Jamie's Italian in Melrose Arch is unexpectedly laidback and casual (one would perhaps expect fine dining and a stiff-collared establishment), and beckons families with a warm vibe, kids' menu, some activities and even high chairs.
I've eaten there twice already, and everyone is asking me if it's worth the hype, the potential queues (the restaurant does offer walk-ins but you might still wait), or the weeks'-long waiting list for an online reservation.
My answer is probably yes. Firstly, it's a nice feeling to be at the first Jamie's Italian in the country, and one of more than 40 around the world. The decor is light, stylish and comfortable, the service is good, and the food is divine with everything overseen by a UK team.
Aside from just being in a Jamie Oliver restaurant, this is also a place that you want to come for a cocktail, to tuck into a huge pasta, or share pizza or antipasti with friends (though to be honest, I would not be that willing to share my pizza here). It's also surprisingly a place that has the best vegetarian burger I've ever tasted, and a dessert that I'd return for – the molten chocolate praline pudding (warm chocolate cake with a liquid praline centre, served with salted caramel ice cream and praline).
When you come with kids, they get a viewfinder with slides of all the children's dishes from the menu (this might not sound like that much fun, but my son and his bestie enjoyed this a lot), plus crayons and a drawing to colour in.
There's also a kids' menu, and here you'll find a range of enticing and wholesome dishes, and more exciting that "fish fingers and chips" or "nuggets and chips", standard options on almost every other kids' menu.
The dishes haven't been dumbed down, and I was excited to see so many enticing dishes. Since Jamie is an advocate of healthy eating for kids, gone are French fries and in are "shake-me salads". My son's chicken dish and my burgers came with amazing little baked potatoes, which were better than most of the French fries I've ever eaten.
The kids' meals aren't seasoned, but they're anything but bland – they are wonderfully tasty. They're available in two sizes – little kids from R30 and big kids from R50 all served with a salad and a drink of your choice.
The kids' mains are:
JAMIE’S PROPER PICNIC BOX
A delicious chicken wrap with rainbow vegetable crisps, seedless grapes, juicy cherry tomatoes & a piece of seasonal fruit
HAPPY CHICKEN LOLLIPOPS
Freshly made lemony chicken fillet lollipops, served with crunchy nuts, seeds & baked hedgehog potatoes
MINI SPAGHETTI & MEATBALLS
Grass-fed beef meatballs with Jamie’s seven-veg tomato sauce, our homemade spaghetti & a sprinkle of Parmesan
BABY BEEF BURGERS
Grass-fed beef burgers in scrummy seeded buns, served with freshly sliced tomato & lettuce & baked hedgehog potatoes
SECRET SEVEN TOMATO PASTA
Homemade penne pasta in Jamie’s seven-veg tomato sauce, with Parmesan & crunchy, herby breadcrumb
ORGANIC SALMON IN A BAG
Salmon fillet, crushed new potatoes, green beans & cherry tomatoes, all baked in a bag with Jamie’s seven-veg tomato sauce
The desserts are:
GOOEY CHOCOLATE BROWNIE
With vanilla ice cream, crunch toffee popcorn & chocolate sauce
A selection of beautiful, fresh seasonal fruit
ICE CREAM OR SORBET
A jumbo scoop of ice cream (choose your flavour) served with an Italian cookie & chocolate sauce
Meals for grownups span pizza, pastas, meat and chicken, and from what I've eaten and seen of the reviews, you can't really go wrong with anything on the menu, though for me, the antipasti have been my least favourite (you can see more of the menu here).
I'm excited to go back, whether with my son, my husband or friends – it's that suited to something quiet, family-like, or vibey. Would I stand in a queue to get in? Probably not. Will I wait for a few weeks until a table is available? Most definitely.