"Wow, you've been to Jamie Oliver's restaurant," said a friend in Brazil after hearing about my visit to the place. If she only knew, well, now she knows, eating at the Italian restaurant of one the most popular chefs in the world is a quite good but cheap experience.
Jamie Oliver has never hidden his admiration for the diversity of flavours of the rich Italian cuisine, so he decided to launch his own version of a "typical canteen" in the UK some years ago and nowadays, we can find Jamie's Italian in more than 20 English cities, as well as restaurants in Dubai, India, and in Sydney, Australia.
With a respectful chain scattered all over the country and very affordable price, the experience of eating one of the Jamie Oliver's dishes has become more than just a peep at the menu display outside the restaurant.
I visited the Birmingham one, which opened in 2010, located in the heart of the Bull Ring shopping centre. The first impression was surprising, just for the fact I didn't have to wait long for a table. Considering it was on a Friday, nearly 5pm, when everyone is leaving work, craving for a place to have some drinks and start the weekend.
Inside, Jamie's Italian, the rustic décor with wooden tables and metal chairs reminds us we're in Birmingham, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. The kitchen, fortunately, was in front of me. It was a pleasant experience to observe, calmly, all frantic work going on at the restaurant of the most charismatic English Chef.
The staff were all smiles. They were very helpful and informative well. As the restaurant is composed of 90% of a very young staff their 25-30-something years old, it's likely to expect some enthusiasts of the modern Jamie Oliver's cooking. A bonus indeed!
Less than 10 minutes on the table and a charismatic waitress brought the huge and colourful menu. I have chosen a delicious selection of Italian breads as starter, something that was also on my table ten minutes after the order.
Moving on to the main course, my friend and I have asked the Crab & Squid Ink Spaghetti and Cuttlefish Paccheri. Two classic Mediterranean dishes that do not disappoint on taste, presentation or portion size. Considering that we ask for small ones that serve two people perfectly, costing around 9 pounds, just proved that Jamie's Italian offers quality food for a surreal price.
With the restaurant already packed, the service was still spot on, with the manager and waitress always helpful and enthusiastic. We didn't drink, but couldn't miss the dessert.
So, how about one more classic Italian? Yes, tiramisu for us and my favourite English pudding, Lemon Curd. Another impeccable presentation and I must confess that the Amalfi Lemon Curd won my heart. Fair play to Jamie Oliver's cuisine! It was exactly how we imagine when watching his programmes on TV: practical, beautiful and delicious with the special plus, the affordable price.