The experience of one Jamie’s Italian chef: ‘It was pure hype’
“When I joined Jamie’s Italian in 2010, it was pure hype. With the capacity for hundreds of covers a day, it generated so much buzz that customers would gladly wait upwards of two hours for a table.
“It had already been operating for a few months when I arrived as a commis, but service from midday to 11pm was relentless for the 20 chefs who manned the line. We were cooking a thoroughly researched style of Italian cuisine, not often seen in the UK at that time, with a religious commitment to quality and freshness – only a handful of base ingredients were precooked and we used almost no frozen produce.
“The spec sheet for recipes loomed in the background, of course, but the cooking was intuitive, and dishes would travel from the kitchen to the specials board and to menus across the group’s restaurants. Chefs were skilled and passionate, and many of my former colleagues have gone on to have incredibly successful careers in fine dining.
“All of this made the original concept incredible, both as a working environment and a restaurant. This has also been pointed out as a potential reason for the empire’s decline. Staff turnover began to exhaust the talent pool amid a skills crisis, and chefs with little to no experience with food began to move onto the line. The intuition and innovation of the kitchen left with the chefs who had joined a restaurant on the up. The ambitions and dogma with which the team launched began to be diluted. The rents and rates of listed buildings took their toll.
“But as much as anything, the buzz wore off. A neighbour at the time told me she had worked at a Browns Brasserie in the city when it had opened to similar hype. Its queues had eventually waned and so too did Jamie’s. Getting 1,000 people through your door each day is a big ask. Maintaining that for a decade is an almost impossible one.”