Life Food & Drink

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Don't mess with Italian recipes

Paolo Tullio

Published 23/12/2012 | 06:00

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I'm not a fan of restaurants branded by celebrity chefs. I prefer the simpler paradigm of a restaurant where the chef who cooks is the name on the door.

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We've had quite a few celebrity chefs putting their names to restaurants in the past few years, and now we can add Jamie Oliver in Dundrum.

If you take a look at Jamie's website, you'll find this quote: "I should have been Italian. There is such diversity in lifestyles, cooking, traditions and dialects. This is why, as a chef, I find this country so exciting and what inspired me to create Jamie's Italian."

A few years ago, I watched Jamie's TV series on Italy and I was struck by how well he understood the ethos of Italian cooking. So I went to Dundrum to meet Gerard Carthy of Taste of Ireland.

Jamie's Italian is on the periphery of the centre. It's a big dining room on two levels, and, as you come in, you pass where the pasta is made daily, then the deli where Parma hams hang in abundance.

We got the menu, which comes as a large A3 card. It's priced competitively, with antipasti running from €4.25 to €8.75 for platters of cheese or charcuterie. Meat mains are all less than €20 and fish mains a few euros over.

The pasta and risotto dishes can be had as starter portions or as main courses, and they cluster around €8 for a starter and €14 for a main course.

We ordered the Italian bread selection and a large bottle of sparkling water to start.

While we nibbled on the breads – which came with a really good olive oil – we chose spaghetti with prosciutto, lemon and parsley for Gerard and tagliatelle Bolognese for me.

I did notice that the carbonara description didn't include the word 'cream', which I was happy to see, but it did include courgettes, which have no business being there.

Both of our pasta dishes were well cooked, and Gerard's dish worked well. My Bolognese ragu was very well done.

First, it came with tagliatelle, which is correct for the recipe. Second, the sauce was made with a mix of beef and pork, also correct.

Third, it had been made as a meat sauce to which a small amount of tomato had been added, also correct. Fourth, when I looked under my pasta I found no water, which meant the sauce had been properly reduced.

And last, my pasta had a shine, which meant the sauce contained the right amount of oil.

What I had was exactly what you would be served in Bologna.

In this same vein of careful analysis, I'll tell you about my main course. I'd ordered saltimbocca, a traditional Roman dish.

If you order this in Rome, you'll get two, or maybe three, small slices of veal; each one will have a slice of prosciutto laid on top, and on top of that will be sage leaves.

Each slice is dipped in flour and pan-fried with white wine, the flour combining with the reduced wine to make the sauce. I enjoyed my main course, but it was certainly not a saltimbocca.

A single generous slice of rose veal was on my plate and it was covered with roughly chopped cherry tomatoes.

I did a little poking about and indeed there were tiny strips of prosciutto among the tomatoes, but if sage was present I could neither see it nor taste it. Nor was there a white-wine reduction sauce, just the tomatoes, described on the menu as a salsa.

Which does pose the question: if Jamie is such a fan of Italian cooking, why does he want to mess with it?

Gerard had the day's special, which was called Gennaro's porchetta.

If you see porchetta on a menu in Italy, it describes a roasted pig, boned and roasted all in one piece, including the head.

This dish was rolled belly that had been slow-cooked and it was very tasty; many of the flavours of the traditional porchetta were present. In short, a good dish.

We finished with coffees, an Americano for Gerard and an espresso for me.

The espresso turned out to be a good one, a thick crema of the right colour and made with a rich, smooth coffee blend.

There is clearly an attempt to do things right. My reservation would be this: if you're going to call a dish by a traditional name, let the dish be just that.

There's something vainglorious about deciding that carbonara needs courgettes, or that saltimbocca needs no sage but a salsa.

By all means experiment and change classic recipes, but, if you do, change the name as well.

You will get excellent service in Jamie's and it's fair value. It's a great addition to Dundrum's food offerings, and already it seems to be a magnet for the Drummie Mummies.

Our bill came to €68.90.

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