Food

Boastful, narcissistic, overpriced: welcome to Jamie’s Italian

There are 41 branches now. The Piccadilly one is a very strange place

22 August 2015

9:00 AM

22 August 2015

9:00 AM

Jamie’s Italian is squeezed into the Devonshire Arms on Denman Street, Soho, borne on the duplicitous winds of TV shows and book deals. It’s an odd fit, like a Flump meeting Dante. The Devonshire was a pub at the end of the world, a Victorian dystopia made of violence and despair. Now Jamie Oliver — an aghast teenager running to fat even as he declares war on the Turkey Twizzler and the civilisation that wrought it — has sucked it into his empire of Jamie’s Italians (there are 41, from Aberdeen to Gatwick), installed a roof terrace and written ‘Established 2014’ over the door.

At first glance, Jamie has done nothing to the Devonshire Arms. It is still a grim London pub, now struck down with a late-term identity crisis. He has not even removed the signs that told the very drunk they were in the Devonshire Arms, rather than New York, or a swimming pool, or hell. There are green leatherette banquettes, brown plastic walls masquerading as wood panelling and a hideous air-conditioning system hanging, like a dead TV alien, from the ceiling.

Explore further, however, and learn what new horrors planning restrictions can summon in a Victorian pub that has been bought by a fake-revolutionary chef expanding, in every sense, too fast. There are metal staircases and crazy art to invoke edge when there is none; Oliver, for all his anti-establishment posturing, is a conservative force. Women who feed their children chips through the barbed wire at school know him as their enemy. There are five cramped and sweaty floors of it; a 440-cover restaurant lurks behind the signage. It is a Tardis.


The service is a tribute to Oliver’s TV schtick — chaotic love-bombing. The waiter sprints through the specials, waving his arms, as if conducting antipasti. Presently he brings Jamie’s Ultimate Plank (what to say?) — a small tree held up by two empty tins of tomato puree. It carries a series of mediocre cheeses and meats and salads, selling itself by size, improbability and size again; it is obliviously pornographic and I do not want to eat it.

Floored by the plank, so to speak, we progress through the enormous menu; enormous, in menus, usually bespeaks anxiety and, in this case, confusion about geography and provenance. Oliver likes to place the word ‘Italian’ before dishes that are not Italian, as if wishing it will make them so: there is Crispy Italian-Spiced Duck Leg and, more preposterously, Italian Steak Frites. This is larceny: it reminds my companion of the time the owner of a Milanese trattoria insisted he had invented Sachertorte.

It is boastful too: Our Famous Prawn Linguine. The Ultimate Burger. World’s Best Olives on Ice. Award Winning Pecorino & Chilli Jam. Epic Brownie. This is narcissism. It is like eating a certain kind of journalist.

The pasta is well-seasoned but overcooked; the Crispy Italian-Spiced Duck Leg has never dreamt of Italy, let alone quacked there; the Italian Steak Frites are French Steak Frites.

All this is a hoax inflicted on the clients, who have been enticed away from Pizza Express, where they really wanted to eat, by Oliver’s fame. (Pizza Express is a very good restaurant.) It is a restaurant for Alan Partridges who dare the poisons of Soho and are fleeced for their trouble. It may be in Piccadilly Circus, but spiritually it is a Surrey pub for divorced dads on Sundays; an ‘Italian-Style’ Harvester selling overpriced food that does not know where it is from. (Harvester is not a good restaurant.)

Fennel ‘rubbed’ pork scratchings tell us all — this is a child’s restaurant.

Jamie’s Italian, Denman Street, London W1D 7HW; tel: 020 3376 3391.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
  • teigitur

    Jamie Oliver is starting to look like Michael Portillo.

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      Only more preachy and sneering. He is a food snob.

  • Yorkieeye

    He’s a good lad. We like him in Leeds. Kids do like his restaurants and his food. But considering children to be humans too I had always thought that it was a good thing that they did.

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    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      He is boastful. Strange as it must be so easy for him to bite his tongue.

  • mmac1968

    Of all the restaurants in all the world he had to be forced into ours. Possibly the worst tv chef since Floyd.

    • Curmudgeon

      At least Floyd put two fingers up to political correctness.

      • mmac1968

        I would agree, Floyd was the early tv chef representative of poor uk food at the time. But his antics sold him.

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      No, Worrall- Thompson was the worst.

      • Landphil

        A boozy evening out with Floyd, cooking a Jamie ’15 minute’ meal or shopping in Tesco with Worrall-unexpected item in the bagging area-Thompson; I know which one i’d choose.

