Jamie Oliver lurves Italy.
Of course you knew that, didn’t you. From The Naked Chef and Jamie’s Great Italian Escape, to even Jamie’s Great Britain, Oliver couldn’t resist masturbating over his love for Italy on every single episode of his various cooking programs, no matter how inappropriate the comment might be. Indeed, Oliver famously proclaimed that he “should have been Italian”. To show how much he loves Italy, Oliver teamed up with his mentor, Italian chef, Gennaro Contaldo and collectively added “restaurateur” to their resumes with the opening of Jamie’s Italian. After opening a string of restaurants in the United Kingdom, Jamie’s Italian’s going international, with Singapore its first international branch after outlets in Dubai, Sydney and Dublin. As someone who has had Discovery Travel & Living (and subsequently renamed TLC) on cable as long as Jamie Oliver’s debut, I had to go down and check the restaurant out.
Jamie’s Italian, I’d assume, represents an aspiration or a metaphor, because it’s not strictly Italian. We’ve got the pasta and the antipasti, but that’s about it. The restaurant chain has also been tasked to represent another of Oliver’s passions – the promotion of healthy eating with fresh ingredients and organic products. To a large extent, the theme of the latter is so overarching that the Italian aspect comes off as an afterthought, and this is intentional. The naked chef resolved that a restaurant chain would be most effective way of putting into practice what he preaches, so the chain’s expansion initially focused on the British countryside, and the menu is consequently, a little more British than one might expect.
I’m just going to come up straight and say that Jamie’s Italian was near a total s**t. While our server shined through, even she couldn’t save the piss-poor quality of the food. There were obviously some kinks that needed to be worked out before it becomes a well-oiled machine, and I’m confident. Paradise Dynasty also dealt with growing pains in its first month of operations, but has since become one of my favorite places for the Shanghainese classic, the xiao long bao.
Jamie’s Italian proclaims that its pasta is made on-site every day, which is allegedly being used as a selling point. I’m always wary about such claims because firstly, you can’t know for sure if it’s true, especially since the restaurant is selling the pasta’s freshness as a premium to justify its higher prices. And with retention rates low and turnovers high, there’s always going to be a fear of inconsistency. This evening, it raised an issue. We ordered the Black Angel Spaghetti, a squid ink spaghetti done aglio oilo with scallops; and a Tagliatelle Bolognese, which is a ragu of beef and pork tossed with herbs, Chianti (an Italian wine) and breadcrumbs. While the former fared slightly better than the latter, both were generally disappointing. The Black Angel Spaghetti was generally bland, and under-seasoned (this was instantly resolved with a generous shake of salt and pepper), but that was the least of its problems. The texture of the spaghetti stuck out like a sore thumb. Other than to perhaps assert to diners that the coarseness of the spaghetti insinuated that it was indeed made on-site, it did little to mash the different components and flavors together. On its own, the white wine sauce was fantastic, but this little saving grace simply didn’t translate onto the scallops nor the pasta, and only served to reinforce the damnation of the dish.
Everybody knows what a good Bolognese should taste like, and when you’re stacked against those odds, it’s going to be very hard to top that unless you’ve got something up your sleeves. One of the easiest pasta dishes to make, and still, it comes up short. The ragu was dry, chunky, uninteresting and similarly under-seasoned. I’ve a bottle of Chianti at home, complete with the enclosed straw basket enclosing the squat bottle – I know how it tastes when drunk and on food, and I couldn’t taste it in here. Never mind if Jamie’s Italian couldn’t deliver on the Black Angel Spaghetti, but to fail so spectacularly with an underwhelming pasta Bolognese which was neither hearty nor comforting, was quite honestly, very disturbing.
Jamie’s Italian Singapore takes more liberty with its desserts (a.k.a, most of the desserts there aren’t available in other Jamie’s Italian restaurants), but still we hoped it’d fare a wee bit better.
I find it very hard to recommend visiting Jamie’s Italian, considering that eateries like Modesto’s, Da Paolo, Spaggedies and even PastaMania (especially for the pasta Bolognese) do it sooo much better, and for cheaper. Maybe I’ll come back some day to see if things improve, but right now, there’s a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.