Visited in the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh
Before the Edinburgh Festival, the city’s transforming: Princes Street is finally re-opened, flower stands have been set up on the streets – and the works on the Assembly Rooms are nearing completion. It is said that this historical venue that used to open its doors to the Geroge Street VIPs of their time has been awaiting modernisation for years – and that the final effect is to be breathtaking.
But the fact that Jamie’s Italian opened in the Supper Rooms of the Assemblies, giving one an opportunity of a sneak-peak into what the whole place may look like, was not the only reason why I decided to go exactly there for my next cup of coffee. Having lived under one roof with a chef for a few years now, I know all the lot: Jamies, Ramsays, etc, etc – it seemed only natural to experience first hand whether the celebrities’ venues stood up to their reputations, when an opportunity arose right at my doorstep.
When I first saw the tacky yellow chairs and green tables out the Rose Street entrance (the only one open at the time) I was rather puzzled – this did not seem like a quality restaurant, and if there was some kind of a concept to it, I didn’t like it. However, it did not reflect the tiniest bit of what the place looked like inside. One word: stunning.
Or at least it felt like it, entering from the cold street flooded with rain. Greeted by smart-looking waiters, allocated a seat via a touch-screen computer, taken upstairs, having walked by the open-kitchen pass, where you could see the chefs at work, up to the antipasti section with a bar in the middle, surrounded by huge joints of ham; all in a dim light of drapery-decorated rooms (or that what it seemed) that felt bourgeois-style. And then, there was a simple kitchen-cloth with Jamie’s name on it, serving as a napkin, and the menus, stylised to look like a newspaper page – but although, in retrospect, all this should not have worked together, it did, because once inside one’s mind was absorbing and appreciating the surroundings full-on. Probably the last place I have been sincerely thinking in terms of “this is where I want to bring my friends and family to see” was The Dome on George Street (and it is shocking that I have still not reviewed their mochas!).
The service was immaculate, perfectly fitting “the Jamie’s standard” if you’d like to identify one: chatty (the guy actually squatted next to my chair to be on the same eye-level with me), light-hearted but very polite with immaculate manners (they did pull the chair out for me, yes – and then opened the door for me on my way out). “They’re scoring those points” was one thing I thought before ordering my mocha, which did not figure on the menu, but was easily obtainable.
The coffee arrived in a couple of minutes, just after a carafe of water. It was a bit small, but that’s what you’d probably expect of an Italian place (I was advised by some friends-tourists to Rome, that coffee in Italy stands for espresso…). To clarify, I didn’t only go there for a little snoop around in a celebrity’s restaurant – I was there to find out whether the coffee lives up to the expectations set out by the adjective “Italian” on the venue’s sign; therefore, I was trying to spot – and hoping to taste – some Italian excellence.
I therefore wasn’t put off by the relatively small cup when I was taking the first sip – and it took one sip to know that the whole rest would be perfect.
Everything worked in that mocha. The very light foam on top, the sweetness of the (as I presume) whole milk, the delicate essence of espresso tingling on the tongue, the smooth consistency and the near-luke-warm temperature, that might be a problem to some, but which to me rounded up the whole thing nicely. I smiled after that first sip – and so did my partner, the chef, who likes his coffee strong and sweet; he did add sugar to it, and although I wouldn’t necessarily follow his advice as to the next coffee-house to visit, I had to agree with him, when he murmured: “Gooood coffee…”.
For me, it was two minutes and gone, so when my partner finished studying the menu, we went, having quickly considered whether we shouldn’t have one of the antipasti planks (we decided we’d leave it for another time). So I can’t really rate Jamie’s Italian from the food perspective; but the coffee was the quintessence of Italian perfection that I have been looking for for so long – if one can only forget about the price, that is.
Verdict justification: Mouthwatering coffee. The prize for the size is the only downside – otherwise, I’d be asking for more!