Just a few weeks ago I was very kindly invited along by the team at Jamie's Italian to pop in and try out their restaurant in a town close to me, Jamie's Italian in Reading, Berkshire.
I'd only previously visited one of the branches of this family of restaurants before and that was a fair few months back in Glasgow. It was on the eve of a good friends wedding and to be honest we were all so busy and overexcited, dining in a group of well over 20, catching up and busily gossiping away over a glass of wine that it was all over very quickly as the celebrations of the evening commenced.
It was nice therefore to be offered the opportunity of another visit in a town local to me but that I don't get around to visiting all that often. I confess I'm a Jamie Oliver fan, love his shows and his food (no-one has made me say that, it's just true!) plus with the crossrail due to open (one day) Reading is sure to become even more of a commuter hotspot. So with the work-life theme of this blog I thought it was worth checking out this area and what it has to offer in a little more detail to report back here on the blog.
My husband and I picked Sunday lunchtime, on what turned out to be a slightly grey and blustery day, to visit. As we crossed the bridge from the Oracle Shopping Centre car park, being blown asunder by the great British weather, the appeal of a cosy, warm restaurant was growing ever greater. And I'm happy to report that's exactly what we felt we were treated to when we arrived.
The restaurant, situated on the river amidst some other eateries and many shops, is quite unique with its circular shape and light and airy views - light and airy but cosily lit. It's not a bad place to spend a couple of hours eating and chatting about the day ahead.
We began with some Focaccia freshly baked that morning with a little oil and vinegar and topped with rosemary. I followed that with the Ricotta Bruschetta and Dan opted for one of the days specials, the Saffron Risotto as his starter.
The bruschetta, with balsamic tomatoes, colwick cheese and basil, was classic, creamy and rich in flavour and of course I had to take a decent sampling of the risotto. Being a seafood fan this was also right up my street, with a hint of spice and lots of fresh flavours it really hit the mark. Happily a delightful beginning to the meal was sampled and washed down with a little glass of Prosecco for me and a bottle of Jamie's own craft-brewed lager the Liberta for Dan.
Next we ventured on to the main course and this time it was my turn to try out one of the daily specials in the form of a pretty glorious Pulled Lamb Burger with Kale Slaw, whilst Dan went with a choice from the menu ordering the Porcini Fettuccine.
Wanting to opt out of the fries side of things after an already fairly food filled weekend I paired my burger with a fresh and vibrant Heritage Tomato Salad dressed with finely sliced red onion and an orange dressing, proving to be an ideal accompaniment.
My lamb burger, although something of a challenge to eat, was well worth the coleslaw on the chin! The soft lamb, toasted, seeded bun and homemade slaw was a pretty heavenly combination. Not what you might usually expect to find in an Italian restaurant but an absolute perfect match for a blustery Sunday afternoon.
When it comes to pasta, all of the pasta on the menu is freshly made in-house. Neatly packed-in behind the walled seating were bags of soft wheat traditional flour just ready and waiting to be turned into a mountain of homemade loveliness!
Being an Italian restaurant, pasta of course had to be sampled. Now since Dan ate his way around Italy last summer purely on a diet of mushroom based pasta dishes, the porcini option was really the only choice.
Liking to think himself something of a connoisseur (!) he was suitably impressed with the portion size, the flavours and the fact that it wasn't too creamy but was subtle and tasty in equal measure. I sampled it and have to say the freshness of the pasta and the flavour made this the perfect comforting dish to see you through the day with a smile on your face.
To end we shared the very pretty and even more tasty Amalfi Lemon Meringue Cheesecake. Full as we were this still went down a treat. Made with mascarpone and served with lemon curd and blackcurrants this was an extremely pleasurable way to end what had been a very cosy and happy meal. This is a must try if you ever visit - naughty but oh so very nice, so it really just couldn't be missed!
I have to say that we had a really lovely afternoon in this ambient restaurant and the staff were all incredibly friendly.
Our server Ian was on hand to answer any questions and one thing I really enjoyed chatting to him about was how passionate he is about his career at the restaurant. Having been there for five years since the opening of this particular branch, he was able to give an insight into how staff are always encouraged to be a part of what's happening and his enthusiasm for his role was evident.
From sampling the specials each day on arrival and having a good working relationship with the chef enabling feedback and learning, to being part of visits to the brewery where the in-house lager is brewed or to the local farm to see the lambing process and understand the importance of sourcing local fresh produce, the staff very much treat this role as a career with a lot of opportunity to learn and grow and that for me is really important and very nice to hear.
The hams and cheeses used in the dishes are sourced from authentic producers in Italy, vegetables and other meats bought in as much as possible from the local community and breads and pasta made fresh in-house. It was great to have a chance to learn about this side of daily operations in a business such as this and even nicer to hear that staff are invited to take such a passionate role in what they do.
So would we visit again? Yes we definitely would and that's the honest truth. The quality of the food that we had was delicious and this is a lovely spot in the midst of the busy and bustling heart of Reading, a town that I'm sure will grow more and more over the coming years. It's nice to have somewhere you know you can count on for a great meal whether dining with colleagues or clients or perhaps if you're just in need of a place to rest amidst a busy shopping schedule!
Thank you to everyone for making our visit a very pleasurable one and if you're ever heading that way and looking for a bite to eat then you won't go wrong with a trip to this riverside spot.
Have a great day all, a Happy Easter and a lovely long weekend.
*We received a contribution towards our meal as part of being invited along to review. My opinions are however 100% honest and completely my own. If I hadn't enjoyed it I wouldn't be sharing it here today.