Review by Graham Chalmers
It’s been open less than a month and the surprising thing is, Jamie’s Italian is already one of my favourite places to dine out in Harrogate.
Not that I’m easily impressed. In recent months I’d heard various reports from various friends of other Jamies in other towns, some good, some not so.
As a consequence, my critical antenna were finely tuned before I even stepped through the doors past the welcoming staff standing on the pavement outside this new development on Parliament Street.
Doubts evaporated quickly within the relaxed buzz and throng of this deceptively large new restaurant with its own hidden surprises in terms of layout.
Despite the large number of restaurants in his successful, nationwide chain, Jamie’s personality is in evidence everywhere in his new Harrogate branch - from the behaviour of the staff to the layout of the interiors to the contents of the menu.
Put simply, the place works. Everything about Jamie’s Italian in Harrogate is big and bold, from the things which really matter to those which shouldn’t.
True, there may be one or two too many pictures of the great man himself among the wall decorations but, in general, it’s Jamie’s touch which makes the difference, the celebrity chef’s ‘pukka’ character evident in every design detail in this temple of rustic modernity.
Something feels right in this space, sitting here watching purposeful floor manager Pippa dart around as waiters such as Zach and Lauren zoom about between tables and customers and up and down stairs.
As a long-time resident of Harrogate, I know service in the town can be inconsistent - especially in new developments, though I’ve also experienced it in even in some of the town’s most reputable restaurants.
Our waiter is the instantly likable Sam whose natural charm is matched by an encyclopaedic knowledge of what’s on the menu, where it’s from and how it’s cooked.
When it comes to the actual food, the emphasis is on fun combined with an unpretentious passion for good ingredients and good, strong flavours.
It’s an ethos which has been drilled into staff by Jamie’s long-term mentor Gennaro Contaldo who is usually deeply involved in the build-up to any of his new openings.
The tasty menu is best of British meets rustic Italian cooking throughout - from starters such as Bresaola Salad (elegant slices of cured beef, artichokes, rocket, crumbled Colwick cheese, aged balsamic and toasted almond) to main courses such as Turkey Milanese (stuffed with prosciutto and fontal cheese, with a fried free-range egg and wild truffles) to delicious desserts such as Macerated Strawberries and Frozen Yoghurt (fresh strawberries soaked in elderflower and lemon juice, served with baby basil, frozen yoghurt and poppy seed crisps).
Although Jamie’s Italian is a restaurant not a bar-restaurant, an important distinction these days, it does have a bar area. And it also boasts a very impressive drinks menu in terms of cocktails and Champagne, beer and wine.
I try Pinewoods, a hoppy pale ale by Harrogate Brewing Company, which is very tasty, and Jamie’s own craft-brewed lager, Liberta which is utterly gorgeous.
I’m also told it serves food fairly late - 11pm, I believe - and alcoholic beverages even later.
At last - a place to go late on!
It should be said, Jamie’s Italian is actually three spaces in one – the ground floor with its open kitchen, the upper floor with another open preparation area and the terrace overlooking the bustle of The Ginnel below.
Unlike some restaurants I’m not going to name, Jamie’s doesn’t seem to be a crèche for families in disguise.
And it doesn’t feel like the sort of place, either, where diners are pressurised to eat what they’ve ordered and then quietly ushered out as quickly as possible.
Sitting there in the open air on a balmy summer night at Jamie’s Italian, it feels momentarily like you’re not in Harrogate at all but in a bigger, more cosmopolitan city having the time of your life.