        • kaymanaisle

          Brilliant

          • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

            I’ll just have a slurp! Bam. KFloyd (1998)

  • UriahOlathaire

    Fat tongued mockney wanker

    • Alan

      Yup. Grew up in one of the poshest villages in Essex. I detest the fraudster.

  • Mow_the_Grass

    A pompous self satisfied little porker – with an appalling accent

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      You can take the boy out if Essex….but…….

  • Chamber Pot

    What an astonishingly spiteful and bitchy article and I am no fan of Jamie’s Italian and was very disappointed to bump into one in Bali.

    • William Cameron

      Many, if not most, of her reviews are like this. Occasionally she does write a reasoned article, but not very often. I haven’t eaten in any of his restaurants though, so can’t comment on the food offered, but have had a look in the one at Gatwick and decided I didn’t care for the look of it or the menu options on the board outside; I always used to eat in Café Rouge (a pretty decent attempt at a French-style bistro in such a busy setting), but it has closed to be replaced by Wagamama which I haven’t tried yet, instead I’ve gone for Comptoir Libanais which offers a fair attempt at Lebanese cuisine and I like it – and it is not noisy and over-crowded like Jamie’s (over-hyped?) establishment. I did like his earlier shows on TV though and if he has put on a few pounds in recent years then so what – he enjoys his food, so do I. His name is obviously a big pull, so whilst the tone of Ms Gold’s article is highly unpleasant, I can’t honestly quarrel with certain of her reactions – but just tone it down a little.

      • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

        Not eaten in his restaurants. Then my advice is don’t. They are abysmal, when Italian. In Soho you can still eat decent Italian food, for example Aldo’s in Greek Street, which will not rip you off.

  • MC73

    Very very bored of the whole ‘let’s only review restaurants I hate’ theme.

    Also sick of this reviewer and her contrived, borderline hysterical, language. “a Flump meeting Dante”. No. “a hideous air-conditioning system hanging, like a dead TV alien” Please stop.

    Finally, are you not even slightly embarrassed about mocking Jamie Oliver’s weight?

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      This is an excellent article. I have had the misfortune to visit two of Oliver’s restaurants and will never go again. The article echoes my experience totally. Overpriced pseudo Italian food. An American idea of Italian cooking. £4 for six chips in a cup. In 15 years of visiting Italy this monstrosity had never been served to me. Nor indeed crispy duck, which is Chinese.
      What saddens me most is the young Jamie learnt some of his trade at Ruth Roger’s River Cafe. It appals me to think he must be fully aware of , even visited, Gianni Franzi in Vernazza. However, he has taken no inspiration from what is widely considered one of the very best Italian restaurants in Italy.
      Oliver is a preachy bloody know all conservative. He is also very greedy. A typical Tory. I love the Harvester metaphor. In fact , I think Harvester is a bit better.

      • Felixthecat

        Sorry, but his view on school dinners is straight out of New Labour’s politics of behaviour play-book, the same people who brought you the smoking ban and the alcohol price escalator.

        • Sausage McMuffin

          …of which the Cameroons heartily approve

          • Felixthecat

            Well he is heir to Blair.

        • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

          NuLabor are conservative. That is why Corbyn is so popular.

      • MC73

        Nope, it is a terrible article. The restaurant may be either great or abysmal, but the article is still pathetic.
        I also very much doubt JO is a Tory. I suspect you are using ‘Tory’ as a term of abuse, rather than making a real judgement about his politics.
        The River Cafe is great though, not arguing with that.

        • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

          If ever in the Cinque Terre visit Gianni Franzi in little Vernazza. Only accessible by boat, train or a very long walk. A more picturesque spot there cannot be. The food here inspired the River Cafe. It has just recovered from a massive mudslide that swamped the village in around 2011.

      • mohdanga

        Why is he greedy? Because he opens up a slew of restaurants? He’s a restaurateur and a chef so one would presume this would be what he does.
        And as if no lefties are greedy. Wasn’t it Bono and U2 that moved their corporate offices out of Dublin over to Amsterdam so that they could enjoy lower taxes?

    • kaymanaisle

      Disagree, this is an excellent piece which will help prevent people make the mistake I made in going to Jamie’s Italian. As to your point, why should anyone be embarrassed about mocking Jamie Oliver’s weight? This is the man who took it upon himself to mock people up and down the country for their eating habits. If he’s a bit porky himself, perhaps he should lose some weight. It all speaks to his credibility. Or rather his lack of it.

      • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

        The only bloke ever to get fat on a diet of lettuce leaves.

  • Angharad

    Jamie’s got a very profitable scam going; hire young people on minimum wage with the phony excuse of training them up.

