Jamie's Trattoria Restaurant Chelmsford inside bar

Review: Jamie’s Trattoria Chelmsford

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?’

Jamie's Trattoria Restaurant Chelmsford inside bar

Yes, it does say ‘Reem’ on the wall.

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.

Jamie's Trattoria restaurant Chelmsford - open kitchen

Open plan kitchen area and pizza oven!

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.

Jamie's Trattoria restaurant Chelmsford - toilets

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….

Jamie's Trattoria restaurant Chelmsford - antipasti starter board

This also came with roasted veg, kale slaw and mozzarella.

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.

Jamie's Trattoria restaurant Chelmsford - main course

Pork chop, with aubergine caponata, garlicky kale and parmesan & rosemary polenta chips.

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.

Jamie's Trattoria restaurant Chelmsford - brownie dessert

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

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Review: 59 New Street, Chelmsford

IMG_3258Having wanted to visit 59 New Street since it opened, I finally found an excuse to go last weekend: Mother’s Day! I took my Mum on Friday and it more than surpassed our expectations. Everything was better than I thought it would be; in fact I’d go so far as to say 59 New Street is exactly what Chelmsford has been missing.

Let’s start with the menu: short, to the point, perfection. We got a delicious bottle of viognier for £24, and the service was impeccable to say the least. Nothing was too much trouble. When Mum mentioned her nut allergy, the chef served her ham hock terrine with homemade toasted brioche instead of the nut crostinis it was meant to come with. Some places would just serve it without anything, so that was a really nice touch.

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Anyway, on to the food itself… Each course was simplicity personified. Not too many ingredients on the plate, but each one cooked and seasoned perfectly, as well as being beautifully presented. Fine dining in the best possible way! So to start I had the squid salad (see above), served with rocket and a yummy dressing; Mum had the terrine with fresh piccalilli and the aforementioned brioche! Both were excellent and the viognier we’d chosen perfectly complemented both dishes.

On to the main event: there was no way we couldn’t have the steak (see top picture). We weren’t disappointed; it was sublime! Perfectly pink, juicy and caramelised on the outside. All the sides were perfect too: large flat mushroom, with garlic, salty chips, grilled tomatoes and peppercorn sauce. Yum.

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Because I’m greedy, I found room for dessert. I ordered the citrus mess (see above), which was a lovely palate cleanser to finish the meal on, made up of a creamy mousse, lemon-infused meringues, scorched lime and a tuille biscuit. Mum, on the other hand is not so greedy, instead of a traditional dessert she opted for a ‘dessert martini’, namely the vanilla espresso option (see below). I don’t like coffee too much and even I thought it was divine. Next time, I am 100% trying the chocolate and raspberry one. What’s not to love?

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I couldn’t finish without mentioning how good the refurbishment is. For somewhere that used to be dark, dingy and have Barbie-themed ladies’ toilets (not that they didn’t have a special place in my heart), the transformation is remarkable. It feels light and bright and the plethora of signed photographs on the wall is impressive to say the least! If you’re looking for somewhere new to go, then make sure you check it out. It’s by far one of the best dining experiences I’ve had outside of London.

Ratings

Food – 9/10 – I think it would have been a 10 if I’d opted for the pork belly starter.
Drinks – 10/10 – I’d like to go back and sample some cocktails, the selection of spirits behind the bar was impressive!
Service – 10/10 – can’t fault it.
Value – 9/10 – All in all it was £120 for the bill, plus we gave our waitress (who was so lovely!) a £20 cash tip; for a treat not bad at all.
Atmosphere – 9/10 – really buzzy, but not too loud i.e. we could still have a conversation!

Overall – 9.5/10

Review: Jamie’s Fifteen, London

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Since the TV programme all those years ago, Fifteen has been on my hit list (I’m also a huge fan of Jamie Oliver, being from Essex it’s a given!). I love the whole premise of the place – the mission statement is printed on the menu: “All profits allow Fifteen to use the magic of food to give unemployed young people a chance to have a better future”.

As you can imagine I was really happy to get a Red Letter Day at Christmas for a “tasting menu for two at Jamie’s Fifteen”. So, me and the boyfriend went on Saturday (1st March) and I was not disappointed – the cocktails were particularly good (the marmalade was DIVINE); though the service and attention to detail was a bit disappointing.

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Anyway, on to the most important bit: the food. Unfortunately for us the first three courses on the tasting menu were fish-based and happened to be the three fish/shellfish neither of us particularly like. Although, in fairness neither of us had tried an oyster before – it was okay; but I don’t understand what the fuss is all about. Give me mussels any day.

