Lucie Loves... Food // Retail therapy in Birmingham, an extremely honest review of lunch at Jamie's Italian, and why my mate's better than yours...
In your life, you'll meet people that you will never think about again. you'll meet some people and over time wonder what happened to them, and you'll meet people who you just know will be in your life forever.
I met Aimee when she took over a friend’s maternity leave at work. I hadn’t known her six months when my relationship began to break down, and it was her who was mopping up my tears day after day.
‘My friend’s better than your friend!’
In recent months, she has been my saviour, my cheerleader, my dating expert, and most importantly, she has massively improved my selfie game - #strongselfiegame
We were long overdue a catch up and so, I thought, a girly day of shopping and a spot of lunch at a Jamie's Italian, (located in Birmingham's Bullring Shopping Mall), would be the perfect way of saying thank you.
Loaded up with shopping bags, we arrived at Jamie’s Italian 5-10 minutes ahead of schedule. Our booking had stated that the table would only be held for 15 minutes and that we had been allocated 1 hour and 30 minutes to eat our meal. Therefore, we didn’t want to risk being late.
Upon arrival, it was unclear whether the restaurant was open. Some staff were sitting on the steps leading up to the restaurant. A family had gone into the main doors ahead of us and then almost immediately come back outside to wait. We tried the door and it was open, so in we went.
In front of us was a gaggle of staff sat around a table chatting, laughing and enjoying some food. We stood awkwardly in the small entrance as my friend muttered under her breath, “I feel like we’ve intruded on a staff meeting.” More customers muddled in behind us as we waited for someone to acknowledge our presence.
Eventually, a lady came over to attend to us, swiftly followed by another member of staff, who then passed us over to yet another member of staff to be seated. We headed through the restaurant towards a stretch of windows with a panoramic view of a beautiful church, and the shiny aluminium discs of the Bullring. Our table for two with a view was just perfect! Shopping had been thirsty work, so with only a quick glance at the drinks menu, we both quickly opted for a Diet Coke.
We waited for a considerable length of time for someone to take our drinks order. Whilst we waited, I browsed the lunch menu. Aimee, one of those friends who constantly watches what she eats (boring!!), had already taken a look at the menu online and chosen her dish. She liked the concept of being able to view how many calories were in each dish – sadly, this is an online option only, and not available to view on the menus handed to us in the restaurant. As we still hadn’t had an opportunity to order drinks, we took in our surroundings and had a closer look at the drinks options on offer.
Looking around, the restaurant was a confusion of industrial chic versus American diner. I felt the seating choices didn’t quite fit with the exposed pipes, hanging lightbulbs, grand lighting feature and fresh Italian ingredients - garlic, stringed chillies and hams, hanging from the serving area.
The fold of the drinks menu was filled with crumbs. Partly understandable if we hadn’t have been the first customers of the day – the same goes for the drink stains on the menus! The gimmicky tinned tomato cans in which the cutlery stood on our table had, what looked like dirt and dust - possibly rust - clogged into the rim of the can. Whatever it was, it didn’t look pleasant. It’s not what I had expected from a restaurant affiliated with a famous chef. Maybe these wouldn’t have been things we would have noticed, if only we weren’t still waiting to order some drinks!!
As we continued to wait, a waiter sat another couple on the table next to ours. Why do restaurants do that? – when there are the majority of tables still to choose from?! The tables are quite close together, so it felt a little uncomfortable – but obviously not for this couple! The guy swung his chair around to sit himself at the side of the table - to share headphones with his date. As the gap between their table and ours closed in, it was unclear whether he was going to be dining with her, or us!
Ah, finally, yet another member of staff - our now waitress - came over to take our order. There wasn’t a wide range of dishes to choose from for the mains. The Italian choices were very much typical of any chain Italian restaurant - bolognese, lasagne, pizza, meatballs and raviolis - with a few non-Italian options – steak, fish, burger and salads. It wasn’t very inspiring. I was expecting something a little ‘different’ from this TV chef.
It’s worth mentioning that there are vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options available too.
I opted for the Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Aimee, the Tagliatelle Bolognese. I’m a big fan of antipasti, so I gently persuaded Aimee into sharing the Meat Plank for Two as a starter. She didn’t put up much of a fight!
The starter, a wooden plank of cured meats, baby mozzarella, pate crostini, pecorina & chilli jam, olives and fresh focaccia bread, arrived in good time. Explained to us by our waitress, the produce reflected that of Jamie’s passion for fresh and well-sourced foods. I love ‘picky foods’, so this was right up my street. It tasted good too - not that the waitress had asked.
As the mains arrived and I looked at the plate in front of me, I had one of those ‘I should have ordered something else’ moments. As my friend pointed out, “yours doesn’t look great”, so I opted for more parmesan to pretty-up my dish. I’m no food snob, but there are expectations that come with eating at a restaurant with Jamie Oliver’s name on it – even a sprig of parsley would have gone some way towards a more presentable dish.
As we tucked in, we both agreed, the food was nice – but nothing spectacular. That said, I cannot complain about the portion sizes. There was more pasta than you could shake a stick at, and the meat to pasta ratio was just right. It was a little too much for me, and after a while, it was all very ‘samey’ - and of course, I needed to save a little room for my favourite part of any meal – dessert!
And it didn’t disappoint. The Molten Chocolate Praline Pudding was the star of the show. Anyone who knows me will know that I have a seriously sweet tooth, and this gooey chocolatey treat was everything that I love in a dessert. It wasn’t too sickly, and the vanilla gelato complimented it perfectly. My only complaint was that my calorie-counting friend (who opted out of dessert) also decided that it was delicious – ‘I’ll just have a taste’ she said!!
As we left the restaurant, the bar area was considerably busy for a Wednesday afternoon, and the atmosphere here was a little more of what we were looking for. “I wonder what you have to do to be seated here” we giggled to ourselves.
Overall, the food was plentiful and the prices were reasonable (cheap and cheerful as they say). The atmosphere was akin to that of an upmarket cafe, and for us, the experience was like that of any other average chain restaurant. If you’re looking for all of the whistles and bells that you’d expect of a restaurant with Jamie’s name on it, then you won’t find it here!
We've heard a lot in the news recently about Jamie's Italian not doing so well, and had hoped that our experience would disprove what we were reading, about the restaurant chain's position within the casual dining industry.
Despite this being a complimentary meal, we believe in always being completely honest and upfront with our readers and the brands that we work with. After all, we know that people work hard to have the money that affords them the luxury of a meal dining out with friends and family.
We hope that transparency and timely feedback will improve the future of this particular restaurant franchise going forwards.
Each restaurant is completely different, so we would hope that it's unlikely that the experience that we had at the Bullring is representative of the others around the UK. Let us know your thoughts... Have you eaten at Jamie's Italian?