Monday, February 23, 2015

Jamie's Italian

The only specialty restaurant that we visited on the Quantum was Jamie's Italian, an outpost of Jamie Oliver's restaurant, featuring a select group of dishes from their usual menu. As we mentioned before, we don't usually go to any specialty/pay restaurants on a cruise, but we were celebrating a special occasion (the main reason we were on the cruise in the first place) so it was worth the "splurge" this time. At the time we went, the cover charge was $25 per person, which doesn't sound like a lot for a nice dinner until you remember you're already paying for the complimentary restaurants in your (expensive) cruise fare, and we've heard that it's now $30 (lunch, we think, is still $15).

Part of the Jamie's Italian dining room

We were very excited to eat at Jamie's. It was one of the few spots that people on the cruises before us had raved about and everything on the menu sounded absolutely delicious. The hardest part was going to be narrowing the menu down to a manageable amount of dishes. We wanted to try everything, especially since it was going to be our only visit, so we had to make some tough decisions.

Appetizers are generally served family style, and the one thing everyone seemed to order at Jamie's was an appetizer plank. There was one on just about every table, so we got one too. The planks came in meat and vegetable varieties, and after checking with our waiter on food allergies and the ingredients involved, we decided on the vegetable plank. Half of our group wasn't that into cured meats anyway (the meat platter had fennel salami, pistachio mortadella, prosciutto, and schiacciata piccante), so we figured it would be safer to do the vegetable plank since he said none of the allergies would be an issue there.

Half the vegetable plank

The vegetable plank had a bunch of different small dishes and bites, including:

- Grilled seasonal vegetables, which were marinated in an herby olive oil - These were fine, but there was way too much oil in that dish. They were completely soaked in oil, taking away from the flavor of the vegetables themselves a little bit.

- Crunchy carrot and beet salad with lemon and mint - This was fine, but not anything amazing. Very crunchy, especially when compared to the super-soft, dripping with oil, grilled vegetables.

- Mozzarella balls topped with some chilli and mint - The topping here was a bit like pesto and the quality of the mozzarella was good. We liked these, and they were nice and creamy.

- Crostini with eggplant, tomato and pine nuts - This wasn't listed on the menu as being part of the plank, but it was tasty. Very light but a little bit bitter, which seemed strange.

- Pecorino and chilli jam on music bread - Music bread, which there will be more of later, is a really thin, crispy bread, and on the plank, it came topped with a thin slice of pecorino cheese and a dollop of chilli jam. We liked this.

- Pickles and olives - There aren't any photos of this for some unknown reason and M doesn't even remember these being on the table, but she's not a huge fan of olives, so that probably isn't surprising. A really likes pickles and olives, and he remembers them being little gherkins along with the olives. Overall they were all a touch salty.

Other half of the vegetable plank

Although the plank was pretty good, there were a couple of issues with it. First, the portion size. The grilled vegetables and the crunchy salad were fine, but everything else came in pairs, which is tough when you've got a group of more than 2 people. We split all the portions so that everyone could try if they wanted to, but some things, like the crostini, were practically bite-size to begin with, so that was tough.

Second, the waiter had told us that our group could eat everything on the plank after we notified them of our food allergies, but when it arrived, we noticed one person couldn't eat the grilled vegetables due to allergy and another couldn't eat the crunchy salad due to a different allergy, both of which we had told them about. In the second case, they even pointed out the "offending" food when they put the plank on the table. That's great that they let us know that celeriac was in the crunchy salad (since it wasn't on the menu), but before we ordered the plank, they told us there was no type of celery whatsoever involved in the dish. How are we supposed to trust that there would be no allergy-causing ingredients in the other things we ordered? This was the second dinner in a row that we had run into food allergy-related issues and it wasn't making us feel very confident in Royal's procedures or employee training.

The other appetizers our table shared (or attempted to share) were:

Tuscan bean and single estate Italian olive oil bruschetta - "braised beans and creamy mozzarella on grilled ciabatta, drizzled with stunning single estate Italian olive oil." (That's what the menu said about it.)

