So, I'm not a big Jamie Fan. I've never really been a big Jamie fan. It is not just his restaurants that I dislike, I mean Barbecoa was truly terrible, but it is more something about his attitude that I am not overly fond of. He is a bit like Marmite I think, you either love him or hate him. Potential biases aside, I thought I would try Jamie's Italian because I do appreciate that he wants to bring well cooked food to the masses, and for that I've got to respect him. In a city where eating out is so incredible expensive, it is a way nice, and probably very profitable, that he's giving people effectively "designer food" for bargain prices.
I decided to give Jamie one last shot. My friend and I headed to Jamie's on a Tuesday Night. I was prepared to be turned away with a beeper, which we were, because strangely the restaurant seems to have no bar/waiting area. This makes the whole experience on the inefficient side, as people invariably wander off to get a drink somewhere, order their large glass of white wine, and then have their buzzer buzz. So they come back 15 minutes later, whilst the table has been sitting empty for those 15 minutes. Anyway, its all very strange to walk into a half empty restaurant, and be told to wait 20 minutes whilst elsewhere in Covent Garden, bar tenders are being driven mad by Jamies’ buzzers.
The prices fell into the same bracket as Zizis/ Pizza Express etc. Reading the menu however, reminded me of my anti-Jamie sentiment. I find his menus patronizing and a bit sanctimonious. Maybe, I'm wrong but I think if I had repeated some of the phrases on the menu I would have felt uncomfortable saying them to an adult, probably uncomfortable even saying them to one of my seven year old cousins. Things like "funky chips”, " Nachos with 'Angry' Arrabiata sauce" or describing a bottle of wine as "A real treat!" I don’t know. I can’t explain it. Maybe I am the only one who finds it a bit irritating but regardless, this style of menu writing grates on me. On a similar note, he had gone for the incredible tacky thing of pimping out other merchandise on the menu. I mean fine, displaying his cook books by the door, as he did at Barbecoa I believe is one thing or having a little note on the table as they do at Le Gavroche, but selling Jamie's tea towels underneath the wine? Come on.
Full from the guacamole earlier, my friend and I ordered just a large dish of pasta each. I went for the "BEAUTIFUL BUCATINI CARBONARA £6.55/£10.25 -Tubular spaghetti with crispy fried smoked pancetta and ribbons of leek, tossed with eggs, thyme and parmesan cheese." It was okay. Certainly not beautiful. The pasta was at least fresh and the pancetta was nice and crispy but the sauce was on the heavy side and just tasted like there was something missing .
This was accompanied by a carafe of Pinot Grigio, for about 14. Never the wine expert, it tasted fine to me.
To be honest, if I really wanted fairly cheap Italian food in Covent Garden, I think I would have preferred to go to Pizza Express. It's not that it was a bad experience. It just wasn’t worth all the hassle of waiting for 20 minutes, being sent away and then coming back, all for fairly mediocre food served by staff who don’t seem that bothered. Given all the competition in the area, I think it is amazing that there is a wait, but I guess that’s the benefit of a "designer label".
I booked Barbecoa at least a month before I went. I dont know if that is because its incredibly popular, I really doubt it given recent reviews, or if Opentable itself was trying to warn me. Oh, if only I had listened. The only good thing about Barbecoa was its location on top of New Change and therefore an excuse for me to hit the shops, without technically breaking my "I will not shop in January" resolution.
New Change itself I quite liked except the open air concept. London is cold three quarters of the year. Wouldn’t it be nice to walk between stores not only sheltered from the rain but also warm. If not why build a mall at all? Why not just keep with the traditional high street we love so much.
Anyway, we arrived early as the stores at New Change close at 8. We started with pork scratchings in the bar which pretty much set the standard for what was about to come. Despite appearances there was not enough salt. They also seemed to stick together in a way I have never seen other fried foods do. The ‘mole sauce” was bland and flavourless much like the pork scratchings.
We were eventually taken to our table which we could barely see. This is the kind of place where you want to yell “Just turn the lights on!” It's akin to what imagine eating at Dans Le Noir is like. Eventually our eyes adjusted to the darkness and we could see that the restaurant itself is awful. It feels like your sitting in an empty store filled with a load of cheap chairs. Which, in fact, you are. It looks spacious because of the high ceilings but in reality the tables are spaced very close together.
And then there is the view. This is no Galvin At The Windows or Rhodes 24. Yeah, the views are pretty but it's not that pretty - its too low down for the view to be extraordinary. If you went and stood at the store next to the restaurant at night it would be the same experience, except maybe nicer.
We started with Scallop Ceviche – £11.00. Truth be told, it was far too acidic which killed not only any bacteria lurking on those scallops but also my taste buds. At least they were presented nicely in the shell and served with watercress and avocado which softened the lemon flavor slightly.
The ribs came next at £9.00 (I couldn't even take a photo of the ribs it was so dark.) They were on the spicy side although had a nice flavour. The coleslaw that accompanied was nice on the first bite, with a mint flavor that was refreshing but there was a sweetness that became sickly after that.
My pulled pork - £16.00 - was the same sickly conception. I gave up midway through. The cornbread was burnt, the coleslaw was bland and the pulled pork was again, very sweet and very liquid.
The Boyfriend however, liked his Fillet steak - £30.00 - and from what I could make out, through the darkness, it did look perfectly cooked.
We decide to give Barbecoa one last shot and order dessert. I was expecting something classically American - like Mississippi mud pie or something equally satisfying - on the menu but alas no. We settled for Cheesecake 8.00. The lime flavor dominated meaning the typical cheesecake taste wasn’t really there. A layer of whipped egg white and sugar like uncooked meringue sat on the top, which was lovely and helped to balance the lime.
In conclusion, a place of subtle flavours this is not. I left feeling sluggish and truth be told a little bit nauseous, in sharp contrast to my dinner at the not so far away Cigalon.
At £50 a head, for not even 3 courses with only one glass of wine each I think this is a pretty expensive place for dinner.I should have gone to the Nandos opposite.