8:30 PM July 12, 2022
When Jamie’s Italian in Norwich closed in 2019, I had mixed feelings. First and foremost, I felt sorry for the staff who worked there, who in my experience always worked very hard to make a visit there fun and enjoyable. I also worried about how long the wonderful building itself would subsequently stand empty.
But I didn’t mourn the passing of Jamie’s itself. In my opinion, it was the worst kind of accountant-led restaurant chain, shamelessly hitching itself to a celebrity name, and assuming that this would be enough to draw in the punters. It clearly wasn’t going to be the lure of the food, which was universally awful.
The result was lazy, poor quality meals, designed by cost-cutting money-men rather than talented chefs, albeit delivered in very nice surroundings by well-trained and pleasant staff.
My concern about a large and prominent city-centre retail space standing derelict and unloved turned out to be justified.
It is now three-and-a-half years since the last portion of microwaved spaghetti was plonked unlovingly onto a plate there, and the cavernous unit, in the city’s Royal Arcade, has remained empty ever since.
However, in January, three local entrepreneurs announced new plans to revitalise the former Jamie’s. And this week we have been hearing more about their exciting plans.
The space is to be given over to a food hall, with six separate kitchens and a number of bars serving food and drink all day and into the evening, with space for pop-up food vendors, which they hope to recruit from among Norfolk’s burgeoning band of artisan food producers.
The idea is inspired by Seven Dials Market in London’s Covent Garden, which is a vibrant and exciting venue which I urge you to visit should you find yourself in the capital.
At a time when the cost of living crisis is eating into many people’s ability to spend anything beyond the bare necessities (and sometimes not even that), launching such an ambitious project is a brave move, but it’s one which we should applaud – and support.
As the High Street gets steadily eroded by our insatiable appetite for buying everything online, this kind of ‘experiential retail’ is exactly what is needed to revitalise our city centre. And it can’t be bad for the planet if we all start to spend our money more on experiences, rather than on the acquisition of more ‘stuff’.
It is vital that Norwich, like every other city, moves with the times, accepts changes in the way we live, and adapts accordingly. This new food hall is a perfect example of just that.
As well as adding a new kind of venue to Norwich, the people behind it are committed to supporting local chefs, local producers and local businesses.
How much better is that than the faceless, soulless chain – which took all of its profits away from the county and put them into the pockets of anonymous and uninterested shareholders – which came before?
I have just one small issue. Also announced this week was the name for the new venture, and it is ‘Yalm’. No, I had no idea either. Apparently, it is a Norfolk word which means ‘to eat hungrily’. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to explain a brand name, it’s not really the right one.
But that is just a minor quibble, and I do at least applaud the Yalm team for attempting to ‘keep it local’, even with the name. I wish them every success, and I will be supporting the new venture – and maybe even learning to ‘yalm’ my way through all that local produce on offer.