It's a little un-dante, innit?
I personally like Jamie Oliver and what he is doing with food revolution, so despite with all the mixed reviews about Jamie's Italian restaurant in Sydney, I remain skeptical until I have the opportunity to visit the restaurant with an unbiased opinion and experience it for myself. The Pom and I are in town on a cold rainy weekend for Vivid Sydney and decide to pay Jamie's Italian a visit.
Nothing beat hearty simple traditional Italian food on a chilly winter night, right?
The infamous long wait at Jamie's Italian can enter the Book of Guinness World Records, up to 2 hours from waiting outside then at the wine bar, to finally sitting down at the table is not unheard of. We make sure to arrive early at 5.30pm to beat the dinner crowd, there is already a queue but short. We are given a buzzer and well informed that there will be a 10-15 minutes wait before proceeding to the wine bar until we get called. I timed it, it wasn't 15 minutes wait, but not far off. There is now a troop of hungry Jamie's fans blocking the entrance, waiting patiently as we ascending to the upper level where our table is.
The restaurant may look small from the outside but you'd be surprised that the restaurant can housed 200-300 patrons easily. It is a long split-level open space stretches all the way to the back where the kitchen is. Whilst downstairs has the rustic industrial feel decor with tainted mirrored walls and studded leather couches, upstairs is a little funkier with unrendered wall spray painted with graffiti.
We are at the last table on the upper floor which offers a bird's eye view of all the action in the kitchen. All the chefs are busy manning their own stations, "Service!" are called out every few seconds; pots and pans are thrown into plastic tubs under the kitchen bench as there is no time to waste and have to start cooking the next order - the kitchen is noisy, very noisy. I get the whole concept of a casual dining with a bustling atmosphere, but should be from the patrons not the kitchen.
Bread and wine to start our dinner, simply can't go wrong with that. We snack on the complimentary selection of house-made focaccia, sourdough, ciabatta, tortano and wafer thin carta di musica while we are perusing the menu. The bread is drizzled with basil olive oil and an extra dipping of EVOO and aged balsamic on the side. To drink, we share a bottle of Cantina Tollo Aldiano Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Riserva, as described on the menu - it's "Cherry Ripe" in a glass!
The menu is a classic Italian menu consists of nibbles, pasti, pasta, secondi (with sides) and dolci. We skip nibbles and straight into antipasti. Even though I already knew The Pom dislike pumpkin, but my mind is already set and order the pumpkin and burrata purely because is 'burrata'. As soon as it arrives at our table, my smile turns into frown; the promising burrata looks more like a buffalo mozzarella. As I cut it open, it doesn't ooze but with an elastic tendency just like a bland mozzarella. The roasted pumpkin is surprisingly served cold, simple dressing of ages balsamic and EVOO and a shave of pecorino helps to elevate its sweetness.
The baked mushrooms dish looks a lot better, thin slices of swiss browns are arranged meticulously inside an edible bowl of carta di musica (music bread), then cover with smoked buffalo mozzarella and baked until the cheese is melted and super-stretchy. The moisture from the mushrooms slowing seeping into the pastry underneath which turn a little soggy. It is not a good sign when The Pom starts grinding salt over the dish as we both rarely reach for the salt and pepper grinders on the table when dining out. The dish is a little lack of seasoning, otherwise it is a dish we will happily order again.
We order two pasta dishes in smaller portions to share. "Finely shaved wild black truffles tossed with butter, Parmesan & nutmeg. A real luxury." - a promising description on the menu for the truffle tagliatelle that convinced us to order it. The pasta smells wonderful when the wait staff brings the dish to our table, a tiny slice of black somewhat wet truffle sits on a small mound of tagliatelle with melted parmesan on a simple garlic butter sauce. Can't really taste any nutmeg, but the flavour of the rich butter sauce with earthy truffle fragrant is delightful. However, we find the pasta is a little undercooked with sticky texture. The term "al dente" means "to the tooth", doesn't mean the pasta should stick to the teeth but rather referring to the firmness of pasta that need to be chewed. Unfortunately in our case, the more we chew on the tagliatelle, the more they stick in the teeth.
The black angel spaghetti suffers the same un-dante fate, it is a little unpleasantly undercooked sticky. Otherwise, this dish can easily be our favourite of this evening, the flavour is incredible with an intense sauce of garlic, chilli, anchovies, wine and capers that packs quite a heat punch.
We want to keep our mains simple, traditional Italian food just like nonna used to make and let the dishes take us to a small village somewhere in Italy. We both decide that you simply can't go wrong with an Italian classic and order the grilled chicken. I sincerely expecting a whole grilled chicken, chopped in half then served on a plate with bones and all. Strangely the chicken comes in two schnitzel-like pieces, marinated then chargrilled with a slight smokey flavour ; served with tomato, olive, chilli and caper relish. Since the breast had been flattened, it is a tad dry at parts. I am missing the pleasure of picking the chicken with fingers and sucking the bones dry on this dish.
I order the fritto misto, expecting a dish equivalent to a seafood basket, piled with crispy fried fish, whitebait, school prawns, anything that will taste good with the tartare sauce. Again, totally not what I expected. It is an impressive looking dish, it resembles a lively moment of fish and prawn being caught and entangled in a fishing net which is made of not nylon but deep fried vermicelli. Are those deep fried crispy lemon slices meant to be jelly fish?
The huge king prawn is perfectly cooked, sweet tender flesh with a nice firm, springy texture. On the other hand, the deep-fried fish fingers are not at all crispy and the batter is also a little doughy, that's when the tartare sauce saves the day. As much as I like crispy deep-fried vermicelli, but there seem to be an excessive amount on the plate which I find a little incohesive and impractical with the seafood.
The Pom's favourite dessert is tiramisu and dead set to order it here at Jamie's. The tiramisu here is a generous serving of coffee-flavoured trifle with chocolate cream, served with a scoop of orange mascarpone on top. The trifle is a little soggy from soaking in watery espresso coffee and the spongecake also has a very coarse texture. I don't think The Pom is overly impressed.
My brownie is more of a chocolate cake, not fudgey but airy and crumbly; studded with raspberries then drizzled with hot chocolate sauce over the top, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. I still enjoy it nevertheless.
Our bill comes to $170.00 for two people, not including the two beers we had at the bar. It is still consider reasonable on the verge to the pricey side, but we did eat a lot! I am more than happy to pay that price if I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, and I am sure Jamie Oliver is a pretty cool guy, but sadly we left Jamie's a little underwhelmed and let's leave it at that.
Jamie's Italian 107 Pitt Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Ph: +61 2 8240 9000
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 11.30am
Booking only available for 6 people or more