Casual service may be the style, but a lackadaisical attitude smacks of inelegance and indifference
CAN SERVICE ruin the food? At Jamie’s Italian in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, it’s very near possible. The celebrity chef has a chain of restaurants that serve cuisine prepared with his trademark flair and this restaurant is quick to establish its association with him. Flat-screen TVs run recipe preparations on loop of presumably Jamie Oliver’s cooking and the cavernous interiors are welcoming, even as a fresh pasta-making section ushers you in. However, the banquette seating section is inconvenient. If you are nimble enough to pull the table closer to you, you will be spared the deportment of either slouching back in repose or sitting erect, leaving that option to your dining partner. Atmospheric considerations aside, Jamie’s does bring modern dining to you. I was introduced to the restaurant by a regular diner, who visits it often with his family. It’s their number one dining destination and one can see why. The restaurant can cater to almost everyone. The prices are affordable and the portion sizes are generous without being overwhelming. The bar list is extensive and it is a fun afterwork destination for dinner and drinks.
Even though the antipasti selections are limited—and this is the case with all sections of the menu—it doesn’t bother one too much. In this case, it’s appreciated because the menu doesn’t submit to the vanities of signature restaurants and stays guest-focused. But we wish the same could be said of the staff as well. For one, the restaurant seems over-staffed. In all likelihood, it was because it was a low-footfall weekday. The staffing is probably required for busy periods, but what remains unexplained is why the service standards are so abysmal. Casual service is the style, but the lackadaisical attitude, which prompts the service gang to huddle together for a powwow and not escort a new arrival to the table of a guest already waiting smacks of inelegance and indifference. Yes, the restaurant is well-lit and one can find one’s way, but summer does necessitate a glass of water when seated. Service 101.
The delayed service, though, does not take away from the delight of the ricotta and tomato bruschetta, a must-order antipasti. With the ricotta heaped on to the toast, it is a home-style dish and a great start to the meal. The ricotta’s sublime flavour is the perfect foil for the tartness of the tomatoes and the freshness of the basil. The pizza special of the day was the four-cheese, thin-crust Quattro Formaggi-style pizza, which lets go of the more adventurous blue cheese (something I quite enjoy, even though not traditional) and sticks to mozzarella and the likes with rocket leaves. It’s a bit dull, but something one wouldn’t mind nibbling on. It’s quite clear by now that Jamie’s isn’t quite looking to expand one’s palate. It is instead in the business of providing comfort food that is already familiar to the Indian diner.
The pasta options are predictable, but the kitchen flexible, so I get my favourite alfredo sauce with fettuccine and not penne, which is the menu offering. The sauce is heavy and Jamie’s offers two options in portion sizes. This is something that more restaurants should adopt. However, the best item on the menu is the tiramisu. It is unlike anything one may have tasted and should be a must for anyone who visits this restaurant. Oliver calls it the coolest trifle in the world and he isn’t wrong. His recipe is light, yet decadent and sneaks in chocolate as well. It’s the one thing you will go back for again and again. The special dessert of the day was Molten Chocolate Cake with a liquid core. It was surprisingly served with chocolate ice cream and not vanilla as promised on the menu. This was when service lost me again.
Without warning, they switched the ice cream and didn’t bother to inform. The idea behind the vanilla ice cream pairing is to offset the heavy chocolate dose that this dessert brings, but the staff felt it was quite alright to serve you something you didn’t order or not bother to change it when it was brought to their attention. At Jaimie’s, the food almost rescues you from the far too casual (being kind here) service, but when they get it wrong (yet again) in the very last course, the after-taste is not very pleasant.
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad