Living in a village can be strange. Period. It's a microcosm of the bigger outside world and where everything is roughly 10 times more emphasised than it probably should be - everyone knows everyone and everything, is the way it seems to work.
My wife had her birthday last Monday and another friend in the village had her birthday a few days after and before we knew it over a few glasses of Gigondas Grand Montmirail 2005 one Sunday lunch we'd agreed to head off to Jamies Italian to mark both occasions.
So, the village being the village, with the grape vine working 10 times more effectively than it probably should (Facebook playing it's part as always) 10 of us headed over to Bath to Jamie's - 10 being a useful number as you can only book a table if you have more than 8 in the party, even though it did feel a little like the Jolly Boys Margate Beano from Only Fools and Horses for those of you who can remember that far back..
Having worked in marketing for many years, I was as interested in how Jamie Oliver's brand was working in the restaurant, as I was the food. He's a part of our collective culture, we all feel like we know him personally and he's been indirectly responsible for many a decent dinner party over the last 10 years. All of us were looking forward to going to 'Jamie's' - what a brand!
The restaurant in Bath looks small as you enter but stretches way back - it has the same look and feel of the Jamie Oliver books and television programmes - that has been pretty consistent since the Naked Chef first hit in 1999 - it all felt familiar even though we'd not been there before.
So, putting the brand to one side, we looked at the menu - we opted for the antipasti planks to kick start the meal - the Italian cheeses working particularly well, with buffalo mozzarella, pecorino and an excellent chilli jam. My choice of pasta for the next course had been scratched from the menu (the linguini alle vongole) as it had sold out (it was near 10pm after all) but I'd already had an alternative lined up - sausage pappardelle - slow cooked Italian sausage, tomatoes, red wine and parmesan with crunchy herby breadcrumbs. So, having changed direction down the page I changed my planned wine route as well.
Working at Yapp Brothers, my knowledge of French wine has naturally grown (although I'm the first to admit I still have plenty more to learn) but I decided to transfer what I knew I liked in French wine to the Italian list, by grape variety (I know terrior plays a major role but on the fly this approach seemed to make sense..) I'd chosen beef for my main dish (beef carpaccio and rocket salad) so opted for a bottle of Shiraz Di Sicilia 2007 Villa Francesca - in the Yapp list I'd have chosen an Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage 2007 so I was hoping for some similar tastes to match with my beef. The Shiraz Di Sicilia was similar in style and suitably peppery, perhaps not up to Mr Graillot's standards but enjoyable all the same.
It was well past 10 and our 10 were the last to leave - the restaurant works on all levels, a place to enjoy all things "Jamie", it's relaxed and not at all expensive - I think we'll be going back at some point soon - we might even go for lunch and indoctrinate our small children to this omnipresent brand!