It’s hard to know in what sense Jamie Oliver’s Italian is actually Italian.
True, a number of dishes feature Italian ingredients cooked in an Italian manner.
But there are many others that are about as Italian as I’m Al Pacino’s screen double. Harissa-spiced aubergine? A ‘super-food’ salad? Pah. Notta lika Momma used to cook.
And, worse, there’s none of the generosity that I associate with even rather mediocre Italian restaurants.
There’s a parsimony that suggests that it’s run not by the blubbery-lipped, bouncing, babbling TV chef but by a consortium of accountants who are overly concerned by the bottom line.
Thus extras such as bread have a price, portions are less than generous and prices are steep enough to have made me feel dissatisfied as I left.
The decor and service
There’s a faux urban edginess about the place, which occupies a large space in the Bull Ring.
There’s plenty of wood and metal and tasteful mock graffiti.
Music blares out in a way, I suppose, that those behind this depressing concept imagine will perpetuate the millionaire pan handler’s image as a proper geezer.
The menu does the same with such wonders as ‘Ultimate Garlic Bread’, the “World’s Best Olives On Ice’ and ‘Funky Chips”.
Service was friendly, assured and efficient to the point of being alarmingly swift.
The small portion of ravioli Genovese with which I began my journey into the heartland of culinary blandness was a mess.
Parcels of over-cooked pasta contained what the menu described as a primavera filling. I’m no linguist but I’d hazard a guess that this word translates as ‘tasteless sludge’.
A topping of hazelnut and lovage pesto, pine nuts and a parmesan-like cheese called Bella Lodi was vibrant in the way that an electric shock might be described as vibrant, delivering a sharp whack to my gob.
My wife’s heritage tomato salad was over-chilled and contained tomatoes that seemed to have been chosen for their novelty rather than their ripeness or flavour.
Whipped ricotta, herby croutons, basil, toasted pine nuts, crisp capers and rocket did little to convince her that this was a good dish.
Nor was she overwhelmed by Jamie’s Favourite Porchetta, his reputed opinion of which suggests that he’s never tasted truly marvellous slow-cooked pork belly.
This came stuffed with garlic, chilli and herbs and with charred fennel, baby beets, spring onions, salsa verde and an anonymous apple sauce.
Her dish, however, compared more than favourably to my ‘Italian’ burger which came on a silly little board from which the crammed components threatened to spill on to the table.
The burger itself was dry and tasteless and came with smoked pancetta that was over-cooked, balsamic onions that were sharp with vinegar, a mostarda mayo that was duller than Ipswich and bread that was horribly sweet.
A tub of thin fries – they cost extra, obviously – might not have been strangers to a catering-sized freezer bag.
There were other bits and pieces but why should I bore you with an account of how tedious they were to eat? I love you all too dearly for that.
Neither of us felt compelled to order desserts, not even a brownie described as ‘Epic’.
Thus we left after less than an hour, during which time we’d spent nearly £50 on two courses each and two small bottles of beer.
Need to know
Expect to pay £25 or more a head.
Cut costs with the £10.95 two-course lunch deal.
Plenty of car parks nearby.
Middle Mall, Bullring Shopping Centre, Birmingham B5 4BE.
0121 270 3610.