Despite not being a fan of Jamie Oliver, I was pleasantly surprised on my first visit to his Jamie’s Italian chain some time ago. Since then, however, I’ve been a few more times, and it’s been increasingly more disappointing, culminating in a really disappointing meal on a recent Saturday lunch time, so I thought it was time to update my views!
At the time of eating, I didn’t know I was going to be blogging, so there are no photos with this post – apologies for that.
The thing that strikes me more and more about Jamie’s Italian now is that it is, essentially, no different from any of the other Italian-style chain restaurants (Prezzo, Pizza Express, ASK, Zizzi etc.) other than the fact that it is massively over-hyped and significantly over-priced. On a previous visit, I ordered a burger, having seen one on a neighbouring diner’s table which looked quite nice. Said burger was £11.50, just for the burger: chips were extra and took it up to around £13.50. The burger was a big let down, style over substance, piled high with toppings (so high that it was bordering on impossible to eat unless you dismantled it) but disappointingly dry and tasteless. Unfortunately, the hype surrounding the place seems to make many people think that these prices are justified and, inexplicably, it seems to be somewhere that a lot of people choose to go for special occasions.
The descriptions of the food irritate me as well, with far too many Jamie-esque adjectives, and pretty much everything on the menu is laced with chilli and garlic. I also feel that they try and pack way too many people in to the Cardiff restaurant. It’s always incredibly hectic and noisy, and if they don’t have tables free when you arrive, they encourage you to wait at the bar – but the bar isn’t really a waiting area and you end up feeling crowded and in the way. Toilets are up two flights of stairs and are badly lit and dingy, but again, some people will be blinded by the fact they have unusual old style toilet cisterns and will inexplicably think that this makes the place really cool.
The particular meal that has led me to write this blog was just a quick lunch. Mr W chose one of the small portions of pasta, with a side order of ‘funky chips’ (see above re adjectives, the alternative being ‘posh chips’ – do not even get me started on that one). When his pasta with clams came, the pasta itself was in an almost solid lump in the centre of the plate. It hadn’t been tossed with the sauce at all, and I’d imagine it had been left on the pass for a while, hence the already dry pasta had dried out to the extent that it seemed that it hadn’t been cooked. He was able to stand up a fork in it, so we sent it back. The replacement plate of pasta was better, but the waiter did say rather pointedly to Mr W when it arrived that he needed to toss the pasta in the sauce to stop it from being dry. If that’s how it’s meant to be served, why don’t they do it in the kitchen?
My choice was baked Shetland salmon, which appealed because it was (apparently) served with a zesty, crunchy salad and roasted balsamic veg. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Well, what I actually received was the smallest piece of salmon I’d ever seen, served with what was actually a herb salad topped with grated beetroot (not crunchy) and no discernible dressing, zesty or otherwise. As for the balsamic veg, this consisted of half a beetroot and two baby carrots – without any balsamic flavour to them. I ate it, as it was a perfectly edible meal, just a miniscule portion (again for £11.50) totally devoid of flavour, and more to the point, not at all as described. Jamie, if you must go overboard with the adjectives, please at least try and make sure the food lives up to them. For a light lunch, the quantity of food was just about okay, but for a main meal you’d definitely want some side orders, again taking the price up further. Oddly, Mr W’s starter portion of pasta was much larger than I would have expected.
When asked if I’d enjoyed my meal, I said all that I’ve said above to the waitress, and she was extremely apologetic. To be fair, the service in Jamie’s has always been exceptional – one of my friends said that she thinks that the excellent service actually masks a lot of the negatives for many people, and I think she’s right. When the bill came, both of our main courses had been taken off, which was a nice gesture, but ultimately I’d rather pay and have a decent meal than have a free and disappointing one, especially as with my main course at least, I think it was served exactly as it was supposed to be.
Mr W did point out to me that as a marketer, I should at least appreciate Jamie’s, even if I don’t like it myself, as it is admittedly clever the way they have managed to market themselves as something different from the usual Italian chains when really they are no different, and actually worse in terms of overall customer experience and value for money. Unfortunately, though, it just saddens me that people are taken in by it. My belief is that the best marketing is about taking a great product and getting it out there to the right people in the right way – whereas Jamie’s is a decidedly average product that is hyped up and hides behind good service and flowery language.