Sunday, November 30, 2008

Jamie's Italian, Oxford

24 - 26 George Street,
Oxford OX1 2AE Map

Having loved Fifteen, when the Cheeky Mockney teamed up with Gennaro Contaldo to open a chain of High Street Italian restaurants, I just had to try one of them.

You can't book at any of the restaurants, so we turned up nice and early, to make sure we got a seat. The plan worked and we were seated straight away.

For those who aren't as lucky, there is a bar where you can wait until a table becomes available.

I started with a vegetable Antipasti “Plank” - so called as it arrives at the table on a plank of wood! Shortly before the antipasti arrived the waitress placed a couple of tins of tomatoes on the table. “Ah”, we thought. “Free tomatoes”. However the tins were for the aforementioned planks to be placed upon.

The antipasti consisted of peppers, courgette, aubergine, artichoke, olives, mozzarella, a minty coleslaw and parmesan cheese with a dollop of chilli jam. It looked great, and accompanied by the bread basket we'd ordered it tasted fantastic.

For the main course I thought I'd indulge my passion for truffles by having Black Truffle Tagliatelle. I wasn't expecting much, after all it was less than nine quid, but what turned up was a bowlful of tagliatelle absolutely covered in truffles and with a gorgous sauce to boot. I was glad that I had a spoon to finish it all off once I had finished the pasta.

For dessert I had Bakewell Tart which was served with lemon an orange crème fraiche. It was up to the standard of the rest of the meal.

The restaurant itself is very relaxed and the staff were extremely friendly. The service was great and for thirty quid each for three courses, drinks and a tip you really cannot fault it. If all the branches of Jamie's Italian are this good then watch out Carluccio's you have serious competition!

January 2009 Update.
I just thought I'd let you know that I visited the Kingston branch of Jamie's today and the service and quality matched that of the Oxford branch. I tried a couple of different dishes, the Mushroom Ravioli for main course and a Tiramisu for dessert both of which were excellent. If all the branches are as good as these two, then the cheekie chappie is on to a winner!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Return to Le Manoir

Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons
Church Road,Great Milton,
Oxford OX44 7PD Map

Truffles with everything! That seemed to be the theme of my latest visit to Le Manoir, Raymond Blanc's two-star restaurant in rural Oxfordshire. From the moment that the taxi arrived, we were the restaurant's special guests.

Mind you, so was everyone else. That's the beauty of dining at places like this – even though the restaurant is full, you feel like everything is being done just for you, and everyone else just disappears into the background.

With our move to Australia getting ever closer, my wife had suggested that my friend John, with whom I have enjoyed many of the meals reviewed here on Gaztronomy, and I should have a Gourmet weekend together and have a huge blowout at a top restaurant somewhere.

We decided that Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons would be a suitable place for this event and so we booked rooms at the Oxford Belfry, a hotel ten minutes down the road from the restaurant.

After confirming our booking we were shown into the lounge where where were given the menus to peruse. We both chose the ten course Menu Decouverte, I had the vegetarian one, John had the standard menu. I will describe the vegetarian dishes here, but suffice to say John enjoyed the standard dishes just as much as I enjoyed the meat free ones.

After some hors d'ouevres and a brief chat with the sommelier who we left to choose the wines for us, we were shown to our table and shortly after the first course arrived.

This was a potato a black truffle soup, which was a great way to start. After this came a cheese soufflé which was just about perfect. No, it was better than that, as somehow they managed to get a ball of melted cheese into the middle of the soufflé, rather like a cheesy version of a chocolate fondant.

Next up was a leek and Jerusalem artichoke salad. The vegetables at Le Manoir are always so fresh and tasty, and this salad was no exception.

It was good to see that the vegetarian menu was pretty much completely different to the one I had the previous time I went. Sure, there was a risotto and pasta, but both were different to last time, with different vegetables, oh and plenty of truffles! The only dish that was the same was the roasted sweet Romano perpper with tabbouleh, although it was presented slightly differently.

Once the various mains had finished, we treated ourselves to a cheese course, with some spectacular cheeses and then we went on to desserts.

The first of the desserts was Kaffir lime leaf and coconut tapioca with passion fruit and banana sorbet. This was a million miles away from the tapioca you remember from old school dinners and tasted wonderful.

The next dish was described as “Tiramisu Flavours”. This was what I can only describe as a deconstructed version of the famous Italian dessert as all the tastes were there but it was presented quite spectacularly as you can see from the picture.

Finally (sadly) the final dish, a chocolate mousse with lemon butterscotch sauce and almond milk cream glacée was delivered to the table. It was lovely, but the milk cream glacée really stood out – it was lovely.

A coffee and petit fours later and it was all over. We both agreed that the meal was fantastic, the sommelier did a superb job matching the wines to the various courses and the service was excellent and very friendly which all added up to a great afternoon.

We then took some time to wander around the gardens before our taxi arrived to ferry us away.