Following ventures in Oxford, Bath, Kingston and Brighton, the fifth Jamies Italian has opened in Canary Wharf.
The ever-busy Jamie Oliver’s chain of Italian restaurants is quickly taking over the UK, with four ventures already opened across the country – including one in the London suburb of Kingston – and several more on the cards. The latest addition to the capital is a new Canary Wharf location nestled into Churchill Place. Non-Canary Wharfers usually confused by the maze of streets, canals and overwhelming skyscrapers will be glad to know it’s only a few minutes’ walk from Canary Wharf tube.
Like the other locations, the look here is fresh and vibrant, with bright colours, interesting furniture (including painted metal chairs) and the occasional graffiti – for decorative purposes only, mind. The designers have valiantly tried to make the restaurant feel warm and friendly with wooden boxes of fruit and veg, large tree stumps acting as bar tables and old fashioned stations where staff cut bread and make up antipasti platters. Unfortunately though, you can’t take the corporate out of Canary Wharf. Floor to ceiling windows overlook a busy road on one side and Churchill Place’s Starbucks kiosk on the other. The outside seating, whilst nicely located on the canal, is a bit sterile, with cold metal tables and chairs not really livened up by the large, colourful umbrellas.
With the nearest London branch way out in the wilds of Zone 6, people in Canary Wharf will undoubtedly be eager to experience what Jamies Italian has to offer. Considering its location and its owners’ celebrity chef status, you can expect the restaurant to be packed – queues in the other locations are incredibly common, especially considering the restaurant only takes bookings for large groups. Expect the big crowds to arrive at lunchtime and during the evenings later on in the week, when those in the financial district are looking to take out clients or head out with colleagues to blow off steam. The majority of diners seem to be suited professionals but the occasional local pops up as well. Staff are a young and happy mix that are well informed about the menu if you ask, but not intrusive if you don’t. An upbeat ‘80s soundtrack livens things up a bit.
The same menu with the same prices run across all the locations, with starters from about £3 to £6.50, pasta from about £6 to £11 (depending on size, as half portions are available as well) and most mains between £10 and £15. Choices include Italian classics (like spaghetti bolognese, antipasti and such) and Italian-inspired dishes, high on fresh ingredients and thankfully low on descriptive exclamation marks. There’s a lot of variety on offer, although a non-pasta vegetarian choice would be appreciated as well.
Starters include antipasti planks (served on a plank of wood that’s balanced between tins of vegetables) priced at £6.50 per person for both meat and veggie options. Extra antipasti plates can accompany the planks or be ordered on their own as starters, including crispy squid with roasted red pepper mayonnaise (£4.95). Unfortunately some of the pieces are rubbery and hard to chew, but the batter is light, slightly salty and not too oily and the dish is complemented well by the tangy mayo dip. Mozzarella di bufala with basil pesto (£4.45) is a large portion of well textured chunks of mozzarella, but the flavour of the cheese itself is a bit bland and it’s overwhelmed by the nutty pesto, which has large grains of salt in it.
Mains fare better, especially the Turbo Penne Arrabiata (£8.50 for a full portion, £5.75 for a half); the pasta itself is cooked perfectly al dente and the tomato sauce has a bold, spicy kick. Fine shavings of Parmesan sprinkled on top bring the flavours together. Jamie’s Flash Steak (£12.95) is described on the menu as being wafer-thin thanks to being pounded flat – apparently with sage and prosciutto. It’s as thin and as tender as promised but there’s an intensely smokey flavour that starts to overpower it about halfway through. The salsa on top though, made with yellow and red tomatoes, tastes vibrant and fresh. Sides of polenta chips and truffle chips (£2.95 each for a decent portion) are well cooked. The polenta chips are crisp on the outside and firm enough on the inside to make a welcome substitute for the classic potato version, whilst the truffle chips, cooked with truffle oil, are wonderfully aromatic and flavourful.
Desserts run between £4 to £5 each and include an Amalfi orange tart, which is soft, delicately flavoured and appropriately crumbly, topped with a creamy scoop of mascarpone. The banana brownie is as rich, gooey and chocolate-y as you’d expect, but unfortunately the banana slices have been sprinkled on top rather than mixed through the batter, leaving them hard, chewy and dry after a spell in the oven. The vanilla ice cream served on the side though is good quality and a nice complement to the sweetness of the brownie.
A short and to-the-point all Italian wine list is very reasonably priced, especially considering the area. Most wines are served by the glass, carafe and bottle, with prices from £14.50 a bottle and £3.95 a glass. Two organic wines include an unoaked Chardonnay di Puglia and a Sangiovese Terre di Chieti at £4.25 a glass and £14.95 a bottle. The Sangiovese is a light, sweet red with a hint of red berry flavours.
Prosecco, sparkling wine and Champagne are also on offer, from £4.35 for a glass of Rosata Spumante Perla Rosa to £55 for a bottle of Billecart Salmon NV Brut Rose Champagne. Cocktails, including daily specials, are available at the bar and soft drinks (including the classically Italian limonata and aranciata citrus sodas) are also on offer. A big jug of tap water is offered almost as soon as you sit down.
The Last Word
Most restaurants in Canary Wharf are chains and, with the opening of its fifth location, Jamies Italian is now firmly ensconced in that category as well. Although the food could use a little work this is something that will undoubtedly be ironed out with a bit more practice, and in the meantime, despite the sterile location, Jamies Italian succeeds in being one of the warmer, friendlier restaurants in the area.