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Jamie's Italian, King Street, Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield has a natter about Coldplay and the Cult of Independence

Written by . Published on January 30th 2014.


Jamie's Italian, King Street, Reviewed
 

THERE are certain restaurants that resemble Coldplay.

They might be massively popular with a huge profile but they are despised almost instinctively by critics, would-be critics and trendies.

The reasons for such loathing in both food and music tend to be the same. The restaurant or band has sold-out, it lacks authenticity, has gone bland, is artificial and over-marketed.

Or in the case of Coldplay there's a moment in every song where Mr Paltrow runs out of words and warbles, "Oh-oh-oh-ohhhh-o, Oh-oh-oh-ohhhh-o".

Chip all that marketing overkill away, get rid of the name and this Italian restaurant can be judged on its merits. 

Jamie's Italian in Manchester suffers from this trendy prejudice more than most. Thus many Manc food-lovers with their finger on the pulse and many of those curious sorts fond of public bloggery find the diamond geezer's empire building lacking the Faith. For these people the word INDEPENDENT has replaced the word GOD as a belief system. 

This Cult of The Independent lies mainly on the left of the political spectrum and its temples are back-street coffee shops, little one-off restaurants (too often with brief lives), bars with sharing platters and craft beers, music venues in damp basements, vintage-clothing boutiques, second-hand bookshops with tearooms and Wifi.

Most of the time I’m one of these people. Most of the time. Give me a pint of Old Scroggle and a couple of good conversationalists and I can talk the legs off a table. 

But also please give me a good chain any day over a bad independent. Give me that surety of experience and better staff training over the waywardness of the half-arsed amateur establishment with the cousin as the barman. 

Jamie's Italian is a good chain.

It also has the bonus in Manchester of sitting in one of the top five interwar buildings in the region. Of course you're more likely to see Jim Carrey in a good movie than Jamie Oliver cooking there. But then I don't expect to see Mr Cooper in his House and Garden either. That'd be fantasy, same thing in Big White on King Street. The name is about marketing the place pure and simple.

Lutyen's masterpiece - the hotel will occupy the upper areas

The big white Portland stone ex-Midland Bank, a masterpiece from Sir Edwin Lutyens

The more grevious criticism from those exhausting people who are always chasing the next big thing is that the food isn't any good. But a recent visit to Jamie's proved this wrong. In fact it was all very enjoyable - especially at lunchtime without the Friday and Saturday evening bedlam. 

A starter of pasta boscaiola with tagliatelle, pancetta, mushrooms, porcini stock and passata at £5.25 was superb. Aromatic, packed with flavour, earthy with mushrooms, fluid with stock, simple trattoria fare done well. I could have a bowl of that every day. Two bowls.  

Lovely pasta

Lovely pasta

The meat plank - a Jamie trademark - was fine enough at £6.85. It's a poor thing next to the ones in Salvi's (click here) but it is cheaper. The best bits were the mortadella and pecorino with the chilli jam. Of course I loved the caper berries on this, but then my love for caper berries blinds me. I love them so much I could eat them even if they arrived wrapped in the Daily Mail. 

Meat plank

Meat plank

Mains were good. 

I thought I was done with Jamie's thing of slapping the crab, squid, cockles, scallops and mussels in a bag with capers, chilli, garlic, tomatoes, lemons, white wine, frogs and snails and puppy dogs tails, and steaming them together.

But the seafood bucatini (£14.95) was a cracker. The bag which might be ugly as sin on the plate retained the aroma of the seafood. One big strong sniff and I was back being a child climbing over mussel-crusted rocks at low tide on a long forgotten holiday at Combe Martin, Devon.

The scallop had that necessary bite, the whelks were little darlings while the thick pasta strips provided a sturdy foundation. The rich fish stew under all this was a delight to spoon up.  

BucatiniBucatini

An unattractive bream on a celeriac collation (a special at £11.95) was a surprise. The thing looked like the sole of a brogue that had become detached and thrown in a canal but the interior flesh was wonderful, a properly uplifting piece of fish that this time put me on Padstow's harbour front in the sunshine. I was getting around the south west of England in my imagination a bit this lunch. 

Bream - looks can deceive

Bream - looks can deceive

The braised cabbage (£3.45) was another decent dish, it felt healthy and went a treat with the bream. Our old friend from the starter, the pancetta, all crispy this time, was present again, together with a Parmesan crust.