    Then, once they’re trained up and he should start paying them a fair wage he gets rid of them all and hires another set of staff with no experience on minimum wage.

    • Levinas

      Better still, call it a charity, a social good and eminently tax deductible.

      https://www.jamieoliver.com/the-fifteen-apprentice-programme/home/index

      • Angharad

        So that’s how his ’empire’ is growing so fast; legal tax evasion too.

        • mohdanga

          Err, if it’s legal then it’s called ‘avoidance’.
          Is it against the law to hire people at minimum wage? And I doubt he just lets them go in order to get another lot of minimum wage earners in, the costs involved in re-training would be more than the savings of starting afresh.

          • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

            But once they turn 21 he has to pay 12% Employer’s NICs.

    • milford

      Like all the other high street eat houses.

    • Dogsnob

      Welcome to UK employment! Onwards and downwards, what!

      • mohdanga

        Not sure if they are being press ganged into working there….

        • Dogsnob

          Be assured, they are.

          • mohdanga

            Evidence, please.

          • Dogsnob

            …yawn…..

    • El_Sid

      The trouble with “staff with no experience” is that – they have no experience. A £6.50 person can be over 20% less efficient than an £8 person at many tasks.

      It’s also worthy of note that Osborne has been building these kinds of steps at different ages into the tax/wage system, with the employer’s NI kicking in at 21 and the Living Wage at 25.

    • GraveDave

      Like I said, he’s an admirable Tory.

  • Callipygian

    Wow: a Tanya Gold review I actually enjoyed!

  • Alexandra Murray

    Jamie Oliver took some of the stuffiness out of cook books and I like him for that. I don’t think he has ever boasted of his “haut cuisine”. But in the early days I liked his cook book style. He, in one of his books, encouraged me to try a fish finger sandwich. Loved it.

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      Who the blinking flip has not had a fish finger sandwich before? It is a staple of the working class and student novels everywhere. Old fat tongue just calls them gougons and adds a bit of mayo.

      • Alexandra Murray

        I agree. However I spent half my life in California. Fish finger sandwich reminds me of Rubio’s fish tacos which are also delicious..You need light, crisp fried fish, the perfect toppings, and high-contrast flavors and textures.

        • kaymanaisle

          The comments on this article are a more entertaining read than the piece itself.

          • Damaris Tighe

            More appetising.

          • jmshigham

            Always are, Kaymanaisle.

      • El_Sid

        Without wanting to contribute to any stereotypes about Islington, I once went to a pub there that offered a fish finger sandwich in ciabatta. That must deserve a prize for the dish which most completely misses the point.

        • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

          Bet it came on a slate.

  • Alexandra Murray

    I don’t think Jamie has ever promoted his food as “haut cuisine”. I have enjoyed his cook books for their “give it a go” attitude. In one of his books he encouraged me to try a fish finger sandwich. Loved it. Lighten up guys!

    • Edward Noel

      You seem to have repeated yourself, Alexandra. Furthermore, this was a review of JO’s latest restaurant, not his latest book. It sounds awful, and I agree with every sentiment in the article. JO has built a business based on exploiting ignorant, naïve punters who know nothing of authentic Italian food. And, by the way, the phrase is “haute cuisine”. But who cares, when it sounds convincing to most people?

      • Alexandra Murray

        I consider myself thoroughly put down! Doesn’t happen often but I’m mortified about the missing “e”. To me dining out is entertainment. I can eat at home. This week I’m off to try Peruvian. Don’t know how I managed to repeat myself. T’was not my intention.

        • Edward Noel

          Please excuse my impolitesse! I hear Lima Fitzrovia and Lima Floral are good Peruvians. Longing to try them. Where did you have in mind?

          • Alexandra Murray

            Coya in London

          • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

            The shining path to Andean cuisine.

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      When he charges £17 for a Veal cutlet and £14 for Ravioli it better be haute cuisine, otherwise it is cynical cashing in .

      • El_Sid

        Suspect that the real “cashers-in” are the property landlords who can charge daft rents that only the big chains can afford – some of my favourite places in London have been succumbing to this effect.

      • mohdanga

        And he’s forcing people to eat there, correct?

  • Mc

    “Pizza Express is a very good restaurant”. Which confirms thay Tanya Gold is a journalist.

    • Brogan75

      As an italian, Pizza Express is as disgusting as Jamie’s

      • Callipygian

        As an Italian, maybe you’re expecting the wrong things.

  • justejudexultionis

    Jamie Oliver has made millions from the naïvety and ignorance of the Great British Public.

    • Callipygian

      I wish I knew how to do that! : )

  • Peter Stroud

    Jamie Oliver – the Owen Jones of the culinary world.

