Jamie's has the buzz goin' on
Jamie Oliver isn’t around, but there are reminders of how much he’s grown from bloke to brand to global empire, writes CATHERINE CLEARY
‘YOU SHOULD have seen us at the weekend. Oh. My. God. Nuts,” the woman in the smart black shirt is saying to a couple who have arrived looking for a table. Tonight there’s only a 30-minute wait. It’s a Monday night.
Her shirt has a circular sticker on it, like you’d see on a book. I am in Jamieland (sorry Jamie’s Italian), a theme park where you can pretend Jamie’s making your dinner. It’s in the Pembroke District of Dublin’s Dundrum Town Centre, which is outside the cathedral space of the main shopping centre. It’s a big, snazzy restaurant with the full checklist of subway-tiles, food-market hanging hams, garlic ropes and chilli garlands, and crates of picture perfect veg. Every other shelf is packed with merchandise (two tea towels: €13.50; Vespa oven glove: €15.95). A little bit of Jamie has been slathered over everything, like a glaze.
I’ve taken a seat at the bar (more of a corner with high stools), equipped with my Jamie vibrator (no, not that kind of merchandise). It’s a pager that will tell me when my table is ready. I can wander into the shopping centre and browse until it buzzes like an angry wasp. Sixteen minutes later, it jumps into life.
As I sit at a plain, circular wooden table in the middle of this cool-canteen place, the first surprise is the age profile of the diners. Yes, it is a school night, but I expected more kids, in Hollister. The youngest people here are the wait staff who are all lovely: not shiny-eyed Jamiebots at all.
The menu is that thing market-driven mid-range restaurants do: small plates of things alongside the more traditional starter, main and dessert. “Jamie’s favourite” is a turkey dish, which I’m initially told has been sold out. “We didn’t expect such a busy Monday night.” A short while later the turkey is back on. Has someone made a frantic dash on a Vespa to get more?
I share in the delusion of millions that I know Jamie. I’ve loved his food for more than a decade, since his boyish enthusiasm for everything got me teaming peaches with prosciutto. I love his campaigning and his recipes. I’ve eaten lots of Jamie’s dinners, but never in any of his restaurants.
I’m meeting a friend I’ve known longer than Jamie and we like the cheerful, smart look of the place. She knows someone else at another table, whose friend met Jamie last year, when he came to the Chelsea Flower Show at 6am (on his Vespa) to source a special pear tree.
And the food? Well it’s a reminder that Jamie is not in the building. He’s not even in the country. There are occasional moments of freshness and the zing of flavour you get from his recipes; simple brilliant ingredients thrown together. Perhaps we ordered badly, but there are a lot of breadcrumbs. And everything from the menu design to the spiel from the waitress about the contents of the tapas-style meat-and-cheese “plank” seems to come from some distant HQ training programme.