After being put off for an interview earlier, I return to Jamie’s Italian, as a diner rather than a journalist.
My second visit to Jamie’s Italian begins with a twist. Presenting myself as a journalist on my previous visit failed to gather any chance of an interview. Today I decide on an alternative method: I will be a diner. Maybe buying a meal could get me some time with the manager.
I make my way through the glass doors escaping the cloudy atmosphere outside. The rust coloured frame is scratched and faded. At the lectern is another smiling Maître D. She is tall and thin with red hair that is tied into a ponytail behind her head. She speaks with a British accent and is helping a mother and her toddler daughter find a table for lunch.
“It might be a twenty-minute wait,” she says to the mother. The mother pulls off her brown leather bag. She is wearing blue jeans and a green sleeveless top.
“That’s okay,” says the mother.
“You’re more than welcome to wait by the bar,” says the matron while reaching behind the lectern. She pulls out a small red View-master; a retro toy that looks like a pair of binoculars crossed with a camera. The children’s menu can be read through the eye-holes. She hands the toy, as well as some coloured pencils and a piece of paper to the little girl. Small hands reach out and grab the toys. The girl shows her collection to her mother with a tooth-filled grin plastered on her face. Her gold curls bounce as she jumps with excitement.
It’s my turn to place my reservation and I tell the matron that I would like a table for one.
“It might be about twenty minutes. Actually maybe even half an hour,” She informs me, “Can I get your name and a contact number and I’ll let you know when your table is ready sir.”
Precisely twenty minutes later I receive a phone call from Daisy, the matron, telling me that a table is ready. Upon returning I am led deeper into the restaurant than I had been before; past the bar and onwards to the casual seating area. On the left are square tables with teal-coloured metal stools. They are made to look like plastic outdoor patio chairs. A wine cellar, built into the wall, runs the length of this casual dining area. The shelves are black and bottles of red and white wines sit row after row. The closest is a Red Band 2010 Gorganeu white wine from King Valley. Lights built into the shelves illuminate the individual bottles from below casting out a mellow glow from behind the black squared mesh. It resembles the warmth of a fireplace. I can hear the tinkling of cutlery and chatter from somewhere above. I still haven’t been to the top level but I am told there lies the kitchen where pizzas and bread are cooked in a wood fire oven.
My waiter recites the daily special with confidence. “The seafood was caught this morning and is recommended for such a chilly day. It’s a tomato based stew with onion, garlic and a touch of saffron.” She even knew where the olive oil was sourced from. How could I resist? I place my order for the fish stew and am offered a selection of Italian breads arranged artistically in a square tin. To the side sits a ceramic coloured dish of olive oil and Modenese balsamic vinegar. I make a small note of this in my notebook. It might come in handy for the article I tell myself.
A large bowl is popped in front of me. The seafood is bathed in a velvety red broth. Steam wafts from the dish. I smell the zing of tomatoes. It is garnished with a slice of ciabatta bread slathered with aioli. A single sprig of parsley to garnish. My knife glides through the fillet of fish and the flakes slowly pull away. I pierce a portion of fish with my fork and lift it to my mouth. It is like biting through butter. The seafood is so fresh that you can taste the salt in the mussels. The bread soaks up the stew juices and turns to mush. A group of women at the table over tell their waitress that they’ll have the same. She smiles and asks how the food is. “Delicious,” I tell her.
By this point my notebook is wide open on the table. Pen in hand I am busily scribbling down notes about the food. A picture always helps with description later on. As I write I look around the room. Four pairs of eyes are watching me from the far end of the hall. The waitresses are talking amongst themselves in hushed voices. I drop my pen and pick up my knife and fork and continue eating; pretending not to notice. The tallest one begins walking towards me. I quickly try to close the notebook.
“Are you enjoying your meal sir?”
I swallow a morsel of seafood. “Yes,” I begin, “It’s very good. What’s in the sauce?” I ask, trying to make casual conversation. She has dark brown hair. Maybe Lebanese.
“It’s a tomato based stew with onion, garlic and a touch of saffron.”
“It’s great. I have to say I really admire the service I have been given today. It feels exactly like Italy.”
“We try to make things very traditional over here. We want our customers to experience the same hospitality as you would over there.”
I mention that the staff are some of the friendliest I have ever met.
“Yeah we’re all really good friends,” she said. “When you’re working together for so many hours as a team you all become really close.”
“Well I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. Thank you very much.”
“You’re more than welcome sir,” she replied. Her eyes flicked to my notebook and then back to me. “I’ll let you continue with your meal…”
“Actually I’m glad we spoke,” I quickly add before she could turn. “I’m, well I’m actually a journalist,” her eyes widen and she grins, “And while I was sitting here I was thinking that I would really like to put together a little article about my experience today. Could I possibly ask you a few questions?”
“Well all our publicity has to go through our manager.” A woman with shoulder length blonde hair and a blue shirt walks past. “Actually that’s her over there,” she said. “Let me get her for you.”
Moments later she returns with the woman by her side. I stand up, tuck my chair in, holding my right hand out with a smile.
“Hi, are you the manager?”
“Yes I am,” she begins. “Sonja tells me that you are interested in putting together an article?”
“Yes that’s right. My name is Brendon and I write for my student newspaper,” I tell her.
“That’s great. Well I’m Kathryn,” she said. She was smiling throughout our meeting. She was in her early forties. She explained to me that it was nearing the restaurant’s first birthday and it had been so far been a success since she opened it in October.
“I’m glad you mentioned that,” I say, “because I would like to find out about your experience of running such a well-known franchise.”
“That’s great. I’ll give you my card and you can send me your angle.” She handed me a small recycled-paper card. It had yellow and blue splodges with the Jamie’s logo and ‘Kathryn Westmead’ printed in Arial font. “I should probably get back to work but it was nice to meet you.”
“Thank you for speaking with me. It was great to meet you too,” I say shaking her hand. She walks off towards the reception area. There is one mussel left in my plate. I pick it up with my fork and savour the flavour in my mouth.
Writer’s notes: A version of this article was first published in Grapeshot Magazine Issue 3, 2013: Comedy, and then on Brendon The Smiling Chef. The names of some of the people within this article have been changed to protect their identity.