Caught in a downpour today, the Baberoo and I decided to stop somewhere for lunch. On a street full of restaurants, Jamie’s Italian (24-26 George Street, OX1 2AE) was the one that caught my fancy – I needed a real hearty dish of pasta to comfort me after being soaked.
I ordered the Sausage Pappardelle (small size, £6.50), a side of Famous Polenta Chips (£3.25) and a Noble Ice Tea (£3.50). The pappardelle was as rich as I’d hoped it would be (I was glad I’d ordered the small size!), and although I didn’t taste the fennel flavour in the sausage as much as I’d have liked I found it very satisfying. The polenta chips were melt-in-your-mouth good – so light and yet so creamy, with a crisp, crunchy crust. The iced tea was made with Earl Grey and the bergamot flavour was refreshing.
So how did Jamie’s Italian do in terms of baby-friendliness? My ratings system (which you can read about in more detail on my About page) includes five criteria: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.
Menu: If you need to hold a baby in one arm, there are several things on the menu (all the starters and about half the pastas) that you can eat with one hand, although most of the main courses (steak, chicken, etc) require both knife and fork. I was pleased to find that my pappardelle was very easy to eat with one hand while holding the Baberoo, who had woken up from her nap just as my food arrived.
Space: There’s ample space to wheel a carriage through the restaurant, but I wouldn’t say it was suitable for groups with several prams; there’s not enough room for more than one carriage at a table. The entrance is difficult to manage since it’s on a bit of an incline, and there are also three steps to go into the main seating area of the restaurant. Staff were happy to help me with the carriage for both of these obstacles, though, and they did it without waking the baby. There was a 15-minute wait for a table (since everyone in Oxford had the same idea as me and ducked in somewhere for lunch as soon as the rain started), during which I had to stand because all the seating in the waiting area was high bar stools, which I didn’t want to sit on while minding the baby carriage. It would have been nice to have some standard chairs as well.
Ambiance: Jamie’s Italian goes for the rustic touch, but there’s an inescapable commercial feel since it’s part of the Jamie Oliver empire. There are things to buy placed strategically around the restaurant, although they’re not right in your face. The staff are friendly and competent and seemed to enjoy working with each other, as attested by a high-five between two of them. Jamie’s is a family-friendly place (almost half the tables had children and the restaurant has colouring sheets to complete as you wait) so staff were all welcoming to children, and they have several Stokke high chairs for the smaller ones to use. The noise level is quite loud; we were seated near the dishwashing area so there was constant clanking of plates. I wouldn’t expect a baby to be able to sleep too long in the bustle of the restaurant.
Facilities: The main facilities at Jamie’s Italian are downstairs, but there’s a disabled and baby-changing toilet on the ground floor – although you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t ask; the door has an ‘exit only’ sign on it rather than a sign letting you know there are facilities, and the door itself is almost invisible since it’s part of a section with a mural that includes the door as part of the design. However, I asked and was pleased to find that it was right near my table. An excellent feature of this facility is the sliding door, which means you don’t have to wrestle with your carriage while trying to hold a door open. The room is also well-arranged so that the carriage fits in the space and there’s lots of room to stand and change your baby. It’s clean and somewhat nicer-looking than your standard baby-changing facility because of the nice tiles and the reproduction ‘Thomas Crapper’ cistern.
Feeding: I thought perhaps that the metal chairs might be too uncomfortable for me to nurse the Baberoo, but actually they turned out to be fine; they’re wide enough and the seat is comfortable enough so that I didn’t feel like I was perched precariously, about to drop the baby. There are some tables with bench seating, too, if that works better for you. I was in a well-travelled area of the restaurant but only about half the people who passed me realized that I was breastfeeding; I got a couple of encouraging smiles and the staff weren’t fazed at all.
Jamie’s Italian does pretty well on my ratings scale; I give it a 7.75 out of 10. Its family-friendly atmosphere extends to babies, and you and your baby carriage will be well-accommodated.