Restaurant reviews - Jamie's Italian Restaurant and Bar, Manchester
PUBLISHED: 11:33 14 May 2012 | UPDATED: 09:46 20 April 2016
Jamie Oliver's new Manchester restaurant used to be a bank. It seems Jamie's Italian will continue to be a bankable venue REVIEW BY RAY KING
There’s something immensely gratifying about the former sumptuous halls of politicians and bankers being given over to the proletariat.
Here we are, at the top end of King Street, Manchester, one time heart of the city’s financial district, now a mecca for winers and diners. Amid the Gladstonian Victorian gothic of the old Liberal Party’s Reform Club, Cheshire Life and Lancashire Life's former Manchester Restaurant of the Year, Room, has taken root.
Across the road a former holder of that title, Rosso, occupies the extravagant Edwardian baroque marbled palazzo that once housed a major bank. And now open, in another monument to Mammon - Sir Edwin Lutyens’ landmark ‘King of King Street’ - is the most keenly anticipated restaurant in years: Jamie’s Italian.
First the building: designed in 1928 by the celebrated architect of Liverpool Cathedral, 100 King Street has been a Manchester icon for 80 years and its makeover is nothing short of magnificent. Enter and one is confronted by a 40ft-long bar hung with a fabulous array of Italian charcuterie behind which chefs beaver away creating planks and platters of delights. There’s a drinking and snacking section to the right; the dining areas – all 278 covers! - are located in various rooms on the ground floor and around a glorious mezzanine from which there’s a brilliant view of the whole buzzing, atmospheric shebang. (At least there was after Ruby, our friendly and very knowledgeable server, acceded to our request to move from behind a pillar).
Furnishing is pretty rudimentary, tables unclad and there’s no decor as such; but then who needs it amid the splendour of Lutyens’ Art Deco architecture…it would be like sticking wallpaper in St Paul’s.
Early Tuesday evening and the place was packed. Weekends are booked out for ages – but at least you can book! Our experience of Jamie’s in Liverpool was tempered somewhat by the (then) no booking policy and being ushered into a crowded bar with a pager ‘for when the table is ready’. Try that lark in King Street just now and there’d be a riot, though they still style themselves a ‘walk-in’ restaurant. Hmm.
But to business: the menu is typically Jamie Oliver, enthusing over tip-top ingredients and making them accessible in an array of want-to-eat dishes at affordable prices. Antipasti planks and platters with meats, cheeses and vegetables are £6.85 a head, plates even less. They do home-made pasta and risotto in both starter and main course portions and provided our kicking-off point. I began with a stunning-looking Seaside Risotto (£8.95), with clams, prawns, cockles, white gurnard, chilli and white wine on perfect creamy yet still al dente rice and delivering sublime flavours.
Mrs K chose Black Angel Spaghetti (£8.20), the squid ink pasta, sliced English scallops, garlic, chilli, anchovies, wine, parsley and capers providing a kaleidoscope of tastes and contrasting colours.
For the main course I was steered by Ruby towards the specials board and had Hanger Steak (£16.95) with roasted vine cherry tomatoes, rocket and fennel salad, delivered on a 4cm thick hardwood butcher’s block. The beef, an unusual cut in the UK but known as onglet in France, packs a delicious flavour punch but toughens up if done more than medium rare.
It’s not fillet for sure – but this was just right with the sweet tomatoes, slightly bitter rocket, anise flavoured fennel and generous dollop of pesto providing excellent ‘trimmings’. Mrs K chose roasted Anglesey Sea Bass (£16.95), farmed in the Menai Strait and served whole en papillote with aromatic herbs and crunchy sweet and sour vegetables.
Never the easiest fish to eat when served on the bone, the bass was nonetheless delightfully moist and well flavoured and the accompanying yellow and green peppers and fennel were quite delicious. We shared one portion of ‘posh chips’ (£3.25), presumably so called because of the truffle oil and Parmesan dressing; what they lost in crispiness, they certainly gained in flavour.
To finish we tucked into (his) Sicilian cheesecake with beautiful ricotta and candied citrus fruit and (her) top notch chocolate, raspberry and Amaretto brownie with vanilla ice cream: dreamy desserts for a very reasonable £4.95 a go. We drank a carafe of peachy unoaked chardonnay from Puglia (£21), one of a brace of organic house wines from a very interesting and exclusively Italian (apart from Champagne) list.
Jamie’s Italian can bank on success.
Jamie’s Italian Restaurant and Bar, 100 King Street, M2 4WU. 0161 241 3901 www.jamieoliver.com/italian/manchester
Cheshire Life restaurant reviews are conducted ‘incognito’. We book and pay for meals as ordinary diners do so as to experience the same treatment as any member of the public. If we are ever guests of a hotel or restaurant, the review will mention that.