Among the many television cooking shows, the ones I enjoy most are by British celebrity chef and cookbook writer Jamie Oliver.
What I like is how he makes cooking so uncomplicated. He often whips up a dish in minutes and yet, just watching what he puts into the dish and how he puts everything together, you can tell that it will taste good.
A lot of that has to do with how wholesome the dishes are, made with fresh, natural ingredients with little or no help from processed sauces.
All those reasons are also why I will go back to his namesake restaurant, Jamie's Italian, which opened in VivoCity a week ago.
It is not a fine-dining restaurant but then Oliver is not that kind of chef. He cooks more family fare, which is what the eatery serves.
The food is prepared at various stations - a pasta-making area just after the entrance, a cold food area where the cold starters are plated and a hot kitchen where the cooking is done. All the areas are open and diners can watch the crew at work.
There is plenty of buzz, especially when the restaurant - which seats 210, including a 40-seat alfresco area along the waterfront - is packed, which it was last Wednesday night. When I got there at 7.15pm, there was a long queue outside.
It is a walk-in eatery but reservations are taken for a few tables a day. Telephone reservations are accepted for groups of eight or more, while smaller parties are directed to the restaurant's website for online reservations.
There is a good range of dishes here, especially the antipasti. Among them is something called the World's Best Olives On Ice ($7.50), which is quite a boast. I haven't eaten enough olives to confirm that but they are certainly the best I've eaten. They are succulent and not overly salty, and leave a pleasant finish on the palate.
Among the antipasti are also what the eatery calls planks, which are really platters except that the food is laid out on wooden planks instead of plates. The size and price of the servings depend on the number of persons.
There are meat ($15.50 a person), seafood ($17) and vegetable ($13.50) planks. The meat one, for example, comprises cold cuts such as San Daniele prosciutto, pistachio mortadella, bresaola and hot soppressata, served with mozzarella and pecorino cheeses as well as pickles and a salad of shaved root vegetables tossed with chilli, lemon and mint.
These are nice to peck on while waiting for the hot food but I won't suggest ordering for everyone in your party. An order for two persons is enough for a table of four. It's cheaper and leaves you room to try other dishes.
Besides, while the cold cuts are nice, they are not amazing - except for the slices of pecorino which come with a dollop of chilli jam that is really addictive.
In fact, I would not call the cooking here amazing, except for a few standout items. It ranges from good to very good and is wholesome, especially compared to most family-style Western eateries I've eaten at.
Pastas, for example, are all made fresh on the premises the same day. They are cooked al dente, meaning they are still firm in the centre, and tossed with delicious sauces, whether it's vongole tagliolini ($17 for starter, $25 for main course), prawn linguine ($17 and $25) or tagliatelle bolognese ($15 and $22).
Every order is cooked individually and from scratch.
A dish that stands out is the wild truffle risotto ($16 and $24.50), with chopped black truffles perfuming the creamy melted butter and parmesan the rice is cooked in. The rice grains are also nicely al dente, the way risotto should be cooked, although diners used to rice being boiled thoroughly may complain it is not properly cooked.
Herbs are used liberally with many of the main courses, whether it's rosemary, sage or mint. Which is brilliant because they give the dishes a fresh and natural lift without the need for heavy seasoning or sauces, allowing you to actually savour the meat.
And you do, whether it's the veal flash steak ($32.50), lamb chop lollipops ($29.90) or beef & veal meatball ($28.50). I actually find the steak cut too thin and the meatballs dry, but the flavour of the meat in both dishes is certainly good.
Even better is The Jamie's Italian Burger ($27.50), a towering pile of wagyu steak, smoked mozzarella, pancetta, sticky balsamic onions, tomato, pickles and chillies packed between a bun. The coarsely ground beef is juicy from the aromatic fat in the meat.
This is an amazing burger.
SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
1 Harbourfront Walk, 01-165-167 VivoCity, tel: 6733-5500, www.jamiesitalian.sg
Open: 11.30am to 11pm daily
Price: Budget from $60 a person without drinks
Our Famous Polenta Chips ($7.50)
Instead of normal potato chips, get this chunky crispy fried chips made with polenta and topped with parmesan and rosemary.
This story was first published in The Sunday Times on July 21, 2013
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