I very rarely go out for dinner, and I never do anything remotely exclusive or even vaguely posh, so it was with both surprise and delight that I found myself last night at the spanking new Jamie's Italian in Brighton for the first public evening service.
I have long been a fan of Jamie Oliver (a forthcoming subject of my hero series...), as I think he, along with others, are doing wonders for the way we look at our food production in the UK. His sometimes shocking channel 4 programmes were completely necessary to illustrate exactly what happens to our grub before it is shrink wrapped and whacked with a bar code. Some people know what happens, others do not, but only with education can you make an educated choice about how you live your life and fill your belly.
Now I have to admit something here. There are real reasons why I was out and about and not at home tucking into my planned jacket potato - my wonderful little sister is the office manager for the restaurant, and it was my Mum and Dad's pearl wedding anniversary. A good reason for a celebration dinner, so off we went.
So here is the official but personal review of the restaurant, decor and service, as seen by me, last night, in jolly old Brighton.
First, location - there is a general hub of restaurants in the Lanes area of Brighton, but maybe surprisingly, Jamie's Italian is slightly off the beaten track, down a dark street that is used as a cut through to the seafront. But, it is a newly built building, and is easy to seek out for those who know it is there, which will be everyone very soon.
Also, as the restaurant does not take bookings (apart from large groups) there is a long stretch of blank office faced buildings for people to queue outside while they wait for a table. Much nicer than waiting for table whilst queuing outside another restaurant...
First, as a designer, I looked at the decor. Lots of timber cladding (which I believe is reclaimed?), eclectic mix of lights, proper solid tables, and strong colours - imagine an Italian marble counter with a chunky bread board and a tin of tomatoes on top - take the essence of these items, apply to an interior and you get the idea. It was honest without being too twee and stereotypical.
This honesty was brought through to the open Antipasti counter (complete with large hanging hams), where two chefs prepared the 'planks' in full view (more of this later) and the booths flanked by a ribbon window straight into the kitchen. We had one of the booths.
It was within the booths that I saw the only real bit of the interior I didn't like - a series of black, white and neon spray painted panels of Pippy longstockinged legs and Nike air force one trainers. I understand that it is supposed to be 'fresh, funky and young' but I did not like how this sat with the honest palette of the rest of the ground floor.
Anyway - the menu - not too much and not too little to choose from, wonderful ingredients and an option of portion sizes - all in all a good spread.
We had 'the worlds best olives' (and for someone who does not like olives, I can profess that I think they are), a couple of Italian bread baskets and the meat antipasti plank for four people. A fantastically huge chunk of timber laden with selected meats, buffalo mozzarella balls, pecorino cheese (which I love as well) and chilli jam, amongst others, all prepared in the above mentioned Antipasti counter. It was wonderful, and this was just for starters...
Mains - again a fab choice, with an option of a large or small portions. I opted for the smaller portion as I was determined to have a dessert as well, and my eyes popped out of my head when I saw a black truffle tagliatelle. Some girls like diamonds, I love black truffles - what does this say about me? I don't know. The portion size was perfect, the pasta perfect as well, and the black truffle sent the lot into the realms of possibly one of the best things I have ever eaten. The fact that I could see it all being made literally feet from our table made it even better.
The dessert had to be done, and I chose 'Gennaro's Amalfi Orange Tart', which was served with marscapone and honey. It was great again - full but not dense and packed with flavour.
Even though Jamie was not there (and I feel sorry for the poor waiters and waitresses who will be continually asked if he is in the building) it was a wonderful evening, and I fully recommend a visit. The ground floor interior is pretty honest (I am yet to see the upstairs and the terrace), the food wonderful (excellent quality, local and in some places, organic) and considering the staff are all new and still learning, our waiter was excellent, friendly and knowledgeable (the only slip up was when he asked where the tart was when he was handing out the dessert cutlery... I could not let this divine opportunity pass me by, so I put on a face of disgust and proclaimed 'are you calling me a tart?'. Poor bloke. He did know I was joking though, even though he did have a flash of 'Oh-my-god-what-have-I-said' first. Oooh I am awful.)
So - a somewhat biased review I know, but it is worth the visit. (will get some images up here soon as well.)
All in all, pretty pukka.