Jamie’s Italian: A warm experience in Oxford
March 29, 2011 4 Comments
Hi… remember me? It’s good to be writing on here again. The vast majority of March was pretty insane, to say the least. But I’m glad I’ve since gotten the chance to take a breather. With winter finals out of the way, the southern California sun is much more of a welcome presence than a torturous tease for the deskbound college student.
Oh, and in the meantime, I went to London for a week. It was a surprise trip after finals and I heartily welcomed the change in pace.
While there, my mom and I explored many of the typical historical sites within the city. But for one of the days, we thought it would be fun to head to Oxford for the day. It was, simply put, the perfect day trip. A mere one hour train ride out of Paddington Station in central London and a cozy, collegiate atmosphere that allowed the two of us to wander on our own without tour guides herding us along the narrow, cobbled streets, I highly recommend anyone who will be in London and is a bit weary after all the shuffling between the Tower of London and Harrods.
Anyhow, it’s a good thing we wandered somewhat aimlessly because we stumbled upon the Jamie’s Italian location in Oxford.
Admittedly, I am mostly unfamiliar with Jamie Oliver’s food. My boyfriend owns a copy of Jamie Oliver’s America, but unfortunately, it is still shrink-wrapped. I have heard of his various television engagements, such as The Naked Chef series, but have honestly never seen a single episode. Nonetheless, I figured his fare would be much more inspiring than the local Pizza Hut or the Opium Den, which I discovered (while cringing) is one of the Chinese restaurants in town.
According to JamieOliver.com,
… [O]ur aim was also to create an environment with a “neighbourhood” feel, inspired by the “Italian table” where people relax, share, and enjoy each other’s company. Jamie’s Italian was designed to be accessible and affordable, a place where anyone is welcome and everyone will feel comfortable, no matter how much you spend or how long you stay.
I definitely think that the dining experience delivered. Solid wood tables, handwritten specials on a blackboard, thick, cottony cloth napkins, and simple presentation are among the subtle touches that put my mom and me at ease. After a long day of walking around some of Oxford’s colleges, taking pictures, and shivering in the mid-March winds, Jamie’s Italian was warm, inviting, and best of all, delicious.
The prices were quite reasonable by British standards I believe, though for us, due to the exchange rate, it would definitely be slightly higher than you might expect for a nice, but casual Italian meal.
I really liked the menu design as well. Hot pink and simple, but quirky fonts–love!
We decided to start with the selection of Italian bread. It was nice to get a full sense of the different textures. Some were really chewy, others crispy and crackly. On the sourdough, there was a particularly nice tang. The only drawback was that we both had to share that little puddle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. For the amount of money we were paying for bread, I thought that they could probably spare two puddles, one per person. The bread is drizzled with a little bit of herb oil though.
At the same time, we had one of the “artisan meat boards.” We chose the English wild boar salami. From the awesome hot pink menu:
From the Cotswolds; this delicious boar meat gives the finest Italian salami a real run for its money!
I don’t know if it’s necessarily the best salami I have ever had, but it was quite good. I liked that it wasn’t overwhelmingly salty, which salami can be, and that each slice didn’t feel slippery with fat. I’m glad we ordered it because it was a tasty pairing with our bread.
We only ordered a pasta dish each, figuring that the portions would be pretty generous. We were right. I ordered the monachelle puttanesca, which is a “seashell pasta with a tomato sauce, capers, anchovies, parsley, green and black olives and herby breadcrumbs.” The seashells were cooked perfectly al dente. Now about the breadcrumbs. My gosh, the breadcrumbs were heaven. I don’t know how they were so spectacular, but they exploded with flavor and lent each bite some salty crunch. Absolutely delicious. The capers also lent a nice brininess to the flavor profile. A wonderful, hearty bowl of pasta.
My mom ordered the “beautiful” (the menu’s words, not mine) bucatini carbonara, which is “tubular spaghetti with crispy friend smoked pancetta and ribbons of leek, tossed with eggs, thyme and Parmesan cheese.”
Perhaps I am revealing my deficiencies in Italian cuisine, but I was intrigued by the inclusion of egg in this dish and the tubularity of the spaghetti. My mom and I each had half of each other’s so I got a wonderful comparison of the two kinds of pasta and the two kinds of sauces. This dish was much meatier, thanks to the pancetta, and the noodles tasted much more buttery (in the best way). A huge fan of leeks, I was pleased that it was prominently highlighted. Creamy, salty, tasty, and topped with a delicate bundle of curly greens, I think I can agree with this dish’s “beautiful” designation.
After it all, we quickly realized how full we were after eating. And unfortunately, no room for dessert. (Though there were so many tempting choices!) Good pasta can really fill you up and keep you going. As we sipped our water and chatted about our trip plans, I could definitely feel that gentle warmth that accompanies good food and good conversation. Growing up as an Asian American, I can attest to the comfort that is intrinsic to a hot bowl of noodles. I infrequently find that same comfort in Italian noodles, and rarely at a restaurant. I think with this experience, I can say that perhaps I just need to look a little harder.