Jamie’s Italian Chelmsford
The news that Jamie Oliver was opening a restaurant in Chelmsford was well-received on the whole. Known locally as just Jamie’s Italian Chelmsford rather than the posher official title of Jamie’s Italian Trattoria, how has it fared?
Since attaining city status, Chelmsford’s dining scene has steadily grown with more and more big names opening.
Opening towards the end of 2014, it was only after Christmas that I finally got to have a meal there. That’s a testament to the sheer popularity of the venue in the first few weeks of it being open.
Apparently, and I base this on hearsay and rumour, it is almost impossible to turn up at the door most nights and get seated without a reservation.
A few days after Christmas, however, and myself, my girlfriend and my 12-year-old middle daughter decided to try our luck after a day out in London. It was the first Monday after Christmas and we had hoped that it may be fairly empty.
Arriving at the door at around 7 pm, we were told that the restaurant was fully booked though they had a table free straight away, it would need to be vacated by 8.15pm. We were hungry and tired and didn’t want to risk slogging from place to place trying to find somewhere to fit us in.
The Maitre d’ (which I believe is the posh term for “booking monkey”) informed us that he would do his best to swap tables around to give us longer to eat, and to his credit once we had been sat down for a few minutes he came over and told us that he had freed up another table and that there was no longer a rush for us to dine and dash.
We relaxed a little more, ordered some drinks and eyed the menu. The website promises “Jamie & his team have scoured the whole of Italy & the UK to find the very best ingredients that are bang in season”, which helps to create the image of a decent meal ahead.
Although there was a decent selection, the two adults in the party both ordered the Casarecce Carbonara, which was described as “Crispy chunks of smoked pancetta, sweet buttery leeks & a traditional carbonara sauce”, whilst my daughter opted for a simple spaghetti bolognese.
The wait for the food wasn’t too long, despite the busy restaurant, and we soon had the food plated up and ready to go.
The presentation of the food was fine. It wasn’t fancy, and there was nothing about it that looked spectacular, but it looked… well… ok. That was it, just ok. Given how hungry I was, the main course could have been served in the lap of a tramp with dysentery, and I still would have tucked in.
If I thought that the taste would drastically improve my impression of the food, I was to be disappointed. Once again, the food tasted as it looked - ok. Nothing more, nothing less. The consensus around the table was the same. The 12-year-old seemed pleased to be eating in a restaurant, but I’ve heard her wax lyrical about food from Frankie and Benny’s or Chiquito more than she did about Jamie’s spaghetti bolognese.
What’s the etiquette for a situation like this? When the waitress asks how your food is, should you say that you’re disappointed? Or explain that the food was completely adequate? I opted for the British approach, lying through my teeth by saying that the food was lovely. Don’t get me wrong, had there been an issue - such as the food being undercooked - I’d have said something, but I refrained from explaining my disappointment.
Dessert was offered, and rapidly accepted. Being dished up ten minutes or so later, I had opted for the bread and butter pudding made with chocolate, whilst the two ladies both opted for cheesecake.
I’m definitely more of a sweet-toothed dessert fan than a typical foody, and if to prove a point, you can tell from the decidedly half-eaten cheesecake in the photo below that I was more interested in scoffing dessert than taking pictures of it.
It has to be said that the cheesecake and bread and butter pudding were both better received than the main courses. Once again though, neither were spectacular.
Leaving the food to one side, the restaurant was well laid out. I know the building from having banked with Barclays, the former occupier. Naturally, there is very little in the presentation of the building that would link it to its past at first glance.
Gone is the dull, drab layout of the old Barclays branches, and the entire place has had a lick of paint, with various interior design attempts on the walls covering the distressed paintwork look. Being in the heart of Essex, and with Jamie being an Essex boy, there is (of course) the word “Reem” on the main wall.
Heading downstairs to the loos, though, and the memories of bank life are evident to see, with the designers leaving the entrances to the safe doors in place. It’s an unusual look, but one that works remarkably well. For someone ever so geeky like myself, I find this kind of stuff fascinating.
Just a few metres away (though you’d never know from being here) is a tunnel that links Shire Hall to an old jail cell which can still be seen in the bar 59 New Street. If I wanted a hashtag in here, it would probably #ChelmsfordHistoryFacts, or something equally selective.
Overall, it was an average meal served at an average price. I wouldn’t rush back there, and I don’t understand why the restaurant is so popular. Perhaps I just caught it on a bad day.