This was quite good. It was grilled bread topped with a white bean paste, creamy white beans, grated mozzarella, some microgreens, and olive oil. Although this was good, we figured that if we wanted to bring out the blender and buy some quality ingredients, we could probably make this at home. It was simple but done well here.

Crab and avocado bruschetta - ciabatta, crab, and avocado with apple, chilli, mint, and lemon.


Another bruschetta, but different from the white bean one, including the type of toast used as the base. This is another appetizer that we were told everyone would be able to eat, but when it showed up the waiter said it was celeriac even though the menu said apple. It was very confusing and increasingly frustrating. Overall this was okay. The crab was fresh, and the lemon added brightness. The best part about the dish was the avocado mint sauce on the side. It was creamy and herbaceous and really finished off the dish. We liked this but didn't love it, but our opinion was probably a little colored by our frustration over all the allergy issues.

Baked chestnut mushrooms with smoked mozzarella, thyme, and crispy music bread.

A thought this was the best appetizer of the night, and although M isn't sure what her favorite would be, this was definitely a contender for her (mostly due to her love of smoked mozzarella). The mushrooms were nice and buttery, and they paired really well with the smoked mozzarella. The music bread was thin and crispy, but parts of it started to sog a bit due to the mushrooms. Overall, this was a good combination.

Crispy squid with garlic mayo, lemon, and chilli.

This looked pretty good, but there was not much calamari in that dish at all (even though it looks like there is in the photo). M only got 1 piece of calamari, which she remembers as tasting fine, but she didn't really have enough to comment on it besides that. A got a few more pieces, but he also saved most of this for M's father since he couldn't eat many of the other appetizers, thanks to the allergy issues. They were indeed good, but at the end of the day they were still just fried calamari.

Italian bread basket - grissini, focaccia, crispy music bread, and ciabatta, served with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic.

The bread basket was the first appetizer we ordered but the last to arrive. It only came after we asked the waiter for it 3 more times. The staff were all busy, but it was strange that the most basic thing would take so long. The focaccia was fine, but nothing special. The breadsticks were breadsticks. The music bread was the same as it was in the other dishes, although we preferred it with all the flavorful accompaniments in the mushroom appetizer. We don't remember any olive oil or balsamic. This was okay, but not really worth the wait and constant asking.

Sounds like a lot of apps, but really not THAT much food

That seems like a long list of appetizers, but we were actually disappointed that we didn't order more. For one, the portion sizes weren't that huge. We don't know if those are the regular portions or if the waiter took it upon himself to give us half portions of things. He kept trying to get us to order half portions when we ordered (and don't get us wrong, we do appreciate if a server tells us we are ordering way too much), but we declined. So if these were full portions, they were not very big for 4 people to share. Is this Royal's way of trying to save money because of the "low" cover charge where you can order as many dishes as you want without restriction? If so, pretty annoying. One piece of calamari for one person? Please.

On top of that, the food allergies stopped some people from trying everything. We were going to order the arancini margherita (rice balls) but the waiter discouraged us from doing so, because of all the other food we got. But as it turned out, not everyone could eat all that other food because of food allergies, so we probably should have gotten other things that people could eat to make up for all the things they could not (but were previously told they could).

The toughest part of the menu for us to decide on was the pasta section. Everything sounded so amazing, from the truffle tagliatelle to the wild mushroom and smoked mozzarella risotto and the baked lasagne. We eventually picked 3 pastas for the 2 of us to share, and the waiter brought out one of them in a half (small) portion so that our stomachs didn't completely burst before we rolled out of Jamie's. (That, we agreed to, since it was just the 2 of us splitting it, and we mostly just wanted a taste.)

The first pasta (the half portion) was the tagliatelle bolognese which had a sauce of beef and pork ragu with red wine and parmesan.

We love bolognese (we touched on this a little bit in the start of our Brugge recaps) and this one was excellent. The tagliatelle had good texture and the sauce was rich and tasty. We would get this again if we went back.

