Tuesday, 21 June 2011
13 Friary St, GU1 4EH, £30 pp
I arrived at one of Jamie Oliver’s Italian eateries at the tail end of a concerted (and inexplicably unsuccessful) attempt to kill myself.
The previous four days had seen a number of triumphs for myself and a group of collaborators comprising the Russian, his American Sister, my own Sister and a new friend of mine whom I shall call Emily2, as that is very nealy her name, and avoids confusion with another friend of mine, Emily1.
Notable lowlights included ‘Formal Supper’ at Queen’s College Oxford at which myself, Sister and the American enjoyed drinking a fair amount of rare red Petillant Naturel and eating almost none of the food whilst wearing silly hats, getting ejected, and consequently breaking back into the same club a total of four times in a single evening, and taking 4 ½ hours to get from Oxford to Guildford via every M&S New York Pastrami sandwich between the two.
And once you get locked into a serious bender the tendency is to push it as far as you can. So Emily2 and I went for supper.
We were almost certainly intoxicated on arrival, and steady stream of first rate Prosecco based cocktails served only to abet this. ‘Though it really did highlight the consistent excellence of the service on offer; our young lady at one point expertly fielding Emily2’s deadpan complaint about a piece of white spaghetti amongst the squid ink stuff before moving swiftly on to complimenting us on our choice of espresso martinis for pudding (served in proper glasses- please take note Soho)
The food is really quite surprisingly good, even if everything is described, cooked and served a la Oliver and hence swimming in dizzy adjectives and olive oil, and presented in incomprehensible receptacles.
Our assortment of breads was good but came stuffed tightly into a small metal pot, which meant the liberation of one piece caused the rest to go all over the floor. My own seared Grey Mullet came with a sauce (roasted peppers, olives, chillis &c.) and a small rocket salad. Great.
Emily2’s Scallop and Squid ink spaghetti was equally good and came spiked with some intensely fiery red chilli. The magic here is how they’ve made the assorted ingredients taste so much; it is vibrant, flavoursome, singing food.
A subsequent visit brought the predictable discovery that the “World’s Best Olives” are not that, but they are quite good and served on ice. I’m not convinced this brought a whole lot flavour-wise but it did make them, and the accompanying tapenade, noticeably colder. The accompanying “music bread” (large shards of flatbread) smacked of finishing the thesaurus and moving on to the dictionary.
My fried squid came with “really garlicky mayo” which is a bold claim to make, especially when the garlic quotient of the sauce in question is situated well below perception threshold. Still- Emily2’s cockle linguine was a return to form; perfect, grit-less, cokcles and pasta in broth of lipsmacking intensity.
Day-glo badges that read “I finished all my vegetables at Jamie’s Italian” are not proffered voluntarily, but nor are they subject to a particularly stringent criteria test- the bemused looking man at the front desk will take your word.
(Assuming you don’t find yourself sharing the restaurant with Emily2 and I) I guarantee anyone will find the whole affair all rather brilliant and charming and reasonably priced.