Jamie’s Italian Manchester

Never in my life had I been to a restaurant toilet in a converted old personal vault of a bank, but there’s a first time for everything.

Jamie’s Italian Manchester (100 King Street) is located in quite probably the coolest place I’ve ever set foot – a converted, grand old 1935 Midland Bank that, until recently, housed HSBC. The restaurant is set over three floors – the former Banking Hall, where we dine in an old booth; the mezzanine level, with its spectacular view of the whole restaurant, and – the pièce de résistance – the original Vault in the basement, which larger parties can hire for a special occasion at no extra cost.

It is down in the basement that I find the amazing loos, each spacious enough for a double bed, in the personal vaults where customers would have gone to sort out the contents of their safety-deposit boxes after exiting the Vault. Each of these toilets has its own impressive Thomas Crapper loo and white-brickwork walls and it’s not hard to envision Jason Bourne using one of these rooms to sort his gun from his wad of cash.

The Vault itself is accessed through its original steel door, just beyond the toilets. This private dining room seats 12-18 within walls lined with hundreds of original, numbered safety-deposit boxes. Some of the safe doors are open and filled with candles, making for a truly unique dining experience of an evening. Large groups can also hire the old Bank Manager’s Office or the Secretary’s Office for private dining on the main floor. If only I’d known about this in time for my 30th birthday! The Vault really would make a magical setting for a special occasion.

I’ve come this far without mentioning the food. I’ve watched Jamie Oliver on TV and used his recipe books for more than a decade and I wouldn’t expect anything less than spectacular from his food, but it’s the first time I’ve been to one of his restaurants and I can genuinely say it exceeds all expectations.

I order the Meat Plank for my starter – a long, wooden chopping board with a selection of cold cuts including fennel salami, pistachio mortadella and prosciutto, pecorino cheese and chilli jam, buffalo mozzarella with chilli and mint, olives, pickles and a crunchy salad. (£6.85). I’m used to antipasti platters being over-filling, but the amount on offer is perfect for one person with only one piece of each item, and the buffalo mozzarella is creamy, light and tangy. The pecorino cheese on its tiny crispbread toast is mouthwateringly creamy and combines perfectly with the tiny dollop of chilli jam.

Having vowed to cut down on red meat and dairy products, I can’t help but order the Jamie’s Italian Burger (£10.95) when I see it on the menu. It’s prime British chuck and flank steak with smoked mozzarella, mortadella, sticky balsamic onions, tomato, pickles and chillies, and I order it with the Funky Chips (£3.25) – thick-cut chips with lashings and lashings of parsley and fresh garlic. The perfectly cooked burger is without doubt the best I’ve ever had and tastes like a juicy Argentine steak pounded into a burger shape. The sticky balsamic onions give it a sweet kick and there’s absolutely no need for ketchup or any condiments. The whole shebang is surprisingly light and I don’t even feel over-full afterwards, though I do feel a little over-garlicked.

I skip dessert, purely because I don’t have enough space left and I’m trying to cut out sugar, but I have no problem helping myself to a healthy dose of my fellow diners’ desserts. The Sour Cherry Bakewell (£4.95) is a perfect blend of sweet and sour and the addition of sour cream and fresh mint leaves gives it a real kick.

The Affogato special – a shot of Espresso and a shot of Amaretto poured on top of two scoops of vanilla ice cream and pistachio nuts tastes just like eating marzipan coffee (in a seriously good way). I finish off with a cappuccino and my only complaint is there’s no offer of mints with the bill to mask the heavy garlic taste in my mouth.

Felipe, our Brazilian waiter, is the epitome of well-trained. Having worked in pubs and restaurants throughout high school and university, I know that waiting staff are seldom given the chance to try out the food, but Jamie clearly wants his employees to know the dishes inside out, because Felipe is able not only to list the ingredients, but also to describe the individual steps taken to cook each meal. He even sounds a bit like Jamie, with his animated descriptions of the cooking process, and his personal recommendations from the extensive menu.

Jamie’s Italian has 35 restaurants worldwide – 30 in the UK plus locations in Sydney, Perth, Dubai, Dublin and Singapore.

They’re opening soon in Rio de Janeiro, says our waiter. If they open a restaurant in São Paulo, Felipe says, he’ll be back there like a shot. So will I, Felipe. So will I…

What we ate:

Laura: Meat Plank, Jamie’s Italian Burger

Chris: Humble Green Salad, Wild Mushroom Cilindretti Pasta Pillows, Sour Cherry Bakewell

Tony: Orange, Fennel and Bocconcini Salad, Gennaro’s Famous Porchetta (Belly Pork) special, Affogato special

Price for 3 people for lunch, no wine:

£80 approx

Service: Spot on

Value for Money: 10/10

Recommend? Absolutely

http://www.jamieoliver.com/italian/manchester

This article was originally published on Life After Cancer.

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