Restaurant review: Jamie's ItalianBy Hilary Scott
July 04, 2012
Every time I’ve been to Italy, something’s gone wrong.
A train strike which meant spending 300 euros on a taxi from Rome to Umbria, a missed ferry which meant losing a night in our holiday hotel and then a relationship (which wasn’t much cop to be honest) ending the day before we were due to travel to Rome.
That visit, in fact, proved to be the best as I was staying with friends who rallied round, got honest and finally told me they’d “never liked him” and made it a fun-filled time.
Yet the stand-out memory was stopping at a porchetta van on the outskirts of Rome on the way to the airport and standing by the roadside devouring the crispy, herb-filled pork ‘de panino’, in a roll.
You can see the vans in certain parts of Italy, particularly the Abruzzo region and that’s all they sell. Just pork and bread, no apple sauce (mama mia!), no chips, no vegetables. And it’s simply the best pork in the world.
So when I got to Jamie’s Italian on The Oracle Riverside to try the new summer menu and saw porchetta on the specials board, I had to have it.
And it took me right back to the A90, ingesting petrol fumes and all.
But first to the primi, the first courses. Still on the menu are Jamie’s ‘World’s Best Olives on Ice’ (£3.75) which really are – and one of my guests had never had them before. “They look fake they are so big and plump and green,” she said before agreeing they were just amazing. The planks of meat, fish and vegetables are still being served so we had a meat one (£6.85 per person), and some posh chips (with truffle oil and Parmesan, £3.25).
We also had a portion of Crispy Stuffed Risotto Balls (£4.95) – they had a great crunch on the outside and oozed smoked mozzarella and porcini risotto.
New on the menu was Courgette Fritto (£6.50), a courgette flower filled with ricotta, mozzarella, mint and lemon served with a rocket pesto and salsa rosso crudo, basically an uncooked tomato sauce, and deep-fried.
The ricotta, mint and lemon were the flavours that shone through as we tore open the flower and as they leaked into the sauce it became creamy and even more delicious. Deep-frying didn’t make it greasy at all, simply a little cracked and crusty. This is luscious and a must-try.
As, of course, is the porchetta. As it should be, the pork was stuffed with, in Jamie speak, ‘loadsa herbs’ and garlic and the meat was butter soft with a thick, sea-salted crust which shattered like glass when tapped.
It came with smashed roast baby new potatoes, again bristling with sea salt, and a slice of lemon. Simple but, for me, Italy on a plate (and without the petrol fumes).
There were three of us dining – one was lucky to get the biggest piece of turkey I and Bernard Matthews can ever have seen at any time of the year.
Jamie’s Favourite Turkey Milanese (£12.25) was a flattened piece of turkey, almost Trevi Fountain-sized, stuffed with prosciutto and fontina cheese and topped with a fried egg and truffles. We said she wouldn’t finish it and she didn’t, but Fred Flintstone appetites would be happy with this meaty cheese feast.
My other dining pal decided she’d try Jamie’s wife Jools’ choice – Jools’ Favourite Sicilian Tuna Fusilli (£7.95 for a starter/£11.95 for a main). Sweet with tomatoes, herbs and garlic it also has a little cinnamon running through it and comes with a topping of crunchy, herby breadcrumbs. Again, the plate was brimming and it was the tomatoey taste that was most pungent.
We had devoured a lot of food. And so we did that thing you do with the dessert menu because you’re not really that hungry any more, ie take ages and change your mind three times. “I just couldn’t... or could I? Oh go on then. What’s the lightest? Oh they’ve got tiramisu and chocolate brownie. Three spoons? Yes then it will feel like we’re just being a little naughty... Oh is that really bad?”
But our waiter was ever so patient and had heard it all before. The Tiramisu (£4.95) has orange-flavoured mascarpone (I liked) and was a thick and solid hit of chocolate, coffee and orange – and our waiter had happily advised the warm Brownie (£4.95) that came with vanilla ice cream could come with another flavour and so we ordered the zabaglione gelati with it. Again the portion was proper pud sized.
For me, Italian meals have always meant finishing with a shot of limoncella, but we’d downed two bottles of Prosecco and eaten so much, Jamie had us beat.
Whatever your impressions of Jamie’s, this latest menu is by far his best. From noon to 6pm he has added a £15 Proper Italian feast, which is a selection of starters and mains for two or more to share which begs a try.
So if you’ve missed a train or a ferry lately or even had your heart broken this menu will be therapy, honest – but if nothing dramatic has happened to you recently, did you know that tiramisu means a pick-me-up in Italian? And we all need some of those.
Jamie’s now takes any party size except Fridays and Saturdays between 6.30pm and 9.30pm, when the minimum number for a booking is six.
- Telephone: 0118 907 0808
- Website: www.jamieoliver.com/italian/reading
- Address: Jamie’s Italian
The Oracle riverside