Jamie’s Trattoria, Richmond
As you’ll probably have gathered if you’re a regular reader of these pages, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Jamie. As in Jamie Oliver, of course. Despite recent disappointments in Jamie products – Jamie’s Italian, Jamie’s cookery classes – I still want to like the guy. After all, he’s a lovable chap who does a lot of good. I have many of his cookbooks on my shelves and some favourite recipes amongst them. But as his empire grows – and really, he is a bit of an emperor now – it seems he’s losing the plot at ground level. Jamie’s Trattoria opened to a bit of a fanfare in Richmond a few months ago, Jamie’s mate Gennaro Contaldo playing a part and contributing his own version of burger to the menu. Though burger + Gennaro + Italian isn’t something that immediately makes sense. I steered clear. My recent visits to Jamie’s Italian have been disappointing and I assumed the Trattoria would be offering much the same fare. However, a number of people raved and told me I must try it. So when my friend Liz and I agreed to meet up in Richmond last night, I suggested we went there.
Tucked down the small – and thus somewhat inappropriately named – King Street that leads off Richmond’s main thoroughfare towards the pretty Green, you have to almost know it’s there to come across it. I arrived a few minutes early, rushing in out of the rain and cold wind. It was 7.30 and not especially busy. There were three guys behind the counter with no one to serve; two girl waitresses chatting. It took a moment or two for someone to notice I was there. I know the emphasis in the Trattoria is meant to be laid-back and informal but my introduction to it came with a slight note of irritation. They weren’t on the ball. Neither were they on the ball when Liz arrived a few minutes later. Despite my having booked and given my name when I arrived, they sat her elsewhere. Fortunately she noticed me sitting at another table and came over.
A carafe of water came and the waiter went off to bring us glasses of wine while we looked at the menu. Someone came to tell us they had no prawns and so prawn linguine was now a crab linguine. A waiter crouched down to tell us the specials of the day. Crouched down? Like we were kids who needed him at eye level to know we were on equal terms? One of the things that annoys me about Jamie’s establishments is this mix of hearty, OTT friendliness with a lack of exacting and sharp professionalism sometimes. Liz chose the fish of the day: a sea bass she was told, cooked with wine, tomatoes and some other things; however it wasn’t long before they came back and said they had no sea bass (umm? fish of the day?) so was hake OK. I went for the linguine now to be served with crab. I also ordered some ‘homemade grissini with lemon ricotta, fennel and salt’ for us to nibble on with our wine while we waited for our mains. The wine came in thick glasses obviously meant to convey that laid-back ambience but lacking any suggestion of Italian style. I sipped as I shuffled on my old-style chair which wasn’t very comfortable. Then the grissini came. Small little things in a glass.
We chose one each and dipped into the ricotta. It was horrid. We didn’t eat it. It’s like dipping a breadstick into a sweet cheesecake, I said. It tastes like lemon curd, said Liz. The grissini themselves weren’t good either and we didn’t finish them. Then our mains arrived. Trattorias are supposed to serve hearty portions of home cooking. My pasta dish wasn’t exactly a hearty portion for £12.95.
I tasted it. Really, it wasn’t that nice. It had a slightly odd flavour. I wasn’t sure I wanted to eat it, but I did and since I’m still here and healthy this morning, there was obviously nothing wrong with it; it just wasn’t that great. Maybe it would have been better with the prawns, though I doubt it. Prawn linguine is one of my favourite things: I cook it a lot and often choose it in restaurants. But this pasta dish was one of the worst I’ve had. Was Liz’s fish any better?
She wasn’t very enthusiastic. It wasn’t that good, she said, and over spiced so that the taste of the fish was overwhelmed. How could they get it so wrong? It wasn’t busy – and even if it were, that wouldn’t really be a valid excuse. The food is cooked to order. Don’t they taste it?
The waiter brought dessert menus. No thanks, we said. He persisted. Didn’t we want to treat ourselves for Christmas? Didn’t we want to share one? Just leave us alone, I thought. I ordered coffee, Liz a tea. They were OK. I would say you can’t go far wrong with coffee or tea, but of course you can.
I got home and emailed my Italian friend A, saying ‘it was terrible’. He’s said to me that when he’s in UK a lot he gets used to our ‘Italian’ food and can start to think some of it’s good … until he goes home to Italy! Well, I need to take him to some of the really good Italian restaurants I know because there is some great Italian cooking in London, but meanwhile, the meal I had last night wouldn’t have impressed any Italian. And part of the problem is, if you use a name like ‘trattoria’ it sets up expectations. You think of lovely, friendly trattorias in Italy with simple but most wonderful homemade food. But sadly, Jamie’s Trattoria doesn’t even come close.