Monday, 1 December 2014

Jamie's Italian Pizzeria, Gloucester Street

I'm not sure if Jamie's Italian Pizzeria is meant to be a secret or not. You enter by a large pink door in Gloucester Street, passing a menu board that's pretty hard to miss. On the other hand, even though it's part of Jamie's Italian, which has been a fixture of George Street for several years, there's not the ghost of a reference to it on that chain's main website, and on entering you immediately descend a staircase carefully curtained off from the main restaurant, unseen by the diners there. I wonder if it's all an experiment in word-of-mouth publicity.

I have to say I still haven't been to Jamie's Italian itself, but while Zizzi's is always reliable (and Gino's, sadly, isn't) the idea of a new pizzeria in central Oxford intrigued me. The 'all pizzas £5 on week nights' offer also helped - it's a good deal, especially if you stick to one of the five pizzas on the menu and don't have any extra toppings. I think there was one pasta dish available too (although I can't see it on the blackboard) and a small selection of basic starters. 
Garlic bread (£3), tending more towards thin and crispy than soft and doughy, was fine; a heritage tomato and mozzarella salad (also £3) went some way to contrasting with all the carbs but the different varieties it contained had a generally sour and under-ripe feel. Also, given that the restaurant was nearly empty and the staff (there's a small kitchen space and pizza oven at the back of the dining area) presumably not under pressure, it would have been nice if we'd been brought these as starters - or at least been asked if we'd prefer this. As it was they came with the pizzas, and who wants to eat garlic bread and pizza at the same time?
Fortunately, that was my main gripe. The pizzas were generously sized and, more important, exuberantly flavoured: there was something about the dough and the tangy Somerset cheddar used on my Fiorentina that made me feel as if I was eating in colour rather than black and white (if black and white is, say, Zizzi's). The usual spinach was accompanied by cime di rapa (I had to look it up) which provided a surprisingly acerbic element. The Photographer's Oxford Hot was also accomplished, with two kinds of salami and fresh chillis giving it extra edge.
To an extent, Jamie's seems to be attempting to serve slightly modernised versions of classic pizzas - hence the cheddar on my Fiorentina - and I wonder if there'd be room to take this approach even further and create some really inventive combinations incorporating British ingredients (without reaching the heights of the Pizza Express 'duck and hoisin' Christmas special...). Desserts, on the other hand, were more conventional: the advertised tiramisu wasn't available but its replacement was a rather good chocolate brownie (£4; the Photographer was more than content). I had scoops of honeycomb and salted caramel ice cream (£1.50 each) which were more sweet than anything else.
So, there's not much wrong with Jamie's Pizzeria, and quite a lot that's right - including pizzas that are definitely worth more than £5. I should also mention the lack of upselling from the staff, particularly refreshing if you ever go to Zizzi's, Pizza Express and the like. Doubtless this establishment would become more like them if it expands nationally, but for the moment it's a mainly impressive one-off.

Jamie's Italian (the main restaurant!)
24-26 George Street
Oxford OX1 2AE

01865 838383 


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