Jamie’s italian in newcastle – decent food, but it comes at a price – hannah graham – chronicle live chicken marsala emeril

Perched right at the top of the gorgeous grey st, customers are perfectly placed to admire the monument, and to people-watch to their heart’s content from the first-floor dining area.

It’s nicely decorated, too: industrial-chic bare wood and metal are softened by a nice pop of greenery from pot plants, which also make the outside look pretty and inviting.

It would be hard to miss who the proprietor was, though – jamie himself grins out from several walls filled with his cookbooks, while on a visit to the ladies I discover that, weirdly, even the toilets are branded ‘the oliver’.

There were no signs that the place was struggling for business, either: most tables were full and there was a nice buzz inside. How was the food?

To start we tried arancini, those lovely little balls of risotto which are coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried to perfection.

These were an inoffensive example of the form – pleasantly crisp on the outside, but lacking much serious flavour to the filling.Tomato sauce

Nduja meatballs were better, spicy enough to clear away any remnants of a winter cold and served with a rich tomato sauce and a few hunks of really good bread.

On to the mains, where, with my octopus ravioli, whoever designed jamie’s menu had really managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of culinary victory.

The pasta parcels themselves were fabulously fishy, the filling a nice texture and the fresh pasta, jet-black from squid ink, perfectly cooked.

But it was almost ruined by being covered in an over-oily, generic tomato sauce, which dominated the lovely ocean flavours, which could have been brought out brilliantly with something simple and lemony.

The high point of the meal was pesto chicken ‘under a brick’. I’m not entirely sure what was done with the brick, but whatever it was, it left the chicken perfectly moist with a lovely, crisp skin with just a hint of charcoal-blackness. The pesto was light, fresh, and avoided being too oily, and the dish felt pleasantly original.“very nice”

The only downside was that this £14.50 dish comes with no sides other than a mound of rocket, so unless you’re trying to slim down, it’s necessary to order some kind of carbohydrate side (£4 each – we went for some decent sweet potato fries) to make this into a filling main course.

But when I cut open my ‘molten praline pudding’, expecting to see luscious hot chocolate emerging like lava from a volcano, I was disappointed by a trickle of barely lukewarm sauce. Not only was it nearly cold, but neither sponge nor sauce showed any discernible sign of the praline flavour, while the chocolate taste was all surface sweetness with very little depth or richness. What about service?

I couldn’t fault the pleasant and attentive staff, though I would suggest management could train them up on the menu a little better. When we asked what beers they had on draught, our waiter told us they had one, and it was “very nice”. We asked what kind of beer (was it a lager?) he repeated that it was “very nice”.Tomato sauce

The food at jamie’s italian is, fundamentally, fine – the overall mediocrity emphasised, rather than undermined, by the fact that some dishes are hovering close to excellent, while one was actively dire.

But for that sort of money I want to walk out gloriously, decadently full, revelling in that pleasant, giggly sense of having over-indulged on something that was really worth it.

If food like that is going at that price, it has to be really, really exceptional – and in a city like newcastle you can find more exceptional italian food at a much less eye-watering price.