The twelfth in an ever-growing chain, Jamie’s Italian in Covent Garden sticks to the same formula of rustic Italian food and decor.
Like the other Jamie’s Italian restaurants, the Covent Garden location is laid back and relaxed, a mix of rustic-looking woods and modern furniture. There are several different enclaves in the space with a main seating area that features red metal chairs. A bar and a meat counter are located near the entrance along with a small alfresco area and patio doors that open up on to Upper St Martins Lane. There doesn’t, however, seem to be the same creative touches that are prevalent in other London branches, like the graffiti in Kingston or the tree-stump tables in Canary Wharf. For foodies – and Jamie Oliver fans – there are shelves stacked with pasta, cookbooks and various merchandise.
By about 1pm, it’s packed, although there’s no sign of the legendary out-the-door queues. Staff are sweet but service is a little slow, especially when it’s busy. Expect the crowd to consist of everything from big groups of tourists (hoping to catch a glimpse of the man himself, no doubt) to people who work nearby.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of construction going on nearby at the moment – sometimes it seems like it’s right next door – and although the staff apologise and seem to be doing everything they can to keep the noise at bay, it’s still pretty jarring. One the place fills up, though, there’s a good buzz that’s almost loud enough to drown out the drilling.
The casual Italian food matches the decor and the menu, with its adjective-heavy wording (dishes are amazing, or humble, or proper, or beautiful), is big on rustic dishes. A starter of crispy squid (£5.10) has a good, crisp batter but the squid itself is quite tough and the ‘really garlicky mayo’ is only really garlicky thanks to a big clove of the stuff plopped in the middle of it. Other starters include veggie and meat antipasti boards, veggies and mozzarella dishes, plus bar-style nibbles like olives and nachos.
There are a few types of mains, including pastas (which are also served in a starter size), grills (cooked under a hot brick) and salads. The wiggly pappardelle with mini meatballs (£6.65/£10.25) is, thankfully, not wiggling, but merely crimped at the edges so that the dish resembles a bowlful of frilly ribbons. The pasta is cooked well, slightly al dente, and although the pork and beef meatballs are surprisingly larger than their ‘mini’ description suggests, they’re slightly dry. The sauce has a hint of cinnamon, which works well with the meat. A side salad of mozzarella and tomatoes (£4.35) is fresh and simple.
Puddings feature a variety of cakes and tarts, plus ice cream and sorbets. The ‘awesome’ chocolate and espresso tart (£4.95) comes pretty close to its moniker, with a rich, flavourful and smooth chocolate and crisp pastry base. Although the figs on top don’t really add anything to the plate they don’t really take away anything either, which is more than can be said for the bitter-tasting orange creme fraiche on the side.
Tap water is offered when you sit down, which is always appreciated, and other soft drinks include sodas, aranciata and limonata sparkling drinks, elderflower and ginger and lemongrass presses and juices, plus hot drinks. Alcohol-wise, there are a couple of aperitifs including an interesting sounding grape and cucumber martini (£5.95). The Italian wine list offers about 16 choices (including two organic wines) available by the glass, 500ml carafe and bottle, plus a few proseccos and sparkling wines.
The Last Word
Solid but unspectacular, Jamie’s Italian in Covent Garden is proof that the chain is showing no signs of slowing down.