Dining

Gourmet Ciao: we visit Jamie Oliver’s new Budapest restaurant

Photo : László Balkányi/We Love budapest
Gourmet Ciao: we visit Jamie Oliver’s new Budapest restaurant

Jamie Oliver made his big debut as “The Naked Chef” on BBC in 1999, and since then the whole world got to know his name, face, family, the passion he has for healthy cooking, the way he handles ingredients, and the little victory dance he makes when seeing an especially nice tomato or smelling a batch of fresh basil. Naturally, his career path led him to learn from Italian masters, and soon after the celebrity chef’s first Jamie’s Italian eatery opened in Oxford in 2008. Now there are 40 of these restaurants around the world, including the newest one here in Budapest – let’s check it out.

Back in September 2015, when we first got the news that the famous British chef is expanding his franchise empire to Budapest, we became curious, but also thought that it will be an extra challenge to make a brand that is based on such a strict license stand its ground in Budapest. Without any hostility, it’s simply ironic that so many great Hungarian culinary professionals go to try their luck in Jamie’s homeland, not to mention that a lot of people in the catering-industry say that they technically have to “fish” for talented, dedicated, and good workers here, whether it’s for the kitchen or the service staff. However, with Jamie Oliver’s partnership with Budapest’s successful Zsidai Group of hospitality pros, the brand found their rightful place on Szentháromság Street in the Castle District, and after more than half a year of preparations and two months of professional training, Jamie’s Italian Budapest opened on May 20th.
Photo: László Balkányi/We Love budapest
The location is great – when the weather is good enough for taking a seat on the terrace, there’s a perfect view of the Matthias Church, yet it’s worth peeking into the interior for its atmosphere. The bar area reminds us of Zsidai’s Spíler, and this is definitely a compliment. Just like in all other restaurants of the brand, they have a separable part here, and what we especially found appealing was the deli-counter decorated with Pataki tiles: the antipasti are made behind huge hanging hams. The pillars are the building’s original ones, but the inner space has other local curiosities, like a reconstructed signboard of the former Fehér Galamb Restaurant. Local spirit is not only reflected in the interior design, but also in the ingredients.
Photo: László Balkányi/We Love Budapest
The requirements are incredibly high, but it’s not impossible to meet them – the fact that the Jamie’s Italian of Budapest uses a lot of local ingredients, or that the wine selection has more Hungarian than Italian wines all prove this, not to mention that the baked goods are from Szabi the baker, they use a lot of local meats, and the fruit juices they serve are all Hungarian organic products made with the assistance of the Bercsényi Miklós Vocational School of Kőbánya. The point is to use ingredients from sustainable, ethical sources: the animals are free-range, while the vegetables, fruits, and spices all come from carefully chosen sources. The Hungarian team is very proud that most of the ingredients and wines passed the chain’s strict inspections.
Photo: László Balkányi/We Love Budapest
We arrived at noon, and the place was full within seconds. The rules say that only 20-30% of the tables can be reserved, with all others for arriving guests, so we can always get a table even if we have to wait a little – which we can do by the bar, but passing time by taking a little walk in the historic neighborhood is also a good idea. Of course, there’s the history and the license, but naturally we were mostly interested in the quality, taste, quantity, and price of the meals. Jamie’s Italian is not a cheap option: we can order starters from 1,340 forints, pastas from 2,240 forints, and pizzas from 1,880 forints (plus 13% service fee). However, these prices are still only half of what the same restaurants in London charge, and a dinner in a downtown restaurant costs approximately the same as at Jamie’s. The brand and the consistent quality of the franchise have a price to be paid, but here diners definitely get what they pay for.
The board platters are exciting starters (the meat version is 2,980 forints per person, the vegetable version is 2,760 per person), featuring classic antipasti, and we can order them for as many people as we want. We tried the meat version and we repeated the pistachio/mortadella/buffalo-mozzarella/chili-jam combination multiple times. But if we are talking about appetizers, we would definitely recommend “olives on ice”, a characteristic tapenade (olive purée) which arrives with fresh homemade bread. Their bruschettas (starting from 1,480 HUF) are also great; our favorite was the crab and avocado pairing. It would be a sin not to try the crispy squid (1,740 HUF): it arrives with garlic-lemonade-flavored mayonnaise. The shrimp linguine pasta (3,560 forints) won its category, but the Bolognese and the Carbonara both delivered a classic, delicious taste. We can order small portion, and gluten-free versions of the chosen dishes. Their pizzas are authentic with thin, crunchy crusts and just enough toppings – the Fiorentina (2,540 HUF) with cheese, béchamel, baby spinach, bio eggs, anchovy, and Parmesan became our favorite, but since the crust is great, the tomato versions are super, too.
The chicken cacciatore (3,140 HUF) was a surprise – it is a grilled chicken with Chianti-tomato sauce, black olives, Parmesan, arugula, and garlic ciabatta. Soft, delicious chicken-meat meets with fresh vegetables in this course. We also tried a superfood salad (1,940 HUF) that was dominated by lentils, quinoa, and avocado, but also contained beetroots, broccoli, pomegranate, cottage cheese, and harissa. The outcome has an Israeli feeling to it; it is very rich and worth a try – even if it’s not the first thing we would order at an Italian-style restaurant. Dessert-wise, our favorites were the brownie (1,440 HUF) and the orange-blossom polenta cake (1,380 HUF).
If we wanted to pick an argument, or criticize something… we couldn’t, but we don’t even want to. The whole machinery works great, even only a few days after the opening. The courses are delicious, the portions are abundant, and the atmosphere is convincing. Welcome to Budapest, Jamie – this is going to be a beautiful friendship!