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Jamie's Italian opens: A first taste

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Jamie Oliver’s new Adelaide restaurant has opened in the city with plenty of justified hype about the spectacular fit-out of the historic bank building – but what about the food?

InDaily had a sneaky taste with the executive chef of Jamie’s Italian Australia, David Clarke, ahead of the opening on Tuesday – and diners are for a few very pleasant surprises from the restaurant on the corner of North Terrace and King William Street.

The question is: in a town filled with Italian restaurants, will Jamie’s offer something new?

Firstly, what’s not on the menu: there’s no pizza from the kitchen, and no Coke at the bar for the kids.

Secondly, even a brief look at the set-up and the food shows you what a cashed-up, high-volume restaurant network can buy – and that’s premium quality at a moderate price, including free-range meats and poultry, sustainable seafood and fresh pasta made to order.

Generous antipasto “boards” – presented at the table propped on chunky Italian tomato tins – come in at well under $20 a person and include some seriously good stuff. Clarke has worked with Australian artisan smallgoods producers to develop his own line of nitrite-free products, including Wagyu bresaola; a hand-made, pretty authentic mortadella; a low-fat, low-salt fennel salami, and real buffalo-milk bocconcini from Victorian producer That’s Amore. The cheese is perfect – beautifully soft and just salty enough.

The antipasto board at Jamie's Italian.

The antipasto board at Jamie’s Italian.

Pasta is clearly the hero here, with two shiny red Bottene pasta machines churning out 120kg of pasta daily, made with Australian free-range eggs and premium Italian pasta flour. The bronze dies on the machines can turn out a broad range of shapes, including what the kitchen dubs “wiggly” pappardelle, which is perfect for grabbing the sauce of the very good sausage pappardelle dish – slow-braised fennel sausage ragu with red wine, parmesan and “crunchy, herby breadcrumbs”.

Followers of Oliver’s cooking will know that fried breadcrumbs – or pangrattato – are a favourite finishing flourish for his pasta dishes, and these very crispy sprinklings add texture and flavour to several of the pasta dishes.

The fresh pasta is robust, cooking up al dente. Chefs are very careful with seasoning, tasting the cooking water with a spoon to ensure it is sufficiently salty.

The most popular pasta across all of the Australian restaurants, Clarke tells me, is the prawn linguine with garlic, tomatoes, chilli, rocket and fennel. In the Adelaide restaurant it is made with Spencer Gulf prawns. It’s fresh and bright – and the local prawns are a step above the flash-frozen south-east Asian product that finds its way on to many local menus. It costs $16 for a generous entree or $28.50 for a main.

Jamie's big-selling prawn linguine.

Jamie’s big-selling prawn linguine.

Even more of a bargain is the Vongole (cockle) Tagliolini, made with Bay of Fires cockles (or local when they’re available in sufficient quantities), garlic, chilli, white wine, parsley and lemon. Cockles are an expensive treat these days, but at Jamie’s you can get an entree for $15.50.

Another good-value, but high-end, dish is the intensely rich truffle risotto ($14.50/$25), made with excellent “Acquerello” brand carnaroli rice. Served with sliced truffle on top (imported at the moment), it’s a very buttery, intense indulgence, and the rice holds its shape and texture while releasing its unctuous starch.

A very Oliver dish is the pumpkin “panzerotti” – ravioli filled with pumpkin, ricotta and parmesan in an intense pumpkiny butter. Vegos will be happy.

Mains are more pricey, but are still around the price you’d pay for a high-end pub meal. For $19.50 you can go for the “Burger Italiano” – perhaps the biggest departure from Italian tradition – which is a char-grilled beef burger with melted fontina cheese, tomato salsa, pickles and crispy fried onions.

The restaurant’s “Signature Porchetta” is a rolled and seasoned piece of free-range pork belly, slow-cooked overnight, and served in all its crispy glory with a watercress salad. We didn’t get to taste this dish but, for $27, it’s going to hit the mark for a lot of diners.

"Wiggly" papperdelle with a hearty sausage ragu.

“Wiggly” pappardelle with a hearty sausage ragu.

All desserts are made in-house apart from the ice-cream, which is made by Serendipity in Sydney especially for Jamie’s Italian.

Coupled with the magnificent setting – the old bank building is looking very fine indeed – the food and the buzz looks likely to pack in Adelaide diners.

There are plenty of staff, cooking to order (the main orders, for example, won’t come up on the kitchen’s electronic screen until the entree dishes are cleared from the table). Clarke says he has more than 40 kitchen staff on his roster, with 15 or more working an individual shift, from 7am to 2am every day, to prep and serve lunch and dinner.

He says the restaurant’s point of difference in a town familiar with Italian food comes from the premium ingredients, the painstaking daily prep, the breadth of the menu and the value.

“It’s about the best-quality produce we can get,” he said. “It’s all been custom-made, but at the same time it’s value for money.

“Jamie’s dream is to look after everyone – from a 16-year-0ld to a 90th birthday party. It’s a big diverse menu – everything’s fresh and nutritious, everything comes in daily and is prepped daily.

“There is a big (Italian) heritage here [in Adelaide], but I don’t think there’s anything like Jamie’s.”

Local produce is on the menu, and Clarke hopes to expand this.

Wild boar and venison is South Australian, along with fresh fruit and vegetables, and the bread comes daily from Goodwood bakery Boulangerie 113.

Jamie’s Italian will be open for lunch and dinner from today.

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