  • milford

    Pizza Express is a franchise and the quality of the pizzas varies enormously depending on which one you go to. Fulham Rd – Great. Solihull – Abysmal, in my experience.

    • Callipygian

      T. Wells: great, but then again that was over 10 years ago (I’m 4400 miles away and haven’t been back).

  • Wilkes Spooner

    aahh the fat chef with a drum kit..bless’d Marco

  • kaymanaisle

    Jamie’s Italian in Kingston was a place I visited once – never again. The meanest portions you’ve ever seen, the slowest most slovenly service and, also the worst aspect of the whole place, the artificial queue where you’re made to wait by the door for (in our case) 25 minutes to create the illusion of excess customer desire. When we were shown to our table we walked past half a dozen other empty tables. All hype, no substance.

    • Kingstonian

      You got to wait by the door? We were told to wait outside. It was January, below freezing and sleeting. We walked 50 yards down the road to (a warm and welcoming) Pizza Express and have never been back to Jamie’s.

  • Damaris Tighe

    Any restaurant with an enormous menu is probably microwaving frozen food.

    • El_Sid

      Generally true just to minimise waste, but perhaps a bit less so in this case just because of the sheer scale of the operation. Combine a 440 cover capacity with the footfall of Piccadilly Circus and he must be aiming for close to 10,000 meals a week, so even the minor dishes will be selling dozens per week. You can afford to have more fresh stock in that situation.

      • Damaris Tighe

        But how could kitchen & fresh storage capacity cope with so many variations?

        • El_Sid

          Don’t get me wrong, Jamie is using a lot of frozen/preprep stuff in his restaurants, I’m not trying to get romantic about it. But the logistics of fresh/chilled storage capacity aren’t so different from frozen – as long as you have the throughput to turn it over within 48 hours or so.

          Say a family restaurant pushing through 100 covers a day makes 2 litres of pasta sauce every morning – Jamie could make 20 litres of one sauce, or 10 litres of one and 5 litres each of two more. He still has efficiencies of scale (it’s little more effort to make 5 litre batches versus 2 litres), but can offer three menu options rather than one and if he’s scaled it right, he’ll still use up all three sauces within 48 hours and need to make more.

          • Callipygian

            Excellent points, though it seems that Jamie himself does nothing in the kitchen of these restaurants. So what we’re really describing is ‘Jamie’s army’. This is what Julian Barnes had in mind when he said that a home cook cannot and should not expect to produce dishes exactly as professional kitchens do them — not having a posse of devoted servile under-cooks to de-seed cartloads of tiny tomatoes (his example). Why anyone would want to de-seed tomatoes anyway is a mystery to me!

      • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

        That would mean he is barely half full. If open 12 til 12 and at 70% occupancy he
        should shift 15,000 easily. That is 15,000 more disappointed punters every week.

  • somewhereinthesouth

    He needs to stick to school dinners.

  • Torybushhug

    We’ve been to the Cambridge branch twice. Arrogant staff – I complained the chips were cold to wit the waiter raised eyebrows and proceeded to place the back of his hand against them! Like I want to eat chips mixed in with his sweat. Dirty toilets, staff preening themselves whilst diners try and catch their eye.
    Wont be returning – far to contrived. Our local family run Italian offers the real thing made by humble self effacing passionate owners. No comparison.

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      It is usually the case that the one off family run places are better, though the small San Carlo chain is as close to authentic Italian as any.

    • GUBU

      I had the pleasure – if you can call it that – of the branch in Tooley Street, near Tower Bridge. Never again.

      I suspect that those ladies who offended Mr Oliver by feeding their children takeaway food through the school railings offered their diners not only better cuisine, but superior ambience.

  • Jab

    Went to 15 in Newquay once, poor food, greasy pork.All show and no skill.

  • rj

    I got roped into attending a Christmas do at one of these restaurants.

    I wasn’t able to choose what I wanted from the menu, and I had to pay £30 for the “baby chicken” which was over-cooked and dry when compared to a Boneless Banquet.

    A burnt baby chicken! At Christmas ffs!

  • Yogini Jhingan

    This article is just Rude.

    • Callipygian

      It’s more than just Rude; it’s entertaining. And possibly correct (I had a look at images of the Plank online and it’s as described: really quite gauche).

  • So much fat-shaming. Not to mention pretense.

    It sounds more like a review of Jamie Oliver’s person than the restaurant in question. The author is almost salivating with hatred.

  • Ian

    Living in Italy I realise that the menu is a real mish-mash of combinations. However, what caught my eye was something in the wine list –

    POGGIO TEMPESTA CHIANTI DOCG 13%
    2012 PUGLIA

    First time I have seen a Chianti produced in Puglia.