A dessert of 'rippled' Pavlova (£4.95) was ok with a big strong blast of hazelnut coming through all the fruits. Nothing special but did the trick and was the right price as well.

Big mess of a Pavlova - but nutty

Big mess of a Pavlova - but nutty

There are certain things that grate in Jamie's of course. All that palaver with Jamie books, t-shirts, gifts, Eyetaliano merchandise piled high is awful - makes the place look like a tourist information centre in Genoa airport inexplicably promoting big Cockney faces.  

Merchandise me, Mr Oliver

 

Merchandise me, Mr Oliver, hit me with your big pizza bats

But chip all that marketing overkill away, get rid of the name and this Italian restaurant can be judged on its merits.

Do that my fellow independentistas and then give your opinions an airing. You'll find Jamie's compares favourably with other mid-range dining establishments. It's certainly better than the vast majority of real or fake Italian places in town. San Carlo, Cicchetti, Piccolino and Salvi's are better - although three of those will have the Independent Cultists finger-wagging - but Jamie's delivers some very good pasta dishes, good market fish and that bucatini. Think of it as a great big upmarket Croma with a broader menu. 

What gives added value is the host building of course.

Sit there on a sunny day or a summer's evening with the light playing on the white walls and feel the way Sir Edwin Lutyens utilised the space inside the building. It'll calm you down. Look at the clever details and it'll lift your spirit. Snap down on some of those big juicy olives the size of plums, sip the full Barbera at £6.85 a glass. Jamie's Italian is worth a trip for the views alone. 

Remember even Coldplay have some good tunes. All together now, "Oh-oh-oh-ohhhh-o, Oh-oh-oh-ohhhh-o".

PS Please dear management in Jamie's, Manchester, just turn the music off. It becomes a blur of bass, it ruins the building, becomes a nasty grumble beneath the conversations people are having over the table. 

For the story about the upper parts of the building becoming the controversially titled Hotel Gotham, read here.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE.

Jamie's Italian, King Street, City centre, M2 4WU. 0161 241 3901

Rating: 14/20 (remember venues are rated against the best examples of their type - see yellow box below)

Food: 7/10 (boscaiola 7.5, bucatini 7.5, bream 7, cabbage 7, Pavlova 6)
Service: 3/5 (would have been more, but the charming waiter was over-stretched on his section) 
Ambience: 4/5

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.

View Of The Restaurant In The Former Banking HallView across the restaurant from the upper areas

View Of The Restaurant In The Former Banking Hall AgainView of the former banking hall 

Jamie's - the old Midland Bank details

Jamie's - the old Midland Bank details

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36 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

FoodieJanuary 30th 2014.

Pavlova, classic Italian dish, thanks Jamie

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

Went to the one in Oxford couple of years ago. Brilliant service. Execrable food.

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

Unfortunately, the last encounter was very poor, inexcusable service, mains came out while still eating starters, then kept warm / air dried on the pass for 10 minutes, the fizz we ordered not available so substituted with a bottle £20 more with no indication until the bill arrived. Not on when you are entertaining clients. An utter disaster - 4 out of 20 for us.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Stephen FeenanJanuary 30th 2014.

I totally agree about food left waiting on the "pass" I witnessed this one late afternoon when not many people were in. We timed it and it was between 10 and 12 minutes per dish.

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

I've been told by different waiting staff on a couple of occasions that an administration fee is deducted even from cash tips. Not so "man of the people" if that's true Mr Oliver

Andrew PeekJanuary 30th 2014.

The food was really poor when we ate here. It felt like we were paying to be sat in a nice space rather than for the slop we got served.

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

my visit last year...paid more than 2 quid for literally half a lettuce (side salad) it was a whole lettuce cut in half on a plate! Rustic?? Made me think i could have bought 3 from the supermarket for the same price and i would have made it taste and look better too. Quick lunch with 2 adults and child over £50- not worth it despite the wonderful surroundings.

Hero
ktfairyJanuary 30th 2014.

I went at the start of the month, an invite from a colleage and I admit I was not looking forward to it, due to my food snobbery. But like Jonathan I found Jamies suprised me with the quality of it's food and service. I had a lovely Pumpkin Panzerotti - light, creamy and with ameretti buscuits it also had beguiling crispy bites. I was surprised at how pleasant the whole experience was and will happily go again.

