Norwich: Jamie’s Italian

Finally able to get a table, ROSA MCMAHON is impressed at how the quiet of a former bookshop has been replaced by Jamie's Oliver's bustling Italian.

Finally able to get a table, ROSA MCMAHON is impressed at how the quiet of a former bookshop has been replaced by Jamie's Oliver's bustling Italian.

Trying to book a table for a Saturday night is perhaps not the most savvy of ideas when you want to dine at one most talked-about restaurants in Norwich.

We telephoned three days before and were told we would have to 'drop-in' on the night and hope to get a table.

It was no surprise, after all, the Jamie's Italian in the Royal Arcade only opened a month ago, and has been bursting with eager eaters ever since.

I was eager to see how my old favourite bookstore, Waterstones, had been transformed into a restaurant by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, and his army of Italophiles.

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I wondered if I would be reminded of the bookshelves and be unable to see the vast space a place to eat, rather than as a place to read.

In truth, the bustling atmosphere instantly reminded me that I was in a restaurant. For those who had never been to the book shop, I am sure they would see it as a beautiful, lofty dining space that it is.

In our prettiest dresses, my girl friend and I were quite happy waiting 45 minutes for a table, sipping cocktails in the bar at the front of the restaurant, laughing at our boyfriends' choices of girly cocktails.

As a tea lover, it would have been a crime for me not to have ordered the unusual Gin and Earl Grey Martini (�6.50). The spirit, infused with Earl Grey syrup and fresh lemon, was totally delicious, and really like no other cocktail I've had before. Another notable cocktail we tried was the Berry Br�l�e, which mixed my favourite Martini Bianco with seasonal berries.

Despite the bar overflowing with people, staff were attentive and clearly well-trained in their cocktail making duties.

We had our starters at the bar, courgette frittos (�6.50) which mixed ricotta and mozzarella chesses in the fried vegetable, with pesto on the side. As well as that, the four of us shared the crispy squid (�5.75) which I am told was delicious and fresh in equal measure, and of course it would have been rude not to have the classic Italian bread selection (�3.75) which was fresh and filling.

We were then beeped by the novel buzzers, which told us our table was ready. We took a a litre of the white organic house wine (�21.75) to our table, which was downstairs overlooking the Arcade's walk-way which, as one of my fellow diners commented, was 'liked being in a fish bowl' — but I think she meant in a good way.

Our waiter had worked at the Birmingham chain of the restaurant, where I had my first Jamie's meal. He had obviously been well trained and was highly knowledgeable of the menu, assisting even the most indecisive of eaters (me).

I opted for the breast of lamb (�12.75) which was a little dry — but I asked for more jus and they provided it. However it had clearly been cooked slowly and was tender. The others went for the fillet of fish baked in a bag (�15.95), the burger (�10.95) and the flash-grilled feather steak (�13.35) — as well as sides of authentic and rather unusual chips: the polenta chips (�3.45), and posh chips (�3.25) which came with truffle oil.

Everything tasted fresh, and our empty plates signaled that we enjoyed what we had ordered. However the lack of pasta orders wasn't accidental, as, from experience in the Birmingham eatery, I thought the meat to be better than the pasta — which is a shame for an Italian.

Even my sweet tooth, and relentlessly expanding stomach, couldn't manage a dessert, so we opted for coffee, and fresh peppermint tea. Both which were fresh and hit the spot perfectly.

Our late dining time led to an inevitable late finish, which saw us roll home — full, content, and for me, slightly less aggrieved that a restaurant is in a book shop's place — and, with rather beautiful wallpaper.

Jamie's Italian

Royal Arcade

Castle Street


01603 519 967

Prices: Antipasti from �3.25, pasta from �6.50, mains from �10.95, desserts from �4.50

Vegetarian options: Lots

Wheelchair access: Yes

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