Jamie's Italian, Sydney CBD

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sometimes, when we go to a restaurant that doesn't take bookings, as we approach the restaurant I will quicken my pace from a leisurely walk to a hurried trot in an attempt to reach the end of the queue before anyone else walking in front of me to said restaurant does. It is as if by decreasing the distance between me and the queue, through increasing travel speed, my goal of getting into the restaurant earlier can be fulfilled. Of course, this is not always the case; sometimes the party of two that arrive 10 minutes later will receive a table earlier than we do. Despite giving me the satisfaction of reaching a restaurant before the ambling diners behind me, there is no sure way to make the wait shorter when it comes to restaurants which are so popular that waiting has become part of the dining experience. Such is the case at restaurants such as the xiao long bao institution, Din Tai Fung, and the epynomous Gelato Messina.

Jamie's Italian on Pitt Street in Sydney's CBD has been open for 3 years already, but I hadn't visited it until just recently. What is an unassuming facade consisting of a double-story glass window, fronted by a large, rustic 'J' signpost, can be easy to miss is you're hurriedly walking down a busy city street. Inside it's a whole different vibe, with the noisy chatter and split-level interior providing plenty to feast your eyes on. Jamie's takes bookings for parties of any number, so I could rest my laurels in knowing that we wouldn't have to worry about securing a table during the busy lunch hour.

To the side of the entrance, and what you can glimpse through the street-front window, is a pasta station equipped with heavy-duty pasta machines and backed by a wall brandishing two wooden shelves full of fresh, handmade pasta.

Yay fresh pasta!

If you're not already a fan of Jamie's, next to this pasta station is a wall lined with Jamie merchandise dominated by cookbooks, including the popular 30 Minute Meals, as well as the signature 'Jamie's' napkins that are used in his restaurants.

Two main dining areas are furnished down the long restaurant space, with the bottom level seating smaller groups along a cushioned banquette and small tables, which eventually leads to the open kitchen where chefs are busily plating up and cooking pastas to order. At both ends of the restaurant are dark, wooden staircases that lead to the upper dining level; this is home to banquette seating as well as larger, round tables. At the front of the dining area, opening up to Pitt Street below, is a long, semi-circular bench with stool seating.

Lighting can be dim in some areas, and after being shown to our table we are greeted by a waiter who will serve us for the whole of our sitting, which is adds a friendly touch to the dining experience.


Pastas feature heavily on the menu, and it's no surprise seeing as the staff make fresh pasta daily for such an extensive pasta menu. Planks can be ordered, arriving on impressive, long wooden boards strewn with an impressive selection of cured meats, cured fish, or marinated, char-grilled vegetables, or you can go for the many more delicious-sounding nibbles such as baked mushrooms, mini arancini or grilled asparagus bruschetta.

Pasta ahoy!

But we are here for the pasta. Being the avid meal-sharers my family are, we decide on three main-sized pastas and the hefty grilled Tagliata (sliced steak) for two to share between the five of us. Of course, a number of other main dishes on the menu, such as the Osso Bucco style Lamb and the tasty Jamie's Italian Burger, call at us as well, but they will just have to wait for another visit in the not-too-distant future.

Prawn Linguine (main size $28.50)

The main sized pastas are just that - a size big enough to be consumed as a main without having to feel like you need to slow down eating to savour, but small enough not to be cringing from a full, pasta-bloated belly once you've finished. Prawn Linguine is a dramatically high pile pasta twisted with pieces of prawn and whole, juicy cherry tomatoes sitting in a bright-orange, prawn infused sauce. The sauce is almost like a broth, and rightly so because it reminds me a lot of prawn-head soup, so strong is it's flavour. Rocket provides crunchy freshness, and upon closer inspection we see thin slices of fennel among the garlicky sauce.

Black Angel Spaghetti (main size $25)

Black Angel Spaghetti is the shade of black ink (squid ink, to be precise), thin, delicate, chewy strands of angel hair pasta that sit starkly against the brightness of the pungent sauce of capers, anchovies, wine, chilli and what looks to us like flickerings of salmon roe, as well as thing discs of scallop. I love the chewy texture of the angel hair pasta; the squid ink gives it a distinctly seafood taste which is light and addictive.

Lamb & Ricotta Tortellini (main size $26)

My favourite pasta is the Lamb and Ricotta Tortellini - 10 perfect parcels of braised lamb scattered on a long plate dotted with ricotta, topped with crunchy watercress, mint and surrounded by a tomato-based sauce. Each mouthful gives way to the rich lamb, silky pasta, creamy ricotta and sweet tomato sauce, with the watercress adding a welcome peppery dimension. It is simply devine.

Grilled Onglet Tagliata for two ($56)

The pièce de résistance arrives on a heavy wooden board (a presentation style I know is a common  in Jamie's repetoire) - thick strips of aged, marinated Black Australian Angus Beef piled atop one next to a long piece of bone marrow topped with golden breadcrumbs, some rocket, and a side bowl of polenta 'chips'. The beef, although requested medium rare, is more on the rarer side, but we don't mind as it's mouth-meltingly tender and delicious with the fatty, crispy bone marrow crumbled on top. The polenta resembles more cubes than chips, but are wonderfully crispy and delicious with a scattering of melted parmesan and fragrant rosemary.

And so we are rewarded with one the merits of sharing mains: having room for dessert.

Tiramisu ($11)

On an earlier visit we sampled the Tiramisu, a dizzying slab of coffee-infused sponge with rich marscapone and a quenelle of orange cream; it looks like they've changed the dish a bit because the large portion arrives alone, quite unattractive but with distinct brown and cream layers. It's deliciously rich, with a strong coffee flavour, which after a while gets too heavy for me. It lacks an element of lightness that would have otherwise been provided by a lashing of cream or ice cream.

Vanilla cheesecake ($10.50)

Baked ricotta and vanilla cheesecake is an extremely generous slice of cake topped with candied orange and an orange syrup. It is not light, unlike Papa's ricotta cheesecake, but has a denser ricotta filling sitting on a short, hazelnut-coloured biscuit base. This is enough for two to share, creamy and addictive.

Epic Brownie ($10)

Epic Brownie is the ultimate sweet-lovers dessert: warm, fudgy chocolate brownie smothered in a hot fuge sauce, topped with caramelised amaretti popcorn and a scoop of amaretto ice cream. There's nothing not to love about this dessert, unless, of course, you have an aversion to chocolate or anything overwhelmingly sweet. The brownie is sweet and more brownie than cake, which is what all brownies should be.

Having the one waiter meant that when we deferred our first chance of ordering to ponder the menu a little longer, our waiter seemed to disappear when we were ready so order, so we were left trying the grab the attention of other staff who did not seem to be as interested in us as in their own assigned patrons. Other than that, overall service was helpful, and everything we ate was a step up from the flavour combinations, textures and presentation of Italian food we normally encounter at our local Italian restaurants. Although the price range varies considerably depending on what you order, the food is delicious and menu wide enough to cater for all palettes. Perfect if you are in the mood for Italian and happen to be in the Sydney CBD.


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