Celebrity Chef and restaurateur, Jamie Oliver
Celebrity Chef and restaurateur, Jamie Oliver
Image: Getty

Why'd you do it Jamie? Wwhhyyyyy? Let me start by saying that I like Jamie Oliver. I think he stands for everything good about cooking and the sharing of food, and he seems like a nice enough guy. I love his cookbooks. The recipes work: they’re delicious, clever, and useful. But what does Jamie’s Italian in Melrose Arch have to do with his cooking? Not bloody much.

I guess it was plain thick of us to imagine otherwise, but the Jamie brand has a level of integrity which allows one (oh, okay, the gullible) to believe that this might just be the one time a celebrity-endorsed product in the form of a huge franchise machine lives up to its name.

First, some positives. The place looks good (great fonts abound on menus, the kitchen shines, and the loos are swanky). Second, the waiters are really great. And third: from the array of the starters we sampled, the polenta chips, mushroom fritti, and arancini were excellent (in fact, I haven’t had arancini that good in Italy). End of positives. It all went steeply downhill after that.

Come on Mr Oliver. You don’t need the dosh, so why would you put your name to something that you have so little control over?

The real horror was every one of the pasta dishes. What’s the point of the pasta being freshly made when it’s all drowning in sauce? We actually struggled to locate the pasta sheets within the lasagne, which appeared as a small raft in a vast sea of something-like-napoletana.

Too-thick ravioli also gasped its dying breath under an ocean of acidic tomato sugo. Nearby, an intense, un-bolognaisy “bolognese” choked a pile of tagliatelle. Pictures on Trip Advisor indicate that the death by drowning method was not the result of a bad night, but is standard practice. Pizza suffers the opposite fate: biscuit-like crust with no stretch or yield, and dry, tasteless toppings. A side of coleslaw was totally devoid of taste. Weirdly, the burger was the only good main: something I’d actually go back for. My younger son was totally chuffed. Dessert was arbitrary, so I won’t go into details, but just know that it all felt a bit Spur-without-the-sparklers.

We’d gone there for my daughter’s birthday supper. She’s a pathologically cheery child, so it felt crummy that her comment on leaving was, “Wow, what a let-down”. On the website promoting the chain, Jamie tells us that it’s a celebration of Italian. Sorry, but at this Jamie’s Italian, it’s more of an insult: both to Italian food and to the diners. Come on Mr Oliver. You don’t need the dosh, so why would you put your name to something that you have so little control over? I really don’t get it. We felt jolly sorry for ourselves after that dinner, but the person I feel most sorry for is Leanne, the guest-relations manager, who has to sign “Big Love“ on her replies to both good and bad online reviews for the loca franchise, to keep the big-hearted Jamie thing going. Cringe.

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