Georgina Hague shared this on Facebook on January 30th 2014.
Noeleen FletcherJanuary 30th 2014.

I visited about 12 months ago and have not returned since. Reception staff were rude whispering to each other whilst I was being dealt with by one of them. Food was ok ish. Service was mixed the young lady tried her best however the starts all came at different times. There was a service charge which we refused to pay as the service was not acceptable when this was relayed to the cashier the young waitress was sent back to beg us to pay the service charge. We did leave a tip which is how I prefer to pay for the service I receive. I wrote a letter of complaint which was replied too however it was to later the damage to my feelings about this restaurant had been done.

Noeleen FletcherJanuary 30th 2014.

I visited about 12 months ago and have not returned since. Reception staff were rude whispering to each other whilst I was being dealt with by one of them. Food was ok ish. Service was mixed the young lady tried her best however the starts all came at different times. There was a service charge which we refused to pay as the service was not acceptable when this was relayed to the cashier the young waitress was sent back to beg us to pay the service charge. We did leave a tip which is how I prefer to pay for the service I receive. I wrote a letter of complaint which was replied too however it was to later the damage to my feelings about this restaurant had been done.

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

Great venue, good service, below average food. Always left thinking hmmmmm, wish I'd gone to [insert any other Italian here]

JoanJanuary 30th 2014.

Well done JS; you've managed a swipe at both 'the left' and the Daily Mail in one food article. Love the 'belief system' sentence. Actually I really like the Liverpool one. It has that typical slightly more laid-back style that so well done in Liverpool. Service without servility.

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

Oh how I agree about the music! I solved it, and the general high level of noise by placing my coat over the speaker behind my left ear! The building is too beautiful for such noise! Altogether I found the place too busy and noisy, but then it is a big place. I also found that Jamie caters sparsely for vegetarians and my choices were rather boring and very average. A side salad was absurdly small and less than inspiring. I would also rather go to an "authentic" Italian. JO Cheshire

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

I went 12 months ago as a guest and ordered the sea bass which I requested be served 'off the bone'. I was told by the waiter, and then the manager that this wasnt possible! When I pointed out that this was a restaurant with, presumably, chefs in the kitchen, I was told that this was a 'special dish' and therefore could not be served as I wanted - for 'special dish' read 'pre-prepared and brought in'. Not good enough.

Fingers PayneyJanuary 30th 2014.

I went 12 months ago, not been back. Overpriced bland food with numskull staff. Wont be returning!

Gina McDadeJanuary 30th 2014.

I personally think its a beautiful looking restaurant, excellent service, nice to go in for a drink, but the food is overpriced off what it is.

ShybaldbuddhistJanuary 30th 2014.

I've only been here once. I was impressed by the building, less so by the food. There wasn't a great deal to chose from being vegetarian, which isn't the case in most Italian places I go to.

Lorraine ByrneJanuary 30th 2014.

I love Jamie's in Manchester, love the building, and think the staff are superb. However, the problem with the food is consistency, which can change from diner to diner not even night to night. If they managed to get the food consistently good, they would pull the foodie crowds in as much as the people who just want to eat at Jamie Olivers.

1 Response: Reply To This...
crisbyJanuary 30th 2014.

That's very true in my experience too, after 3 or 4 visits - I'm sure I'll go again and hope it's a good day.

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

Jim Carrey has been in some ace FILMS

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2014.

I've just bought an Amazon deal - £20 pp for three courses, so if the food is c*** at least I won't have wasted too much! The majority of reviews above don't leave me feeling confident about this. The review by JS makes it look reasonably attractive, but tell me JS, where do I go for a pint of Old Scroggle? That sounds amazing!

DigsterJanuary 30th 2014.

Once was enough for me and as such I swore never to go back. However, had to go again on a business lunch when we were entertaining guests from another city and it was just as bad if not worse. I actually felt really embarrassed. Starters incorrect, all turning up at the wrong times, some food hot, some warm, some okay, some horrid, service hit and miss, noisy, the list is endless. Needless to say it was not my choice to take our guests there. I can only say that good on Johnathan for getting what was obviously a good day, judging by the amount of comments on here already, it seems the rest of us have not.

Graeme WrightJanuary 30th 2014.

