Restaurant review: Jamie’s Italian, EC1

Emma Youle tries the naked chef’s latest venture

For months now there has been a buzz surrounding the busy junction that links cosmopolitan Upper Street and its lesser known neighbour St John Street.

On one corner of the junction, just minutes from Angel Station, the large black glass monolith that is the Angel Building has been slowly taking shape. As cranes lifted metal girders and sparkling solar panels, gradually a new local landmark emerged, and speculation was rife about who would fill the prime retail space at ground floor level. Jamie’s Italian won out to take what must now be one of Islington’s largest restaurant spaces.

The new high street offering from TV’s geezer chef Jamie Oliver comes with a simple concept offering Italian food made with prime ingredients at high street prices. And the design of the new Islington branch is a strange mix of Tuscan chic and industrial warehouse, as rows of cured hams hang alongside massive exposed metal pipe work. With a rowdy bar alongside and nearly every table on a packed Friday night drinking espresso Martini’s, the restaurant has the definite feel of a City haunt.

But what of the food? Our starter platter of antipasti was the standout dish of the night. Massive rustic assortments of cured meats, Italian cheeses, pickles and crunchy salads are served up on long wooden boards balanced on top of cans of tinned tomatoes. Salami laced with a delicate fennel flavour, brown olives with a blast of liquorice kick, mozzarella with a mint and chilli oil, and boar sausage balancing strong creamy flavour with a meaty peppery hit. Enough to tantalise the taste buds for a whole evening.

The main courses however lacked flair. My grilled free range chicken, marinated and char-grilled with a warm tomato, olive and caper sauce, was uninspiring. The bird was tough and the sauce like any from a supermarket. My boyfriend’s feather steak - wafer-thin British beef with sage and prosciutto, flash grilled with a spicy tomato, basil and chilli salsa - left him perplexed. The salsa was simply halved tomatoes and the prosciutto flavour was so lost on the plate, we thought the chef had forgotten an ingredient until we spotted it. The saving grace of the edible but unappetising main courses were the funky chips, with fresh garlic and parsley – a light, fluffy, salty, potato hit of scrumptious flavour. They may be the best fries I have eaten and it’s worth a trip to try these alone.

From a desert list of Italian classics we tried creamy panna cotta with seasonal fruits and Amalfi lemon curd with English raspberries. Both were tasty. It was all washed down with a fruity Montepulciano D’Abruzzo red wine packed with cherry flavour.

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Not everything is perfect with this modern Italian offering, but the service was exceptional and it will certainly appeal to the after work crowd and the stream of theatre goers making their way along St John Street to Sadler’s Wells. The celebrity name alone will no doubt give people a new reason to turn left out of Angel Station.