Finally, Jamie Oliver has opened a restaurant in the motherland. As a proud Essex boy, one could argue that it’s about time. I would certainly agree. Perhaps more importantly it’s worth asking: ‘has it been worth the wait?’
Naturally, I wanted to answer this question for myself and had to get down there in the first week (not always the best time to visit a new restaurant!). I frequented with my Dad, who is a Jamie fan – amazingly so as TV chefs typically annoy him. Must be the Essex solidarity.
Anyway, back to the point in hand: first impressions. It’s truly cavernous. I vaguely remember it being a bank when I was little, but the restoration has seen the building stripped back, revealing some original pillars and other nice features. It’s kinda quirky, but if I’m honest I’m not entirely taken with the half-finished look. Though the big bar area and slick open kitchen do get my vote.
Oh and the toilets are really nice; might not be something that usually gets praised, but the amount of times I’ve been to a restaurant only to be confronted by a disgusting toilet… So, well done JO for investing in the extra touches.
My only complaint would be the fact Dad and I struggled to hear each other at points. We realised half-way through we were sitting below a speaker…duly noted to ask for a table away from speakers next time!
On to the staff: we were cheerfully greeted on arrival, and led straight to our table. The enthusiasm was palpable, it seems like everyone is happy to be there which is always reassuring. Our main waitress was friendly, but not too overbearing (my number one pet hate in a restaurant). For some reason we had a different waitress for our starters, who enthusiastically told us what every item on the antipasti board was. I didn’t want to kill her vibe, but I knew what everything was and frankly wanted her to move away so I could dive in head first!!! Not that I’m complaining about the service, all in all it was fab – and it was really great to hear from our waitress how thorough their training had been. I felt slightly guilty about my earlier thoughts re antipasti; could put it down to post-work hunger….
Not going to lie, I was pleasantly surprised. I think I’d gone in with fairly low expectations, as my general experience of chain restaurants is mediocre at best. The selection and size of the antipasti was rather pleasing, especially as it only cost £6.95 each. Fennel salami was my number one item, mmmmm. The olives were good too. Personally, I could’ve done without the mini mozzarella, I generally find it too bland raw and even with the herby sauce, it just didn’t do it for me – baked all the way.
Our board was whipped away and after a short break, the colossal pork rib came out. Did I eat it all? Yep. Was it tasty? Yes, indeed. But be warned it’s not your typical loin. I liked the longer cut up to the belly as I’m a sucker for some crispy fat. The caponata was great too and most probably the best thing of the whole meal, the polenta chips, completed a lovely dish. I could’ve eaten a whole bowl of them. As my Dad said, “I think these might be nicer than roast potatoes”. I’d argue he’s right there.
Even though we could barely move, dessert was ordered, would be rude not to right? As a brownie fanatic, I had to try it… It was everything you’d expect from a brownie, with the addition of crunchy honeycomb and ice cream. Perfect. Personally I normally opt for cream, but think I may have been converted.
All in all, it’s a thumbs up. Price-wise, I think it’s very reasonable; for three courses, plus drinks and sides, it came to around £70 (can’t remember precise amount). I wasn’t surprised when the waitress said it’s already getting really booked up.
So, has it been worth the wait? I think it’s fair to say yes. With a little bit more work and all the staff used to the slightly overwhelming size, I think it will be a permanent fixture on Chelmsford’s High Street. It’s certainly the best chain restaurant experience I’ve had. I’ll definitely be back, if only to eat three bowls of the polenta chips followed by a brownie.
Food – 8
Service – 7 (needs a little work, but our waitress was lovely)
Atmosphere – 8
Value – 9
Overall – 8