Katherine MacAlister revisits Jamie’s Italian to check out the new revamp and see whether the rescue package is up to scratch

JAMIE’S Italian in Oxford was the first restaurant to boast his name above the door.

It was an instant success, people queueing down George Street for a place at one of his hallowed tables.

The Oxford Times:

Jamie Oliver could do no wrong it seemed, his fame unrelenting, everything he touched turning to gold.

But then he expanded. You couldn’t walk down a High Street without finding a Jamie’s.

And slowly but surely Jamie’s became the norm. It lost its unique selling point and turned into another huge chain.

No one was surprised then when, earlier this year, Jamie Oliver had to close numerous branches.

He took it personally, even though other mid-dining companies such as Byron and Pizza Express were also suffering.

What had gone wrong? He went back to the coalface and asked his customers, insisting on their advice, demanding the truth.

As a result there has been a big shake-up. There is a new menu and a revamp of the service, kitchens and interior. He listened, to deliver and give us what we want.

And has he?

I remained unconvinced that he could reverse the trend. Because it wasn’t just that Jamie Oliver had over expanded, but that Jamie’s was a product of its time.

In 2008, it was a funky new Italian restaurant which made its own pasta and served antipasti on a plank.

It introduced us to ingredients that many had never heard of: polenta, prosciutto, burrata, buffalo mozzarella, prosecco... and we lapped it up.

But then every Tom, Dick and Harry jumped on the Italian bandwagon and Jamie’s became mainstream rather than niche.

We were then distracted by newer kids on the block: sushi, laksas, dosas, phos, brunches, street food, pop-ups, tapas, mezze, gourmet vans and everything in between, gobbling up concepts like a 1980s Pacman.

We didn’t want Italian anymore. And if we did we wanted pizzas which Jamie’s Italian didn’t do, except in the basement space next door.

Jamie Oliver admits this was a mistake, that he was just being “cheffy and snobby” about it – everyone wanted pizza, including us.

And we had it when visiting the newly-revamped premises on Father’s Day, which meant the place was packed to the rafters.

And I realised that’s where Jamie’s really comes into its own, on days like this when big family parties want to meet somewhere fun, family-friendly, reliable and safe.

As such there were huge numbers of small children being entertained with Jamie’s fantastic kids packs, masks and menus, presumably tested on his own ever-increasing brood.

The menu has been fine-tuned but the old favourites are still there for the traditionalists.We started with some nibbles, different to the starters apparently, perhaps more artisan?

And they were good, one of my favourite parts of the meal – the courgette fritti with parmesan, lemon and garlic mayo was simple yes, but with just the right bite and crispiness, the tang of lemon and garlic finishing them off nicely. The £5 cheesy gnocchi fritti were another hit, soft and yielding inside crunchy packaging.

The arancini were tasty until you got to the middle, where the cheese was supposed to be, which was a disappointment.

The Oxford Times:

Mr Greedy had the seafood linguine, I opted for the white asparagus tortellini (asparagus and ricotta in a lemon and herb butter with parmesan and pea shoots £13.50), our eldest the original beef burger (£12.50), which came in a brioche bun with sticky balsamic onions, a secret sauce and a side of her choice. She ordered the polenta chips, without realising they weren’t skinny fries, the popcorn-sized chunks coated in rosemary and parmesan, nice, but rather odd paired with a burger.

The kale and hazelnut salad (£4) was another oddity and irritatingly faddy I thought. Give me a good old lettuce any day.

The Oxford Times:

But the burger was good, oozing with cheese (an extra £1), well cooked, juicy and filling. Italian perhaps not, but that’s progress for you.

The pizzas were good though. They always were, mind you, if you ever ventured into the bunker of Jamie’s Pizzeria next door. Authentic, oily, pungent, with crunchy burnt bubbled crusts, they hit the spot, the £9 margherita a welcome newcomer.

The Oxford Times:

Novel, original, silky soft parcels, citrusy and fresh inside, the asparagus pasta also ticked all the boxes.

A couple of ice cream sundaes and we were out of there, the occasion a success.

And while Jamie’s Italian is a safe bet, in these uncertain times that’s no bad thing.

Surely the survivors in the restaurant business are those willing to adapt and Jamie Oliver bless him is certainly trying his hardest to keep up.

I just hope it’s enough.

Jamie’s Italian,

24-26 George Street,

Oxford

OX1 2AE

jamieoliver.com/italian