We had been watching the hoardings with great interest in St Albans, the ones around The Old Bell pub saying that Jamie'sItalian restaurant was coming soon. The scheduled opening was Sunday 5th February 2012 but I was fortunate enough to be able to attend one of the preview sessions for lunch the day before. We paid for our meals but were given a 50% discount on the food since these preview sessions help the staff with their training. I asked my friend Ren Behan (a blogger with a great blog Fabulicious Food) to join me and we met at 1:00 pm ready for the Jamie experience.
I hadn't been to any other of Jamie Oliver's restaurants so I didn't have any pre-conceived ideas to cloud my judgement in any way. I had never been inside the The Old Bell when it was a pub but have been told it was quite dark inside.
Jamie's Italian in St Albans is light and airy inside with plenty of tables (I believe it has about 160 covers) and the pace was fast and furious. This was a training day which gives the staff a chance to go through their paces in readiness for the official opening. They had similar sessions the couple of days before hand and Genarro Contaldo attended and even Jamie Oliver made a surprise visit on Friday. Too bad we missed him - it would have been lovely to meet.
Our waiter, Andy, was very keen and very knowlegable about the menu and the different ingredients and their origins. We made our choices and sat back to take in the atmosphere.There was lots going on around us and all tables seemed to be full. I liked the antipasto bar where all the starters are prepared underneath the high hanging hams and salamis.
We decided to have a carafe of house wine - a delightful and crisp chardonnay and proceeded to make our order. I have never been that good at choice so it did take me a while to decide.
Ren was quite keen to try the Bufatta Mozarella - this is made in one small village in Italy and has become so popular with chefs that the village is now struggling to keep up production!
On the main course menu I felt that chilli and lemon featured very strongly - I had the pasta with prochutto and lemon (I do love lemon which was handy) and it tasted fantastic but a bit dry for my liking. I do like a bit of sauce.
The staff were keen to help but the overall service was quite slow. I think however that you have to be a tad patient as this was a training effort. I would hope that they tighten up on the service once they get into full swing.
Postscript: My friend Mandy went to the restaurant a week after the official opening and agreed with me that the food was lovely but said that the service was interminably slow. Mandy said she had been talking to the waiter (who by description I think was Andy) and he said that they had two chefs walk out in the first week which is not a good thing.
I will go there again and look forward to some lovely food and hopefully better service!