Thursday, 29 October 2015

jamie's italian (also known as the place where food expectations go to wither and die)

after many years of being in perth, i had the opportunity last night to have dinner at jamie oliver's italian restaurant. back in the day, i was quite the jamie fan, and i think that his shows used to advocate cheap, healthy, and easy-to-make food. with those themes in mind, i was, though, somewhat pragmatic, and knew that the perth dining scene is very much lacklustre - the service is left wanting, and the quality of food is generally sub-par. that being said, an old friend had been in town for only a few days, and i thought why not, if were to ever give jamie's a try, it would be now or probably not ever.

the good

my friend and i started off with fresh crab bruschetta, which looked very much like the stolen image here (as will be all the images here, as i was by far, too hungry to even consider taking photos of the food, instead wolfing them down as soon as they arrived):

i was pleasantly surprised, and for an entre, i suppose it served its purpose. at this point, we were still in waiting for a table, and were quite happily catching up at the bar over drinks, and i would think that the appetizer complemented very well. the crab was fresh, the lemon zest was distinct, but not overwhelming (which is a pet peeve of mine when having seafood dishes). just a bit of chilli and italian herbs, which was to taste, but i found the bruschetta bread itself was very tough - enough that the provided serrated bread knife seemed short of its task. over my travels, i've come to realise that different people have quite varied expectations of bread, in general, so i wouldn't discount this as a bad point just yet, however, it was at around 8 when we were served, and i would expect the bread to be crispier (not to a toast, though), and perhaps more fresh at such peak dinner hours. but, that's probably a personal preference.

my friend had ordered the mussel and squid spaghetti nero, which looked quite bland. not to judge any food by appearance, though, i did manage to swipe a couple of forkfuls when she were no longer able to finish her meal (my vast experience by having two younger sisters who would never finish their meals has taught me to always be prepared to finish off at least a third of the meal afterwards, perhaps more if the meal is lacklustre, and if that were to be the benchmark, this meal did not make the cut by my friend's standards). she did end up getting chilli flakes to season, as quoted, "i can't get rid of that asian part of me," which is all too easy to empathise with. in any case, the pasta dish was respectable, enough oil to keep the pasta discrete, but not enough to make it 'to greek standards', which may be a tad too much for myself. the amount of mussel and squid was disappointing, though, and having grown up with (the old) south-east asian expectations of having more filling than staple (which does not seem to be the case for my italian friends, who would want more of the pasta), i think it's a preferential improvement that i would have more... stuff in it.

she finished off dinner with a creamy panna cotta, which, i thought, was exquisite. definitely creamy, and gelatinous enough to give that satisfying wobble upon perturbation, a spoon cuts into the dessert easily without breaking or (god forbid) crumbling. the fruits of the season were raspberries, which were well enough, though i would have liked fresh ones instead of the (likely) tinned ones with just a hint too much of syrup to attemptedly mask the mushiness of the berries.

the bad

by some twist of fate, we ended up ordering decent (though not amazing) dishes for my friend, but had no such luck with my own. the baked king salmon was anything but royal, and the following picture shows exactly what i expected from a salmon dish in general (at a fancy restaurant). if i were to prepare salmon myself, which i do on a regular basis, i would go with fillets at least twice the size, and baked very lightly to preference (although i cannot imagine anyone with respectable tastebuds having a preference for thoroughly baked salmon. just saying).

what i received, instead, was a sliver i would barely serve my cat, about the size of a third of the slab depicted above. it was cooked well enough, but for the price paid, i definitely expected (much) more. the salad as a side was actually horrendous, being fresh but with no complementary taste, and the ricotta and balsamic did very little to help the dish. i will not deny that i ended up finishing every piece, but only for that i was famished having skipped breakfast and lunch (which probably makes for a bad food review to begin with), but if served anything similar when i were not as voraciously willing to swallow the worst of my own cooking, i would have probably returned the dish. included were three thoroughly roasted carrots, which are normally to my liking, but again, this dish was able to disappoint. the thick(er) parts were caramelised well (i say thicker only because they weren't even as thick as the ones above, perhaps only half the size, tapering off into what can only be described as threads for roots), but they were overdone such that the taste of charcoal lingers, which would have made my experience worse if i had the misfortune of not keeping them for the very last. i've been to shady pubs and small restaurants while in uk where even disappointing dishes were made tame by the presence of well roasted roots - and for jamie's, i would have hoped for at least parsnips and perhaps a turnip (i have a fondness for the former which might have made me hate this dish much more if it had ruined my perfect streak of having only had brilliantly prepared roast parsnip thusfar). all in all, i would not recommend this dish at all, and having never rated a meal below 2 on a scale of ten, the same way i would never award a 9 or higher, i have to say that for its price (and perhaps, expectations, which may be a slight bias), this one deserves a 2.

i still ordered dessert, though, perhaps if only to provide potential saving grace (i would not have done so had i not been in such wonderful company), and as anyone who knows me well enough will testify, the choices were limited to one of the chocolate dishes. chocolate & hazelnut arctic roll, it was, and, again, it is unfortunate that i cannot say the result looks like the image below:

the sponge roll was average, at best, nothing that you wouldn't buy off the shelves at a tesco or woolies, and the ice cream could be easily mistaken for some run-of-the-mill home brand. i would not expect, perhaps, gourmet ice cream, such as my touted connoisseur, but this was downright dreadful. tasteful only because i knew to expect the tastes, and the purported butterscotch sauce nowhere to palate (or even to be seen), i believe i could have prepared better myself for a quarter of the budget. perhaps i've been too biased by my (somewhat) high expectations of desserts, but even if they were selling a brand name on marginal or average items, this is far from justifiable.

the ugly

for the expectations i had, jamie's did not deliver even in the slightest. the prices are standard for eating out here in perth (which translates to about 1.5 times what i would pay elsewhere), but the portion sizes are dismal. i never really understood the whole idea of smaller portions when you're 'fine dining', and this does nothing to convince me otherwise (let's be honest, jamie's isn't actually fine dining, either). perhaps it's a (badly constructed) ploy to make you feel you're not paying all that much for something less? perhaps it's so that you can order more dishes and taste more? whatever it is, it's not working for me, unfortunately. i didn't feel i was paying for ambiance or experience, either (the waitresses were very polite, which is expected, but always nice, especially considering perth's unpredictable qualities of service), the bill came to $110, and i would happily live off kebabs and maccas for a couple of months than go again (well, not really, since i would probably end up cooking for myself as per norm, but the point still stands). all in all, i would rate my experience as disappointing, and probably would not go to jamie's perth again for a very long while. i would offer cheaper, tastier alternatives (even bars have some better servings in the central perth area), but this is not a food blog and i believe i've worn your attention far too thin. 

p/s: if jamie oliver should ever find news of this, please, for the love of all that is savoury, change it or bin it.

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