Next the smoked anchovy with hens egg. This surprised me – I’m not a massive fan of anchovies but it was lovely, the egg was perfectly cooked and the squid ink crackers it came with were a triumph. The cured salmon with black radish and herb vinaigrette was nice, but it didn’t really float my boat. I just don’t really get why people rave about salmon it has always been at the bottom of my list when it comes to fish.

The middle dish – spelt risotto with goat curds was lovely. We practically inhaled it after three mediocre dishes beforehand. By this point we just wanted the meat to arrive, stat. And it was more than worth the wait. I thought my favorite would be the short rib, but the duck and prune cannelloni was unbelievably delicious. If I was to go again, that would certainly me my choice of main course.  I was also suitably impressed with the lovely glass of Tempranillo I had to accompany the meats (expensive though at £9 for a 175ml glass!).

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Dessert couldn’t have worked out better. He had the velvety vanilla ice-cream and I got the chocolate malt mousse which was essentially a fancy take on a Malteser. The creamiest milk chocolate mousse, topped with a malt creamy foam, burnt sugar shards and chunks of bitter dark chocolate. I scoffed the lot.

So, while it was a lovely gift the lack of attentiveness really disappointed us, when it was quite obvious any one with a Red Letter Day booking would have received it as a gift! We were seated 30 minutes late while four couples who arrived way after us got seated before us. Luckily we got two drinks knocked-off the bill, which slightly made up for it.

I accept it was a very busy Saturday night, but I think they should have offered us the tour (seeing as it was part of the deal) and given us our free prosecco on arrival. Or maybe they just shouldn’t accept Red Letter Day bookings on a Saturday night if they’re too busy to fulfill all of the deal.

So my advice to anyone who wants to try Fifteen would be, go, but don’t bother with a Red Letter Day or any other deal – you won’t get any special treatment. And you won’t get the best dishes on the menu; in fact you’ll spend your whole two hours watching rotisserie chickens go out to other tables, wishing you had one. Though the duck cannelloni is a MUST try if you go, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Ratings:

Food: 8/10
Drinks 10/10
Service: 6.5/10
Value: 7/10 – the deal was £150, I think you could have had a cheaper and better meal if you just had a normal booking
Atmosphere: 7.5/10 – nice background music (think AiM), but quite dark and the tables are VERY close together
Overall 8/10 

Review: The Diner, Spitalfields Market

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Brunch is singlehandedly one of my favourite things about life. Typically I find it hard to deviate from my all-time favourite: eggs benedict. But, my experience at The Diner in Spitalfields Market on Sunday taught me that sometimes change is good, really bloody good in fact. I went for something I’d normally be skeptical of (even though I LOVE all of the components) and I was not disappointed.

The Lumber Jill breakfast consisted of waffles with roasted bananas and bacon. Sounds weird? Well yeah, I thought that too… but then I thought well I love banana pancakes and they go well with bacon and waffles are a complete guilty pleasure of mine, and what’s the worst that can happen (I feel this may be a regular motif in my thinking for 2014). The worst didn’t happen. Every mouthful was utterly divine. The waffles had sticky butterscotch sauce from the roasted bananas all over them; complete unadulterated pleasure. The bacon was American style smoked streaky, really salty and the perfect counter-balance to the fluffy, sweet waffles. There was a pot of maple syrup served on the side, which was completely unnecessary (and didn’t taste like maple to me!) – I nearly went into a sugar coma when I tried a mouthful dipped in the syrup!

My partner in crime went for the buttermilk pancakes (short stack) with maple and a side of bacon. His looked delicious too, pancakes were big and fluffy – apparently as good as he used to get in Canada, so that’s saying something. We both had a hot drink, plus free tap water (it was iced, rejoice!) and the bill only came to £11 each, including a tip. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes that we had just had probably one of our best brunch dates ever for such a small price. Before going, I’d been slightly dubious as I’d seen some mediocre reviews, mainly focussed on poor service – while the service wasn’t amazingly quick, our waitress was really friendly and the food more than made up for it. We’ll definitely be going back…and next time we’ll be sampling the cocktails! Make sure you check it out if you’re in the area.

The Bay Horse: review

Last night, I went for dinner at The Bay Horse in Chelmsford with my Dad and the bf (Alex). I had been once before when it first opened a few years ago and left hungry after three courses, due to the tiny portions. You may be thinking why on earth did she go back? Well, in my books everyone/everything deserves a second chance. Sadly for The Bay Horse, I wasn’t impressed and it’s unlikely I’ll be going back, which is a shame because in its heyday (before becoming a restaurant) it was one of the best watering holes about.

