Dinner with school friends, the kids from years ago that know you still as the seventeen year old you once were. Things never change. Some people will always be early, some people will always be late, and some people will always baffle your very bones.
So there I was sitting with a pint getting to know old Holden Caulfield to the point I could call him up on the phone whenever and in walks old school friend number one, she has a watch too. She is nervous like I am, because like me, she doesn’t think time changes much. It just ticks on and makes you older and later.
Soon enough school friend number two enters. A flurry of ‘hello darlings’ and ‘it’s been too long’ she had just got here, she said.
‘Straight from London, just got here now- I mean wow it’s been hectic. I had to park in a disabled space, no vomming parking! Anyway, Last night I got sooo pissed. Yah, and I don’t remember it much, but God I just vommed everywhere. I mean, everyone said it was the prettiest little vom they ever saw. Just a dainty little vomette. But oh my God guys it was so vomming Vom.’
She paused for breath and then she continued.
‘ Oh but I didn’t tell you about Saturday night, oh God. It was so vom. I just HAD to go to the Roof Gardens, you know, I didn’t want to but I just had to be there and I was just sooooo vommed out over all these vomming exams that I just found myself buying two bottles of Champagne. I just went around giving champers to everyone. I mean thats probably why I vommed last night. Just such hedonism and excess, it was the daintiest little vom though. Ha ha ha ha’
Did I feel like getting on the phone to old Holden, boy. Vom, now there is a word I really hate. It’s phony. I could puke every time I hear it. It’s a word I hate; it doesn’t set the tone for a meal out either. All this talk of regurgitation and acid reflux is unnecessary in anyone’s book.
Anyways, school friend three had arrived along with school friend two. She had been rather drowned out by the fountain of intestinal acid waste that was spurting forth from school friend two, but it was lovely to see her too, in her own right.
School friend four was, and still is, male. He is a male school friend, he arrived shortly after school friends two and three, and with his arrival we moved on to the destination to meet school friend five, who I am going to call Francesca, because that is her name.
Jamie’s Italian is on George Street in Oxford, a university city famous for radiohead, bicycles, and cutting up animals in the name of research. Apart from Raymond Blanc’s little bistro out near Little Milton Oxford isn’t really on the culinary map. Jamie’s, when it first opened, got some attention, but now it is just another branch of a nationwide chain.
‘Why do we have to wait outside’ the number two squealed ‘in England as well? It’s so cold, it’s vom!’
At last, she made a fair point. Thankfully the brains behind Jamie’s have a solution to the problem. We swan off somewhere else for forty five minutes, have a drink or two, and then come back when our tables ready. How do we know when to return? The number two gets a vibrating box to clip on her belt that will buzz her when the table is free.
Secretly hoping for some sort of malfunction that might give number two something more electrifying than a cheap buzz we had a drink in a very eggy and very egg-spensive Copa. The vibrator went off, and now with half a skin-full, we returned to Jamie’s to actually eat. Two hours after the suggested rendez-vous.
Two or three antipasti for the table became seven or eight before being pared down to five by number threes convenient and appropriate memory loss. Pepperdews stuffed with tuna, capers, and anchovy, one each, no complaints, very dainty. Bruschetta with chicken livers were rich and creamy with a crunchy sourdough bottom, just like chicken liver pate on toast should be, and that is all this is. It is served on a chopping board though, very Italian. Olives on ice, under seasoned polenta chips, and a diverse bread basket completed the starters.
The wine list is short and a couple of quid more expensive than other restaurants in this bracket. We plumped for a decent Pinot Grigio at 18.95 after the only listed Chardonnay was unavailable.
Main courses were accompanied by a generous side of Rocket and Parmesan salad, a fresh bowl of crunchy grated roots, and a tomato and mozzarella ensemble (lifted by peppery olive oil and seriously punchy basil).
The scallops from the blackboard were presented in their shells. Removing a scallop from the shell is hard enough when the muscle is raw, after it has been under the salamander and is soft to perfection, this task becomes even trickier. After I had minced the first one I managed to remove the second and third whole, coral intact, and was able to enjoy the molluscs’ firm meaty texture alongside the cheesy pesto topping. Rocket and cherry tomato salad added both a sweet and peppery note to a well balanced main course.
Clean plates often signify good food, or hungry diners, both significant factors here. Male school friend’s fish in a bag was as impressive in flavour as it was in rustic appearance. Francesca’s Pork belly special and number three’s rose veal chop were skilfully cooked and presented without fuss in hearty portions.
Number one friend papped away with her Polaroid, everyone laughed. Who knows what male friends feet were doing under the table? We were almost back at school, just five years on.
We ordered just two desserts, the male friend tempted by a raspberry chocolate brownie and for the number two a summer fruits panna-cotta. For my taste they were slightly too gooey and slightly too firm respectively. Puddings here, as they often are elsewhere, felt like a bit of an after-thought.
Slightly tipsy and hunger satisfied we returned to our cars. It says a lot for the food at Jamie’s that it took a (thoroughly well deserved) parking ticket before the number two re-released her trademark ‘Vom!’.http://www.jamieoliver.com/italian/ £30 a head with wine.