Dubai; FooDiva’s been longing to review Jamie Oliver’s first restaurant outside British shores since it soft opened in Dubai a month or so ago, but I was hoping for its licence to come through first. Always nice to have a glass of fruity red with one’s favourite pasta, no? Anyhow, patience has never been my virtue, so FooDiva and friend settled for a leisurely weekend lunch instead.
Located at Dubai Festival City’s Marina Pavilion just below Chi’Zen infact, Jamie’s Italian, draws the punters in as soon as you walk through with an inviting, rustic Tuscan, almost posh canteen-like feel. Bar first with open-plan kitchen, shame there’s only mocktails, then down a few steps to the main restaurant – lots of trestle-tables and banquettes. And then out on the landscaped terrace, which is where we sat initially on a banquette table overlooking the Canal Walk, but it was a tad blustery so we moved to a circular table a little later on. If that wasn’t enough, there’s further seating upstairs. A great mix of local and expat clientele and nice to see somewhere so busy on a Saturday lunch. Jamie’s Italian is the Brit chef’s casual dining concept, with 16 eateries across the UK, plus one opening later this year in Sydney. Glad to see Dubai was first on his list of international openings.
Our waiter charmed us from the outset talking us through the menu and his recommendations, so much so I thought he was Italian, but Romanian infact – anyhow he looked and acted the part. The menu comprises nibble dishes, antipasti, pasta and meat/ fish secondi, plus sides. I always thrive on share and share alike, so we settled upon a nibble of sweet mini chilli peppers, crispy squid antipasti and parmesan chunks to start with (yes you have to pay for nuggets of parmegianno). The red chillies were stuffed with tuna, capers and anchovies – I was drawn to the unusual combination, and it worked without the spice overwhelming our taste buds. The squid was deep fried in batter and was clearly fresh and tender – accompanied by a lemon wedge and garlic aioli dip. Now I know we ordered it, but I do object to paying for a teeny side plate of parmesan (AED 19), even if it was drizzled with aged balsamic. The squid dish was also pretty miniscule.
You can’t go to an Italian and not eat pasta especially freshly made, so forget those carb-free diets, but what’s great about Jamie’s is that you have the option of 200 or 400g – so you can still watch those portions, which is what we did. So spaghetti alle vongole for FooDiva; now I know I am spoilt thanks to Chef Maurizio’s culinary creations, but the clams tossed with chilli, garlic, and baby tomatoes (sadly the white vino will only be added once the licence comes through) really lacked taste and was pretty bland – perhaps it was in need of that extra tipple. None of that ‘oh I wish I had ordered 400g’. My friend echoed the same with her prawn linguine; pan-fried garlic prawns with tomatoes, chilli, rocket, fennel and rocca as garnish. I know we shouldn’t have, especially in an Italian, but I hate to admit, we ordered a side of so-called funky chips, which were very clearly double fried with fresh garlic and parsley – now we could have had a few extra grammes of that for sure.
I digested with a cup of English breakfast, beautifully presented in a cast-iron teapot and clear glass cup and saucer, but with a tea-bag, no sign of leaves - I guess that’s their casual concept. My friend’s trio of ice-cream scoops was non-descript and lacked flavour, as well as presentation.
When the bill arrived, we had been charged for the bread – now my friend had asked for some on arrival but our lovely waiter omitted to highlight this pretty crucial fact. We brought this to the attention of another waiter who was now serving us as we’d moved table – he very promptly apologised and of his own accord decided to remove it from the bill. When I asked for the rationale, he explained that it was flown in from their London restaurant – agh, can’t you bake your own bread on the premises, or if not buy it in locally? Frankly, we’re not in France, so Jamie please don’t continue charging for your bread (and your parmesan).
Now at AED 327 for two (with taxes included), Jamie’s Italian is very affordable; with excellent service and great atmosphere, but oh my, the food lacks that flavoursome wow factor. Looking around at our neighbouring diners, the meat secondi impressed us, so perhaps it was our choice of dishes, but surely you should get your core pasta right? Jamie’s, you have huge potential, please work through this, so FooDiva can return and have her glass of Sicilian shiraz. Currently you’ve got a 3 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating.
Jamie’s Italian is open daily for lunch and dinner. Bookings are only required for eight people or more, but I expect this may change when the licence comes through. Tel; +971 4 2329668.