Only been to the King Street JI once. The food, while being decently prepared and served, didn't really sing out like a Gondolier after a few glasses of Prosecco. Service had the smile and well rehearsed food knowledge from the waitress that is normally reserved for lesser positioned food chains. Value for money? I thought it was a tad expensive for what it was - a Lutyens surrounding don't come cheap, brother (sorry about that lapse into Jamiespeak). Finally, the atmosphere - they do try to mix the trendy, informal and authentic but that is one cocktail that doesn't quite hit the notes. As the one visit was when it first opened you could surmise that Jamie's Eyetalion is not near the top of my list of favourite restaurants in Manchester, England or anywhere else. You'd not be wide of the mark.

Charles CohenJanuary 30th 2014.

"fine enough". This comment Mr Schofield precisely sums up the average Mancunians experience of dining out in Cottonopolis. How very sad Mr Schofield , how terribly dreary.

Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 30th 2014.

Mr Cohen don't be so depressed. Manchester is a fabulous place so enjoy its variety in food and with so much else, architecture, art, culture...and so on. 'Fine enough' is 'fine enough' for a mid-range dining place surely? But there are better than 'fine enough' gems elsewhere across Manchester. This is what I think happens sometimes with regular diners. They go to, say Stockholm or Nice, and everything is new and they find on their weekend break some quality and then weirdly think that it must be like that every night in these places. So they come back to Manchester and everything is familiar so they compare their fresh view of Stockholm and Nice with Manchester and find their home city dull. It's childish in a way. If they lived in Stockholm or Nice perhaps they'd get bored as well and imagine it's better elsewhere. I was in Naples as I've stated a few times this summer and listen their local cuisine was magnificent but their local cuisine was their only cuisine and no matter how good it was after seven days it was beginning to get a bit samey. The grass is always greener - especially for pessimists and it seems some of our ranters are so very very pessimistic. I find that Mr Cohen, sad and terribly dreary.

Marl FraseeJanuary 31st 2014.

Ex midland building u say. Do u not mean ex HSBC BUILDING. That's what it was when it finally closed down. Get ya facts right!!!!!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
James GeeJanuary 31st 2014.

It was built as the Midland Bank by Lutyens and is branded MB everywhere. HSBC bank was there for about six minutes in its history. Midland Bank is right.

AnonymousMarch 11th 2014.

Calm down, dear. And learn how to spell.

Maria SaleJanuary 31st 2014.

I would seem to be in a minority here, but I have had some very good meals here. I agree sometimes it's too noisy and busy. The fish has been good, the "planks" (though I don't like the gimmick), some of the pasta, the burgers (not authentic). The service I have found to be outstanding. And I am a chain snob.

Bish bash boshFebruary 1st 2014.

Put off by the comments. So many 'mid-range' Italian restaurants in Manchester I found disappointing and over priced; this seems to fall neatly into that category and so I won't be going until I read some consistently good reviews.

AnonymousFebruary 2nd 2014.

Having visited this restaurant twice, this review surprises me. Although having read the comments above I know I'm not the only one who thinks this. I found the whole experience, in terms of food, quantity, misrepresentation on the menu and service one of the worst, especially considering its apparent reputation. My friends and I have now renamed this restaurant 'meanie Oliver's'.. I have never known a risotto served one layer thick. I almost asked for the main menu again when the dessert menu was offered. I could say much more with regards my visit but won't, except to say I definitely won't be going back. When I think of some of the suspect reviews posted here previously (e.g. L'entrecote) and then read this review, it does make me wonder the motivation of the reviewer. Which is a shame, as I used to look forward to and be influenced by reviews on here. Not anymore.

Andrew MacfarlaneFebruary 2nd 2014.

I don't get all the negativity nor that it's so busy so frequently with people who seem content. Are they really people who visit once and never go back? Don't believe it for a second. Jamie's must be doing something right.

AnonymousFebruary 5th 2014.

If NOTHING else is a GREAT use of a super building....

mrsplimFebruary 5th 2014.

I have eaten here on a few occasions and I agree with most above, the food is ok, and can be a bit hit and miss. I don't think the menu is anything special. I first ate at Jamie's in Oxford, and then Edinburgh before the Manchester one opened and the menus at the time were a lot better and food was really good, so not sure if it's the Manchester branch that's lacking.

SpookFebruary 11th 2014.

After a great aftermath from my work in the office, its a great and perfect placed for the relieved of your stress.

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