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Here's to the Ladies Who Lunch!

Once, long ago, when I was a green girl who felt her life was going nowhere fast, I heard a song with the opening line: "Here's to the ladies who lunch, everybody laughs!" It was Sondheim, I think, from one of his musicals that I, in my "Must hear every single Sondheim musical" period, didn't get familiar with. Anyway, I listened to the song and thought, wow! Wouldn't it be great to be that kind of lady, to get all dressed up and go out somewhere amazing, meet my best girlfriend, sip a cocktail, eat something mouth-wateringly luscious while we dish the dirt about men, celebrities, life and the price of shoes.

Well today, just for a few hours you understand, I was. I put on my killer heels, my tailored black trousers and the designer jacket I bought on a whim and hardly ever wear, my best girl GothicFairyBabe picked me up and we headed for Jamie's Italian in Cardiff.

I've heard about celeb chef restaurants. All the glitterati eat there so they can be seen, little portions and big prices right? Wrong, very very wrong wrong! This is a place that makes you feel welcome from the moment you walk in till the moment you walk out. The service is impeccable, the atmosphere laid back, the clientele is mixed because, whether you want a three-course slap up business lunch or a glass of cold beer and a burger, there's something for you.

Not that I was after a burger, oh dear no! Show Lulu the most expensive dish on the menu and you can bet your pink Doc Martins that she'll want to eat it! Yikes! But I'll come to that later.

So, we started with drinks and what they call nibbles. Something good to get your apetite whetted. one thing I love about Jamie's Italian is that if you're not drinking you dont' have to settle for boring old fizzy pop or orange juice. my friend had a cocktail of elderflower, cranberry and lemonade. I went with a mojito to die for! Fresh lime, fresh mint leaves pounded with sugar, I think I'm saying white rum and maybe tequila, recipes vary, topped up with club soda usually, it was long and cold, filled with crushed ice and perfect because the day was warm. With it we tempted our taste buds with little morsels of fresh tuna and melted mozzarella, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. We also had several kinds of Italian bread with yummy things to dip it into.

We were feeling nicely loose by this time and ravenous. The starters arrived. I wanted something light because I knew my main was going to be humungus. I had a surprise. Usually a salad of mozzarella, basil and tomatoes is thinly sliced, layered on a plate. Not this one. In a deep bowl were small cherry tomatoes, quartered larger ones, baby whole basil leaves and tiny pearls of milky fresh mozzarella in a lovely tangy light dressing. if those tomatoes had been the kind you get in pubs it would have gone down like a led balloon. But the tomatoes were sweet and luscious, the whole thing was like an evocation of summer and it was gone in two seconds flat. My friend had baked chestnut mushrooms on wafer thin crisp Italian bread topped with smoky mozzarella. I had one forkful. One day soon I'm going back to order the whole dish.

Ok, main course time. There are few things I enjoy more than a really awesome steak. So show me eight ounces of aged rib eye char-grilled under a brick, served with wild mushrooms, a chicory salad, Jamie's funky chips with garlic and fresh parsley and with an optional extra, which of course I had, of Tuscan butter mixed with wild truffle, and I had only one answer: bring it on!

You know that thing where you see something on a menu and you're drooling for it, then you get it and think hmm. Ok, whatever. I have to tell you that it didn't happen this time. That steak arrived on a huge round chopping board. There was room to cut it properly and a decent knife to cut it with, I hate that where you can't cut the steak without it flying all over the plate. The chips were in a bowl so they weren't going to get covered in meat juice and ruined. the salad looked amazing as did the mushrooms, and that butter, oh my actual. It was softened, like a creamy mayo, you got a cube of steak, dipped it in the truffle-scented butter and ...

Our waiter happened to be there when I had my first bite of steak. Talk about embarrassing. he thought I was making that face because it was too hot. Um, no, I was actually having a When harry met Sally moment and he and my friend did not find it an unfunny sight. I didn't care, I just went on eating! The meat was meltingly tender and juicy, perfectly pink, I always eat my steaks rare, the accompaniments were perfect. I've eaten steaks in all kinds of places from pubs through the gastro-pub to the five-star and the Michelin star, but I've never eaten a better steak than that ever.

You know that thing when you're in a great restaurant, you've had a fantastic meal, you're all ready to round it off with a lovely dessert, you ask for the menu and ... the desserts all come out of the freezer? Aw man, it's such a let down! I'd had a sneaky peek at the menu online, so I knew the dessert menu had something whether you wanted death by chocolate, fresh fruit or a nice cold ice-cream or sorbet. I went for a glorious raspberry pavlova, it was called something slightly different, but a beautiful round of meringue drizzled with dark chocolate was surrounded by luscious fresh raspberries and set off with a dollop of luscious mascarpone vanilla cream. My friend, having feasted on Jamie's famous prawn linguini, finished off with an epic chocolate brownie and salted fudge ice cream.

So, having drowned you all in superlatives, what are my final conclusions? Was it expensive? Well, I laid out a good dollop because aged beef and truffles aren't cheap and, as I'd never been to Jamie's before I wanted not to stint, also to thank my best mate for driving me all the way out there I said she was to have exactly what she wanted. But, as I said, if you wanted to go into a Jamie's Italian for a really yumptious snack and a beer you could. it's not a pub, it's special because the food is special, not because it's snooty or stuck up.

My friend and I definitely want to go back. They do these lovely sharing platters, next time we'll have one of those, we'll sit and chat, sip their amazing non-alcoholic cocktails, smell the tempting smells of herbs, garlic, char-grilled meat, listen to the chat and the laughter and make some of our own. In short, the ladies who lunch might just get a taste for it!

Please Visit the Jamie Oliver's Italian Restaurant Website!

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