It is hard not to respect all that Jamie Oliver has accomplished in the past decade. Aside from the library of cookbooks, string of successful TV shows, extensive merchandise range (including a monthly magazine) and a slew of restaurants (Fifteen, Jamie’s Italian and the hotly-anticipated Barbecoa), Jamie’s gone above and beyond the role of a celebrity chef – he set up the Jamie Oliver Foundation charity which runs the Fifteen apprenticeship scheme for disenfranchised youths, and actively strives to change the way kids eat both here, and across the pond. The boy sure has come a long way since sliding down those blue banisters in the early episodes of Naked Chef.
Jamie’s Italian is his first independent restaurant venture – a chain of cheery casual eateries (14 at last count with a further 3 in the works) dotted across the UK. I had heard good things about the one at Canary Wharf so when we were recently at Westfield (home to the latest of the London stable), we decided to stop in for lunch.
A bit of a walk and set apart from the other restaurants, you can spot it a mile off, with its bright signage and retro ice-cream van parked up front (purely decorative from what I can gather). The walk-in restaurant is bright and welcoming, decked out mostly in wood, metal and reclaimed bits and bobs with some nice touches like a vespa light wall feature and herb planters in the alfresco area.
We started with a few small plates. A simple Bocconcini Pomodoro boasted tiny balls of soft milky buffalo mozzarella and sweet baby toms, while the Marinated Sardines were fresh and vibrant with a zesty dressing of garlic, lemon, parsley and chilli. So far so good.
We both enjoyed the Crab Bruschetta, two garlic-rubbed ciabatta toasts drizzled in olive oil and heaped with chunky crabmeat lightly tossed in a creamy lemon and chilli mayo and dusted with sweet paprika. Lovely.
The Courgette Fritti looked inviting but lacked both crunch and flavour (despite masses of parmesan and paprika). It was also oddly paired with a whipped chickpea, capers, anchovy and parsley dressing, so thick that it was essentially hummus. The disparate elements just didn’t come together for me, although I would have happily eaten the dip on it’s own with some pita. As for courgette fries, you’d be better served heading to the Byron nearby.
As it’s an Italian we naturally had to sample the pasta, so ordered two starter portions to share. The Squid Ink Angel Hair with Brixham Scallops, Chilli, Parsley, Anchovies, Wine and Capers was passable but unexciting, and the thin strands were a little past al dente.
Still it fared better than the Pappardelle Meatballs. Advertised as “incredible meatballs slow-cooked in a tomato and basil sauce”, we had expected a rich, robust sauce but it was disappointingly bland and watery, and the pasta (which I’m pretty sure isn’t even pappardelle) tasted not unlike the stuff out of a can. The meatballs themselves were fine, but not enough to salvage the rest of the dish.
Thankfully things looked back up with the Grilled Chicken cooked under a hot brick – a deboned half of a free-range chicken served with a warm tomato, olive, chilli and caper sauce. The tasty bird was well-charred but still moist within, and surrounded us with the wonderful aroma of summer barbecues.
Uninspired by the dessert options (tiramisu, panna cotta, two tarts and a brownie), we went for an affogato which wasn’t bad, as affogatos go. Would I return? Based on the shortcomings of the pastas, probably not. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant experience though – the surroundings are nice, the tie-adorned wait staff friendly and enthusiastic, and some very good nibbles. I also imagine as with most chains, the quality of the food varies greatly between branches, and depending which chef is on duty. Prices are competitive as well and for a high street bite you really could do a lot worse.
Westfield Shopping Centre
London W12 7GB
t. 02080 909070