The crab spaghettini with capers, chilli, fennel, parsley, anchovies, and lemon has already popped up on this blog in A's favorite food memories of 2014 post

This dish was so good and had the best sauce of the 3 pasta dishes we got. There isn't much more to say about this other than that the sauce was absolutely delicious, so rich with crab flavor and real chunks of crab. A great pasta dish.

The last pasta we got was the famous prawn linguine with fried garlicky prawns, fennel, tomatoes, chilli, and rocket. We're not sure why this is famous, but we were intrigued.

This was great. It came with about 4 shrimp, which were perfectly cooked, and was topped with vegetables, including a bunch of fresh arugula (rocket). In addition to the great flavors of the sauce and the ingredients, the linguine itself here was wonderful. The texture was perfectly al dente and it had just the right amount of chewiness to it. As far as the pasta itself, this was our favorite pasta of the night.

After ordering our 3 pastas, we opted not to get a main course, even though we were incredibly tempted by the aubergine parmigiana. M's parents did get one though - the lamb chops scottadito which were "chops grilled under a brick with minty salsa verde, peppery leaves, and polenta chips."

We don't think we tried any of this, but it certainly looked good.

The polenta chips came with rosemary, salt, and parmesan. We were expecting something that looked a little more like fries, long columns of polenta fried up, but these blocks were tasty. A bit heavy and filling, but so tasty. We love polenta.

We were getting pretty full by the time dessert rolled around, but there was no way we weren't going to get dessert. That's one of the problems with paying for specialty restaurants on a cruise, in our opinion. You don't have the luxury of going back any time that you want, unless you're going to fork over another fee, so you feel like you have to try as much as possible because it's your only chance. Maybe that's just how we looked at it, but we definitely wanted to try their desserts.

A picked the tiramisu because he loves tiramisu. (M tried a bite, but isn't a tiramisu fan generally.) This one was described as a "coffee-flavoured trifle with orange mascarpone and chocolate."

A was disappointed with the tiramisu. He was intrigued by the fact that it was more of a layer cake as opposed to what a standard tiramisu is. After some initial bites, though, he missed the standard layer of cream with the espresso soaked lady fingers underneath. This wasn't a bad dessert, but it wasn't amazing.

M's dad chose the epic homemade brownie, which was a "freshly baked warm fudgy brownie with vanilla ice cream and caramelised amaretti popcorn."

This was so rich. M and A each had one bite of it and that was it. It was just so heavy.

M had been interested in the raspberry and chocolate-rippled pavlova, but was way too full for anything but ice cream when it actually came time for dessert. Each order of ice cream came with 3 scoops of ice cream and a choice of 2 toppings.

M picked vanilla ice cream with seasonal fruits (which were a very generous four blueberries) and smashed honeycomb. (The topping she skipped was chocolate sauce.) Although she expected more fruit for 3 scoops of ice cream, the smashed honeycomb far surpassed her expectations. It was crunchy and sticky and sweet, and really the perfect topping for vanilla ice cream. The ice cream itself was good too, but the honeycomb took it to another level.

M's mom went for her usual dessert and got sorbet, raspberry this time, which tasted a bit like a raspberry lemonade or limeade. What was nice about Jamie's was that sorbet was actually on the menu. Unless you asked for a special dessert order at the complimentary restaurants (and you could if you wanted to, but they don't let you know that), there was no section of any dessert menu that just had plain ice cream or sorbet with toppings (at least there wasn't when we were there).

Overall, our meal at Jamie's Italian was good, and we're glad we "splurged" on it. The standout dishes were definitely the pastas, and there were so many more on the menu we wanted to try. If we went back again on a cruise set up like the Quantum, we would probably go there for lunch on a sea day since lunch is cheaper and you can eat just as much food as you would at dinner. It was disappointing that, for the second day in a row, we ran into such issues with food allergies, but we hoped that things on the trip would get better.

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