  • Ken Macgregor

    I posted this on Jamieoliver.com

    Jamie, I hope you read this:

    It’s a
    bold man who opens yet another Italian restaurant in an area of
    Glasgow that seems to have more Italian restaunts than the Piazza Navona
    and it always amuses me that the only restaurant in the area with a
    real Italian name, that Glasgow institution Cafe Gandolfi, isn’t an
    Italian restaurant at all.

    Anyway, after two failed attempts to
    get in, there isn’t a dress code I just wasn’t prepared to stand in a
    queue in the street for 45 minutes, we made it. Yesterday lunchtime
    there was no queue so in we went and waited politely until the two staff
    at the door finished their private conversation to be shown to a table.

    Now
    yesterday it was raining in biblical proportions and we both looked
    like we had just had an encounter with Strathclyde Fire and Rescue,
    quite literally soaked to the skin and stood at the table waiting for
    the first of the six or seven waitpersons who were to serve us to offer
    to take our coats. After an embarrasing pause we asked her to take our
    wet coats. No, she couldn’t since there was nowhere to hang them
    apparently. This seems something of an oversight in a country where rain
    is not exactly unusual, what will they do in the winter? We were told
    to put them on the banquette next to us and I pity the diners to sit
    there next.

    We take in the not unattractive decor which I would
    describe as Russian Tractor Factory Canteen chic and are asked not once
    but twice by the same waitperson for our order despite not yet having
    seen a menu. Keen I suppose.

    Next up we order a bottle of unoaked
    Chardonnay from Puglia, but it isn’t really a bottle at all since the
    wine is delivered in milk cartons and poured into decanters. It is warm
    so we ask for an ice bucket. No, they don’t do icebuckets.

    With
    the wine comes a selection of breads which are baked twice daily but the
    Carta di Musica was stale and tasted like it had been around since
    Garibaldi was a boy. The balsamic vinegar and oil would have been better
    if it had been two or more parts oil to one of vinegar rather than the
    other way round.

    Another waitress arrives with the starters and
    asks who is having what and then places the dishes at the other side of
    the table, can’t imagine the thinking there. For the first course
    Lesley has deep fried ravioli (hey, this is Glasgow, you can deep fry
    anything) served, curiously, on an old piece of stained brown paper but
    she liked them and the arrabiata sauce really was good. I had whitebait
    which were fleshy but overpowered by an excessively acidic dressing.
    They really like vinegar here.

    Next the main course of a ‘feather
    steak’ for Lesley and scallops with sepia angel hair pasta for me which
    the waitress insisted on calling ‘the squid’. This latter dish was the
    most ineptly cooked pasta since Marco Polo first brought noodles back
    from China to Venice. A black overcooked, half congealed mush with six
    white blobs which may have once been scallops or maybe even squid, we’ll
    never truly know. The whole lot swimming in a broth which tasted only
    of salt and capers. So salty that I drank two cans of Diet Coke when I
    got home, something that usually only happens on a Sunday morning after
    copious amounts of good conversation around the dinner table the night
    before. The dish closely resembled the large black and blue blob of a
    tatoo on the waitress’s forearm.

    I don’t want to be served by women with tatooed arms.

    Did anyone ask why we had left 60% of our food? No.

    Did we get the first two deserts of our choice? No.

    Lesley
    ordered tiramisu which was very good indeed but yet another waitress
    tried to take away her plate still with food on it whilst she had the
    spoon in her mouth. You can’t make this stuff up but they had probably
    come round to the idea that she might not eat it anyway.

    I
    ordered a coffee and was promptly asked if I would like a tea or coffee
    to follow. At this point I realise that the staff may actually be badly
    programmed automatons who just spout random restaurant phrases.

    As we left the first two staff were still engaged in conversation at the door.

    Did they say ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’? No.

    Will I be back? What do you think?

  • GraveDave

    I really cant understand why the Right are so down on Jamie. In terms of aspiration and success and clean living, he really is everything we’re supposed to admire.
    His dad was an ardent Thatcherite (I believe) Anyway, politics aside, I think he’s alright. But it always seems to be the right wing press knocking him down. And so what if he’s overpriced, he’s got to be better value than chewing the cud with Dave.

    Tories charge £2,500 a head for access to ministers at party …

    http://www.theguardian.com › Politics › Conservatives

    17 Sep 2014 – Tickets for the inaugural Conservative business dinner in 2010 cost£1,000 each, and attendees at the 2012 event – including payday loans …

  • robertsonjames

    So what you’re saying is that you weren’t quite sure about this one?

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