Before we get down to the food, there were a few issues that really upset me during the night. For starters, there were three of us and only two other tables in; we were there for nearly THREE hours. We were shoved in the furthest corner, where no-one (there was only one person working!) could see us, while the few locals propping up the bar were being plied with a steady supply of drinks. Not cool.

Secondly, this building is a stunning Grade II listed Tudor beauty; every time I looked up all I could see was the fact the beautiful beams had been painted. The historian in me was crying inside all night. I don’t know whose idea it was, but it was a bad one, rendering all character destroyed (as if the “modern” style wasn’t soulless enough). Thirdly, as designated driver I wasn’t drinking. A Lemonade was £2.50 – I wasn’t impressed. In terms of atmosphere, not much to report; it was also too dimly lit (apologies in advance for the photos) and there was a cold breeze all night.

The food

To start, I ordered the Crab and Lobster fish cakes (£6), Dad had the soup (£5.75) and Alex plumped for the ham hock gratin (£6). Everything was nice, until Alex found a hair in the fish cake I gave him to try. Not the best start, however it was taken off the bill without having to ask. There was also no butter to go with Dad’s bread, which was quite frankly baffling.

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On to the main event, Dad and I both opted for the seabass (£11.50 – see above) with pancetta, kale, parmentier potatoes and a red wine sauce. This was actually good and came with a fancy smear of celeriac puree too. I was dubious about the red wine sauce but everything worked really well together. However, Dad’s bit of bass was tiny; it must’ve been a fillet cut in half. I ended up giving him some of mine to make up for it. Alex’s steak (£17.95 for a sirloin) on the other hand was good, from a local butcher, cooked well and the chips were excellent. Homemade ketchup was nice too, tasted like a Bloody Mary. Again, nice but nothing special, at least it was a generous portion.

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Still hungry, Dad and I opted for dessert. Ultimately we ended up regretting this as it meant being there for even longer. Luckily, Dad’s dessert was really tasty, though in my books Key Lime Pie should ALWAYS have meringue on top. Otherwise it’s just a lime tart (which this was). The fancy lime sherbet was good and the coconut ice cream was delicious. If you can’t tell, I had food envy. I on the other hand, as a crème brûlée devotee, went for their white chocolate and raspberry offering. It was nice; great crack on it but not enough raspberries to counteract the sweet white chocolate. I was disappointed about the lack of vanilla too. The shortbread biscuit was too sweet and dry and don’t get me started on the pointless redcurrants on the side – what a waste.

Rating:

All in all, okay, but I won’t be going back in a hurry, especially not for the price: £84 in total and that’s with a dish knocked off.

Food: 6.5/10
Service: 5/10
Value: 5/10
Atmosphere: non-existent
Overall: 6/10 (I think I’m being generous)

Lovely Lakeland

ImageI know what you’re thinking, a whole blog post dedicated to the shop. She’s crazy. While I do love that place with reckless abandon (and yes I visited the cafe at the flagship store in Windermere), Lakeland is another name for the Lake District (I didn’t know before, but it now makes sense why the shop is called that!).

I recently spent a wonderful two weeks there filled with delicious food discoveries – I simply had to share!

As a dessert fiend, Cartmel the home of sticky toffee pudding and Simon Rogan (L’enclume) was a must-visit. It’s a really pretty little village and I had one of the best soups of my life in The King’s Arms. Of course, I came away with a sticky toffee pud from the Cartmel village shop… had to be done! One day I intend to return to dine at L’enclume.

Another gem is the Grasmere Gingerbread shop (the village is famous thanks to William Wordsworth) – the gingerbread is like none I’ve ever tasted: really spicy, crunchy and absolutely delicious. It’s still made by hand each day in the shop to the original Victorian recipe; well worth a visit. I also picked up a jar of ‘Cumberland Rum butter’, simply because I’d never heard of it and the label recommended spreading it on said gingerbread. Divine.

It wouldn’t be a trip up t’ north without a meat and potato pie. We popped into Peggy’s bakery in Ambleside (as recommended by the Good Pie Guide) before driving up to Derwent Water to walk up to Aira Force. The pie was an absolute treat after completing the, albeit short (and rainy), walk. Nicely seasoned, melt in the mouth slices of potato and perfectly flaky pastry. Yum.

All in all, a fab trip…amazing views and lovely food. What more can a girl want?