A friend of mine once said that you fall into one of two celebrity chef camps: Nigella or Jamie. If you like celebrity chefs at all, that is. Nigella is a bit too fake — just look at Nigellissima. Jamie Oliver may mean well, but his do-good nature can be off-putting. Give me Amanda Cohen or Yotam Ottolenghi any day.
If you ask the Brits, however, I have a feeling they’d say that Jamie Oliver does know a bit about good food. He sells bottled pesto! He wrote plenty of cookbooks! He has his own restaurant chain! Let’s stop on the last one for a moment.
During my first year of university, a branch of Jamie’s Italian opened on Park Street. It was simply there: not interesting, most certainly too expensive for poor uni students. I walked by frequently, thoughtlessly, until I saw the sandwich board proudly proclaiming their award winning breakfast, complete with pastries.
I searched for their breakfast menu online to see if they served croissants, but there isn’t one. There isn’t even a proper breakfast menu in the restaurant. Instead, they have a mini chalk board, letting you know that breakfast means a full-English or café-style treats. There’s a little wooden cutting board with an assortment of muffins and croissants that makes up the pastry department.
I went on a sunny Saturday morning soon after they opened — I was clearly their first customer of the day — and sat down in the big table in the corner by the window. The waitress, obviously annoyed that someone dare enter the restaurant before she wanted them to, came and took my order. It was a good thing I knew what I wanted, or I fear the pastry board might have met my face. A croissant and cappuccino. A different waitress brought them out a few minutes later.
Jamie Oliver may promote healthy living and healthy eating, but his restaurants don’t seem to support these ideals. There was a pat of butter served alongside the croissant. Jam, while excessive, would have understandably upheld the restaurant’s theme. Italians can certainly support the pastry with jam. Yet, butter with a croissant should be redundent and it was with this pastry, or it might have been.
The croissant was nice to look at. Glossy, with a visibly crispy and crackly crust; I had a good feeling about it. I ripped off the end, met with flaky pastry. The buttery layers melted on my tongue. While the inside veered toward the doughy side — characteristic of British croissants — I couldn’t complain. Until I realized that, despite having the texture and mouthfeel of butter, the croissant didn’t taste of butter.
Jamie’s Italian’s croissant reminded me of the chemical croissants I encountered at the beginning of the Bristol croissant quest. Jamie’s Italian may make their pasta fresh, but it’s clear they don’t do the same for their croissants. I’m not surprised, but disappointed nevertheless.
If the croissant wasn’t properly Italian — or even French for that matter — then was traditional enough to overcome the cultural gap. The foam was thick, the coffee slightly milky yet with the nutty, toasty and almost woodsy bite characteristic of Italian drinks. It was fine, better than last week’s drink at Chickpea, but not a flavor I crave.
You could do worse than Jamie’s Italian, but the whole experience feels lackluster, even for a celebrity chef chain. Do yourself a favor and save your money to go to Ottolenghi in London or Lafayette in New York. Then we can debate about food and not celebrities.
Nigella or Jamie? Which one do you prefer?