  – personally, I’d have liked a cantucci to dip, but then I am just greedy!

I said at the start, ‘The way to a man's heart is through his stomach.’ Jamie’s Italian has certainly won the hearts (and the stomachs) of my wife and me.

Of course, at the moment, everyone involved is geared up to impress. It will be interesting to observe how well they maintain these standards over time. In the name if research, I'll have to keep going back to check. 

Jamie's Italian on Urbanspoon

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