The ubiquity of Mr Oliver’s mug and his transformation over the years from pesky, young culinary scamp to pesky, grown-up healthy-eating crusader means you’re likely to have an opinion on him one way or another.
Mine, for the record, is one that I imagine I share with a fair few others. Sure, he can be a bit irritating at times, but he seems a decent enough bloke and it’s hard not to admire his activism – mostly (but not exclusively; see Jamie’s Dream School for example) centred on his relentless passion for eating well – and his considerable success.
His restaurants, particularly the flourishing Jamie’s Italian chain, are very much products of their creator, with a focus on serving rustic Italian food in exactly the sort of bright and convivial atmosphere you would expect Jamie and his mates to be hanging out in. There will, obviously, be those who turn their cynical noses up and that, I can happily tell you, is their loss, particularly when it comes to the group’s Threadneedle St outpost.
Based in the spacious and lofty shell of the old Bank of Scotland premises, it’s a big restaurant with vast, circular lamps hanging from lofty, intricately-decorated ceilings. Ask for a table in the smaller, upper floor overlooking the main dining room and you’ll get an aerial view of marble pillars, bustling diners and dangling hams.
Speaking of which, we began our meal with a ‘meat plank’ – a wooden slab balanced on two tins of tomatoes (very Oliver) laden with slices of prosciutto, wonderfully light mortadella studded with pistachio, and fennel salami. There are pickles, too, along with little balls of creamy buffalo mozzarella and slices of pecorino drizzled with a sweet chilli jam, which, our waitress explained, was “made by Jamie’s friends”. Of course it was. It was also delicious, as was the rest of a selection that couldn’t have showcased Oliver’s focus on the quality and provenance of ingredients any better had it tried.
Nor could our main courses. My partner’s Devonshire lobster ravioli, in a beautifully sweet saffron and tomato sauce, was a delight, while my halibut, wrapped in San Daniele and sprinkled with flecks of charred chilli, on a bed of lightly minted crushed peas, was a perfect union of British fish and Italian meat.
It’s exactly the kind of cooking with which Jamie Oliver made his name, and it’s also what makes this City-based Jamie’s Italian work so well – in a grand old building dripping with old-world banking grandeur, it delivers good food, a lively atmosphere and plenty of Oliver charm. Prices are sensible – this is great-tasting food rather than fine dining, after all – but fundamentally the restaurant is fun, and no one can have too much of that at the moment.
Jamie’s Italian, 38 Threadneedle St, EC2R 8AY; 0203 005 9445; jamieoliver.com/italian