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Friday 25 April 2014

Jamie's pukka portions of Italian delight

Restaurant Review: Jamie's Italian Unit 1, Pembroke District, Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin Tel: 01 2980600

HONOURS Oliver 2...Please see text of full embargo running on PA Wire. EMBARGOED: NOT FOR PUBLICATION BEFORE 0001 hours BST Saturday, June 14, 2003. Undated handout photo of TV chef Jamie Oliver, who receives an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to the hospitality industry. See PA HONOURS stories. PA handout photo/Chris Terry....A

Dundrum Town Centre is a bit of a high-risk area for me. There's something about walking through halls of inviting shops, beautifully lit, your favourite coffee shop and a beauty hall that stocks all of your favourite perfumes. You know, the ones you can only usually get in Paris.

Which is why I tend only to go there on very special missions with a set number of shekels in my pocket. My latest trip to Dundrum is not to haunt the perfume aisle (although I do) but to visit Jamie Oliver's new restaurant, Jamie's Italian.

One of my oldest friends accompanies me. In all areas of life, her standards are high. Whenever we go for dinner or lunch, there is usually a question asked of the staff that leaves them slack-jawed and skittering off to find out the answer. She somehow manages to break them down in a way that makes me want to hug them and tell them anything will do. Just bring us a piece of toast. She finds the one question they do not know the answer to and then flings it between their ribs like a toreador with a spear -- olé!

We turn up, stinking to high heaven of our favourite perfumes, which we have taken a detour through Harvey Nichols to douse ourselves with. The place is only open three weeks but already looks like it's been here forever.

Everything is perfect. There is not a patch of wet paint or damp plaster to be seen. When we arrive, there is a little entry vestibule inhabited by a woman making fresh pasta with a giant pasta machine. This feels slightly voyeuristic, like watching a monkey doing magic tricks.

We are welcomed by another young woman and shown into the restaurant, which is massive. It feels like an old warehouse in New York. It seats around 165 - 170, our host tells us as she walks us to our table, past the glistening bar, hung with all sorts of Italian hams, through the tables and up the stairs to the vast windows, green leather banquettes and playful yellow and green metal chairs.

I love how this looks. In fact, I love it so much I feel like I'm being psychologically tricked, the way a trip to IKEA makes me want to buy stuff. There must be something about these colours that makes diners happy, I think. The walls are beautiful, fitted with cool white vintage tiles, which continue throughout the restaurant, right into the bathrooms.

Our waiter tells us the specials. He recites the various dishes and all of their elements.

"Is the risotto cooked with a chicken stock?" she asks (ironically, she is a vegetarian). He looks stricken, swallows a gulp and says: "Eh-eh-ehhhh, I don't think it's cooked with any stock at all."

She responds: "All risotto is cooked with a stock! Can you check please." A direct hit. He is galled. I tell him by way of explanation, "she's a vegetarian."

He comes back in a couple of minutes to say the risotto is not actually cooked with any stock, just water and seasoning.

This is to do with the kind of rice they use, which is an excellent and very expensive rice. The toreador is mollified, so we order.

We have the fried spaghetti and calamari to start. Both yummy comfort food, although neither of us is mad on the fried spaghetti, mainly because of its hard, crunchy texture on the outside (which is as it should be, just not to our tastes). Everything comes on wooden slabs or slates to add to the rustic feel.

The accompanying sauces with both dishes -- an aioli with the calamari and tomato sauce with the spaghetti -- are excellent, fresh and full of flavour and we have to stop ourselves eating it with spoons.

When in Jamie's Italian, I think it's important to do as Jamie would do so I order the Italian burger and my friend gets the Fish In A Bag, a kind of fish stew with bulgar wheat cooked in a bag. I think this dish is incredible, perfectly done, bursting with flavour (although the toreador says it is maybe over-flavoured).

There is a huge amount of fish, enough for two people. In fact, the servings are all generous.

My burger is so big it could choke a pig. It is perfectly done too. I cut it in half to look at the meat, which has been halted in the cooking process as it was turning from pink to brown. Gorgeous. The polenta chips are a revelation but I can barely eat half, so I ask if I can take it away (I'm thinking of my hungry boyfriend who's in a snit because I didn't bring him to Jamie's Italian).

But to my surprise I'm told the policy is no takeaway. I thought Jamie Oliver would wrap it all up in a woolly jumper for me and hand it to me with a "bish, bash, bosh".

But no, apparently people can be irresponsible with eating food long after they should.

It seems like nanny state-ism to me but I suppose Jamie Oliver has a rather large reputation to protect.

We order an Amalfi lemon curd tart and two coffees to finish. The lemon curd is perfect and the first thing brought to our table that is not a giant slab of something.

The coffee is good too, but the cups have those annoying handles that you can't put your finger through, which makes the drinking of said coffee difficult and irritating.

But this is the worst of it. Jamie's Italian runs as smoothly as a machine. By the time we are leaving it is full and vibrant with conversation and laughter.

Due to the size of the place you're never going to have an intimate dinner here but it's certainly a relaxed place for friends and young couples with very good informal food in a very cool building. Even the toreador couldn't find anything wrong with it.

Recommended: Fish in a bag. Order this with a couple of salad sides and you have a feast for two people

The Damage: €70.50 for two starters, two mains, one side of polenta chips, one dessert, one glass of Chianti, and two coffees

On The Stereo: Barry White and other knowingly ironic sounds

At The Table: Couples, birthday parties and young families

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