Thursday, 20 May 2010

Jamie's Italian, Leeds

Having eaten at Fifteen in Cornwall a couple of years ago, and been thoroughly impressed with the whole Jamie Oliver experience, I was keen to try out Jamie's Italian that has just opened in Leeds.

Now, with 10 branches in cities such as London Bath, Oxford, Cardiff, Reading, Bristol & Brighton, Jamie's Italian is essentially a celebrity endorsed high street chain restaurant. Love him or hate him, for my part I am generally a fan of what Jamie Oliver is trying to achieve. This is also his first foray into the north of England and I think it will benefit the city so I am really keen for it to live up the hype and succeed.

The restaurant is housed in an old bank on Park Row and on entering I was immediately impressed with the way it has been sympathetically converted. The old ceiling has been left in situ and is a great feature; rather ripping out the heart of the building many of the original features have been left and incorporated into the new more industrial, modern design.

We arrived around 6pm on a Wednesday evening, early enough to avoid the long queues we'd heard a lot about during opening week, and we walked straight in. The staff on the reception desk consulted the computerised seating plan, which confirmed that there were tables available, and we were promptly shown upstairs. Both floors are dominated by large open kitchens where you can watch the staff at work; the one upstairs is adorned with legs of ham and charcuterie which makes a great visual focal point.

Jamie's Italian is designed to be a neighbourhood restaurant, accessible to all. The atmosphere definitely promotes this; there is a comfortable, laid back feel. Still, there is a vibrant buzz about the place too. I like the large spacious layout and the huge windows lined with dining booths running the length of the upstairs. It's also good to hear some decent music in a restaurant; wholly subjective of course, but a bit of indie pop is a welcome addition in my eyes.

The young team add to the contemporary vibe and were really enthusiastic and friendly, whilst still managing to be efficient and knowledgeable.

The menu is definitely Jamie's take on Italian food; it probably isn't for the traditionalist. I doubt Lamb chop lollipops, char grilled chop steak beef burger or Fish in a Bag make an appearance on many authentic Italian menus, in name at least, but as a concept it works and makes a refreshing change to the usual suspects on Italian menus.

I had to go for one of the impressive looking antipasti starters that were flying out of the kitchen, so chose the Seasonal Meat Antipasti Plank. The wooden plank duly arrived and was propped theatrically on a couple of tins of tomatoes. It consisted of 4 different types of cured meat, all good quality and delicious: Tuscan fennel salami, pistachio mortadella, San Daniele prosciutto and Schiacciata piccante. There was also a ball of buffalo mozzarella and a slice of pecorino topped with chilli jam. It was accompanied by a selection of pickles such as a green pickled chilli, green and black olives and a caper berry, along with a coleslaw of root veg with a lemon and mint dressing.
I also ordered the selection of Italian breads, some of which was made on site, the rest in Jamie's bakery. It included ciabatta, focaccia, sourdough, grissini sticks and 'snappy music bread’ (wafer thin shards of crisp bread). We were also delivered some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a little saucer to dip the bread in. Together they made a great casual starter.

Dave's starter was Sausage Pappardelle. The wide crinkly ribbons of homemade pasta were cooked al dente and came with a sauce of slow cooked Italian sausage, tomatoes and red wine. It was a savoury, meaty gravy rather than the more usual sweet tomato flavor you expect from a ragù, but was rich and delicious.

For mains I chose the Rose Veal Parmigiana; a pan fried tender veal chop encased in a crisp breadcrumb coating and served with a tomato sauce. The veal was tasty and tender, the sauce was gutsy; plum tomatoes laced with whole slivers of garlic and a chili kick. The only minor problem was the fact that the veal was served on top of the wet sauce which left the bottom very soggy. Dave opted for the Chicken cooked under a brick and was served a juicy free-range chicken halved, boned, marinated and then char grilled and served with a warm tomato, olive, chilli and caper sauce.

We accompanied our mains with sides of Radicchio, Rocket and Parmesan Salad and Crispy Polenta chips with rosemary salt and parmesan (yes, you have to order sides separately). The salad was fresh, nicely dressed and tasty. The polenta was a revelation – chunks rather than chips, but they were deliciously crunchy on the outside with soft polenta inside.

This is rustic, simple food but well made with good seasonal ingredients, sourced both locally and in Italy. I was amazed by the amount of flavour packed into all the dishes.

With the generous portions we were too full and had to skip desert. The bill came to just over £60, including a couple of rounds of chilled beers, and although not cheap we felt that overall this represented good value for a mid-range restaurant of this quality.

Jamie's Italian certainly didn't disappoint; it's a great addition to the Leeds restaurant scene. Let's hope he can maintain standards and cement his place offering great quality Italian food on the high street.

35 Park Row, Leeds, LS1 5JL


  1. Looks like everyone except for me has been here! I must admit it looks good.

  2. I thought it was a very enjoyable meal, and makes a refreshing change from most Italian restaurants serving the same old mix of pasta and pizza. If you went in there wanting to dislike it I'm sure you could find many things to complain about it - as The Donk says there is a lack of authenticity, and the fact that you can buy Jamie memorabilia is not something I particularly applaud. But the food itself was very nice and tasty.

  3. Hi - I've just found after replying to your comment on my blog that you're not a Devon lass but a Yorkshire one - I enjoyed reading this posting and have become a follower. I'm with you on the Hugh / Nigella divide, although I do use her cook books (and of course I'm insanely jealous of her!)I can't bear watching her.

  4. I always thourght you were a Lancashire lass rather than either a Devonshire or Yorkshire one :0)