I don’t really do Michelin stars any more. It was a phase and it was good while it lasted but it is all over now. No celebrity chefs either, thank you very much. I am happiest when dining out on the streets or comparing one shawarma to the other (thoughI do sneak in a cheeky brunch whenever I can!) So, when asked to review Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria, I wasn’t really sure why!
As we walked into the restaurant, I began to understand why they may have asked me to review it. This was a far cry from the fancy, Michelin starred, award winning, celebrity chef restaurant I was expecting. It had a classy roadside diner feel; the kind of place that would take your jacket, ask you how you were doing and seat you at your preferred table while still serving breakfast, chicken wings and pizza. This was a wonderful world of contrasts and I was already very excited.
We ordered the Mushroom Fritti, Chilli Chicken wings, Chicken Ala Diavola Pizza and Lemon Herb Chicken. The Mushroom Fritti was basically a mushroom tempura (if there is such a thing) and was my least favourite dish of the day. Every other dish was good enough for me to go back to this place to have just that.
The free rangeChilliChickenWings were supposed to besticky afterbeing tossed in what was called a spicy freak sauce so I asked if I could have the sauce on the side and use it as a dip. I did not expect them to agree because that would essentially change the whole concept and they would have no control over the amount of sauce andflavourdoused on to the wings. To my surprise, they agreed. Such is the effect of a customer centric attitude that you are willing to take risks and bend the rules a little bit. It was a gamble that definitely paid off. One thought going through my mind as I dipped the little drumsticks into the spicy freak sauce was thattheonly way toexplain how unbelievably addictive itwas, is to bring my foodie friends back to this place.
I was intrigued, yet apprehensive of the Lemon Herbed Chicken. I don’t know why but for some reason I feared it may have been under cooked. I think it had something to do with a similar sounding dish which I had tried to eat a week prior to that day in Baku. To my relief, this chicken was neither under cooked and rubbery nor had it been cooked to oblivion and was succulent and tender with a lemonflavoured layer of skin on top. The first thing I did when I got back home was to google the recipe. No, I wasn’t trying to save myself a trip back to the restaurant. I was just curious on how a dish with such basic ingredients could taste so good.
It turns out, all you need to create the most awesome chicken dish were a few fresh basil leaves, a couple of rosemary sprigs, some garlic, your choice of veggies and a large lemon. It is what you do with these ingredientsthatmagically transforms this into a signature Jamie Oliver dish. Don’t google it yet. Go and try the real thing first; just so you know what it is supposed to taste like.
Chicken Ala Diavola at Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria
Last but not least, theChicken AlaDiavolaPizza because this was after all a pizzeria, right? I was pleased to be offered a choice between whole grain and sourdough. Jamie is the poster boy healthy eating in the UK so it had to be so. I opted for the whole grain option of course because it would help to ease my elevated guilt after consuming 300 grams of animal fat smothered onto a carbohydrate base. I did not expect it be as good as a normal pizza because let’s face it, who wants a whole wheat pizza, right? Me, that’s who. After this day, I am not sure if I want to go back to a normal pizza base. The whole wheat dough lent a unique, earthyflavourto the pizza while carrying half the calories of a sourdough base. It complimented thechilliand the mint and yoghurt sauce to create a wonderful fusion between East and West. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start copying this on the streets of Naples soon; or Lahore, depending on who gets a taste of it first.
The best restaurants are those which can teleport you to a faraway land. The sights and sounds of this place should captivate you and make you feel like the star of your own reality show or like royalty, if you would rather have it that way. This land that I speak of should be able to make you forget your work assignments, mortgage payments and traffic fines.
“Where would you like to be seated Sir? Would you like to see the drinks menu? Please take your time and I will be back when you are ready.” I was starting to feel a bit like a King myself, as I admired the tribal décor while these well-rehearsed lines rolled off my server’s tongue.
Since this was La La Land and we were all playing our part, I decided to be the King my server thought I was and decided to order the most ridiculous thing on the menu. The beef short ribs probably required the least amount of creativity from the chef and were probably the 2nd most boring thing on the menu (the first being my partner’s chosen dish). I still went ahead and ordered a full rack because it appealed to my extravagant Royal side. Also, I thought it may be an interesting choice at the time because I still remembered the Spicy Ethiopian beef I had enjoyed a couple of years back. These ribs however, were not spicy. They weren’t Ethiopian either. I don’t know where they were from. The restaurant had painted the entire menu with one gigantic African brush without specifying the country of origin. It was like going in to one of those restaurants serving ‘Asian’ cuisine and expecting to see everything from Sushi to fried crickets on the menu. Anyway, these ribs were tender and well cooked but the extra sweet sauce they were smothered with kept confusing me. This was such a British thing to do. This restaurant was African on the outside but deep inside it was just another restaurant that had tweaked its menu according to it’s clientele.
My partner ordered the Madagascar chicken. I thought it was a better choice than mine because we got to at know which African country the chicken had flown in from. I changed my mind when I saw it. The menu described it as a pepper and palm sugar spiced, roasted half chicken. It looked and tasted like one of those grilled chickens you can buy at Spinneys for 15 DHS. Except this one was only half a chicken and it was for 100 DHS. I am not a fan of sweet meats but was secretly relieved that the palm sugar mentioned in the description would give this otherwise boring looking bird some flavour. Couldn’t really taste it though. Maybe my senses were so overwhelmed by the sugar sauce on my ribs that I just couldn’t taste anything else. Maybe they had added all the sugar meant for the chicken to the ribs, I am not entirely sure. All I can say is that it tasted like roast chicken. Nothing more, nothing less.
This restaurant has a rating of above 4 on both Trip Advisor and Zomato so obviously, we just ordered the wrong things. I have to be honest, how other people feel about a place cannot determine what I feel about it. I would love to go back though, to give it another chance and order the right dishes. The environment, service and the entertainment were all top class (I did feel like a King, remember). The waiters would break into a song and dance routine every 15 minutes or so. One dude would pound the djembe (African percussion instrument) while several others would sing and dance with shakers in hand. The place had a great fun vibe to it. Sadly though, the food was not even close to what we had expected.