Superstar foodie chef Jamie Oliver finally has a presence in Leeds. The most northerly outpost of his Italian restaurant chain has finally opened in Leeds, with surprisingly little fanfair. There has been a lot of buzz in the foodie blogs about when it might open and after a week of ‘soft launch’ to get things up to speed, it was officially opened last week.
I’ve eaten at the Brighton restaurant earlier this year and very good it was too, so expectations are high for the Leeds operation. And after the disappointment of the failure to open Fifteen in the city, Jamie’s Italian has a great opportunity to firmly establish itself as a major player on the Leeds restaurant scene.
First things first – this is essentially a high class chain restaurant and although at times it’s easy to forget this, as everything is so well done, a chain it is – and all the more impressive for that. The second thing that hits you is the size of the place and the investment – the budget for the fit out alone is probably more than most restaurants make in a year. It’s a joy to behold from a design perspective with the interior stripped right back to the bare walls – very cool, modern and funky. First impressions are very good indeed.
We decided to eat early after a few drinks in Bar & Grill and sat down around 5pm. Top tip: to avoid the queues – and there are lots of people wanting to eat here – aim to eat between 5-6.30. I realise that’s early, but if not you’re in for a long wait and as we left at 7pm, the line was ten deep outside the door.
The atmosphere is lively, laid back and very much of the moment. The waitress knew her stuff and recounted in detail the exact nature of the specials (Porchetta and Pollock respectively) so we opted for those and ordered the cured meat and cheese platter for two. Drinks took a little bit too long to arrive and considering the place was half empty, that wasn’t really good enough. As the restaurant filled up, people all around us were having to wait a little bit too long in between drinks and courses – it seemed like the staff were experiencing a few teething problems.
Our food arrived in fairly good time and the meats et al arrived on a rustic plank, supported by two tins of italian tomatoes – which was a nice touch and a little bit of theatre. The mains arrived and Julie’s porchetta was spot on although lacked the crispy crackling advertised and my pollock was nicely cooked although not quite the ‘chunky portion of white fish’ she promised. Well priced at £13.50 too. Washed down with a bottle of Venetian Pino Grigio, we were very happy indeed. I did take some pics of the food but the lighting was modishly low where we were sat and they are just too dark. These pics from the website perfectly represent what to expect:
By now the restaurant was jumping and the early evening dinner crowd were in full swing. This would be a great, lively destination for a group of diners although the expected wait in the bar (if you’re lucky) might put a lot of people off. If you don’t mind a few beers before you eat, I suspect it would add to the evening. If you like to get seated as soon as you arrive (like me), then you’ll be frustrated.
We finished with a quite acceptable but quite orangey Tiramisu to share and the bill finally came to £70 including tip. Nice also to see that the practice of sticking 10% automatically on to the bill is not practiced at Jamie’s Italian.
Jamie’s Italian is a welcome addition to the Leeds restaurant scene – a big, hairy commercial set up that is completely in keeping with the city’s stature (some would say fur coat no knickers outlook, but not me) . I think it will have the knock on effect of boosting restaurant trade across the city too will be considerable, as people who can’t be bothered to wait or can’t get in, go elsewhere.
All in all, we felt it was pretty good value for the food and dining experience, although it seems that they’re still finding their way a little bit and I expect these minor details will get ironed out in the coming weeks. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the attention to detail right across the restaurant is terrific in terms of ‘brand Jamie’ – it all works and feels right. If you’re a fan of Jamie and his cooking, then a visit to this restaurant won’t disappoint.