I have a bit of a complicated relationship with Jamie Oliver – something which, I am sure, is news to the celebrity chef and English rose. Where we are at right now is that if I am looking for a recipe online I will choose his version over anybody else’s (I’ve got his amazing pasta pepperonata bubbling away behind me as I type, for example) but then he’ll go and say something that will make me awfully uncomfortable while I do it. Like assume I have a store cupboard full of every kind of herb or spice to hand, or a familiarity with really expensive cheeses. Like, mate, I managed to make it to my mid-20s without knowing what a pestle and mortar is but I still have two degrees, so that doesn’t make you better than me.
Plus, he’s trying to ban sugar, which means he is quite possibly Satan.
Like I said, it’s complicated. Which is probably why, despite it celebrating its fifth birthday this summer, it took a personal invitation before I visited Jamie’s Italian Glasgow.
That Mr Oliver does not make food like your wee Italian (great-)granny used to make should be obvious, but it was with a little trepidation that I checked out the menu before mine and Stringer’s visit last weekend. Long-term readers will be aware that I like to keep my food simple, and the idea of an Italian restaurant without pizza on the menu blew my tiny mind. Stringer, of course, was nonplussed even as I yammered on about just having a cocktail and two desserts (well, it was a Sunday night) for my dinner and leaving him to try the proper food. However, I needn’t have worried.
The first thing you have to mention when talking about this restaurant is how gorgeous the surroundings are. Of course, it’s located in the GPO Building on George Square so the striking exterior is a given – but it’s the inside, with its nods to both the rustic kitchen and stylish diner look, and the high ceiling effortlessly adding to the feel of the space, that really takes your breath away. I particularly enjoyed the artwork in the downstairs function area, providing contemporary twists on some local sights – however, as I don’t tend to take my camera to the ladies’ you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Stringer and I were shown to our table by one of the greeters on the door – we called them “the Jamies”, since they all seemed to have adopted a de facto uniform of plaid shirt, scruffy hair and tight jeans – before our waitress came over to take a drinks order. I had a cocktail, of course (a Passionfruit and Mango Smash, and very nice it was too); and Stringer a beer – accompanied by some spicy pepper crisps from the antipasti menu. At this stage our waitress had no idea we were in reviewing, so I don’t know if samplers like this are a regular occurrence or it was just because we told her it was our first time, but it certainly made us feel at home (even if I wasn’t a fan of the ricotta dip).
I think the antipasti menu at Jamie’s Italian is the restaurant’s ethos in microcosm: rustic Italian food made with the finest ingredients, but with a contemporary twist. And frankly, we were too intrigued by the concept of Italian nachos (cheese-stuffed crispy, fried ravioli with a Sicilian tomato sauce) not to give them a try. And then I had my first of what would turn out to be several moments when I was too enthusiastic about the food to give a crap how it would look to civilised human beings of the night: friends, I loved that sauce so much that I had to order a basket of bread to finish it off with, even though our main courses were minutes away.
In the end, I went for one of the specials – a pork chop topped with a tomato and onion-based salsa, which was supposed to be served on a bed of aubergine and some sort of beans but obviously I had it without. I’ve long grown immune to feeling as though fussy orders are an imposition, but the waitress was unbelievably gracious and accommodating about it even by my standards – and even suggest I replace the veg with a side salad. Stringer settled for the Italian steak frites, served with crunchy vegetable slaw and “Italian spiced skinny fries”, but he found the choice even tougher than usual in the face of loads of appealing options.
Here’s the thing about pork chops: they are impossible to eat in a ladylike way, particularly if you’re the sort of lady who particularly enjoys the flavourful, seasoned meat right next to the bone. Mr Oliver, I can only apologise. Please take it as a testament to the quality of your food, and not as a slight on my character.
While Stringer and I both really enjoyed our meaty mains – we are, as my mum has been known to remark over Christmas dinner, a right couple of carnivores – special praise has to go to the sides. I don’t know what was in the Italian spices that Jay’s skinny fries were cooked in, only that I would happily rub it all over my body then proceed to eat my own arm; while my chunky chips were fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside and tasted just like a fried version of my roast potatoes. Which, of course, are Jamie Oliver roast potatoes.
Stringer was so stuffed after his dinner that he only had room for a coffee, while the meat sweats must have addled his brain because why else, after five years of marriage, would he feel the need to ask if I wanted the waitress to leave a dessert menu if she came by when I was in the loo?
Final verdict: it may be on the fancier side of Glasgow’s many Italian restaurant options, but Jamie’s Italian has plenty on the menu for even the fussiest of palates to get wholeheartedly stuck into. Will we be back? Well, there’s a good five things on the menu Stringer’s desperate to try but hasn’t had the chance to yet. I can pretty much bet on it.
DISCLAIMER: I was invited for a meal as a guest of Jamie’s Italian, but all opinions are honest and unbiased. See my full disclosure policy.