Antipasti from £2.50-6.50, pasta from £5.95-11.25, mains from £9.95-16.95, sides approximately £3, desserts £3.95-4.95
Jamie, take two
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that I was pretty much blown away by the meal we had in the Dining Room of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in East London a few months back. The painstaking sourcing of ingredients and the way they were showcased on the menu was simply fantastic. Since that meal, we have wanted to return to Fifteen to eat at the less formal ground floor trattoria, or alternatively at one of the cheeky chappy’s Italian joints, which have begun sprouting up around the Southeast in the last year or so. So, when the first London branch finally opened up a few weeks ago in Canary Wharf, we thought we’d head down there and check it out.
Steel, Glass, Oliver
Two Sundays ago, we needed to walk. We had the pleasure of a five-hour lunch at a certain plump bird in Bray the previous day (I will eventually post about it, but still want to digest the experience for a bit longer), and just needed to get out and do something. A decision was made to drive to the East end and explore. It was a much overdue trek as there are so many interesting things going on in this part of London, and I don’t have a clue about most of them, besides the virtual insight and tips I receive from the twitterati.
After walking around the City for a few hours, eventually the inevitable happened (drum roll please): we got hungry. We wanted something simple and satisfying. After the experiencing the wonders of intricate little plates of perfection the previous day, and being somewhat frustrated that there wasn’t more of each course (but in a good way), we just wanted a big hunk of British pork, or something along those lines. We just missed our window at St John for this type of fare, we skipped Albion as it seemed a little to snacky, and decided to head to the little island along the Thames, where you need a security check to get in.
I hadn’t been to Canary Wharf for a good few years, and it was much as I remembered it. On a weekend, it is pretty eerie: glass, steel and silence. It is also a bit confusing driving there if you’ve never done it. As you follow the signs with the blue box and the white ‘P’ inside, you seem to go around in circles and never actually find the parking garages. But eventually we did, and then discovered the hidden underground mall which is impressive, with a huge Waitrose and a number of the usual shops. We saw a big pink sign on one of the columns which we thought would lead us to the restaurant, which we had seen from our car, but annoyingly it had no directions on it. It just stated the address again, which is useless if you’re not a resident of Canary Wharf.
Eventually, we found our way back up to street level, and walked over to the restaurant. As you can see, it looks rather imposing from afar, but in reality, it only occupies a small portion of the space within the black steel and glass shell.
A rather imposing facade
Inside, you quickly realize that the theme is wood, not steel and glass. Just check out those bar tables that are made out of mongo tree trunks. We were quickly and warmly greeted by the hostess and seated at a table near the entrance of the restaurant. This was because, despite it being just before 5pm on a Sunday in Canary Wharf, the place was heaving. Lots of couples, lots of groups and lots of families. At least we didn’t have to queue!
The place is huge, vibrant, colourful & fun
Big menu, but can we have some more mains please?
The menu is the same at all branches of Jamie’s Italian, and it is huge. I am certain nearly everyone can find something that sounds appetizing to them, and there are in particular a lot of antipasti, pastas (all of which come in small or large portions) and side dishes. The only thing that struck me as sort of odd was that there are not really that many main course options in comparison, and a few of them don’t seem that Italian (i.e. there are two types of steak and one hamburger out of the seven non-salad main courses). In any case, there was a lot of deciding to be done, and we eventually got there after asking our waitress a few questions.
I started with a simple dish of pasta, which was cooked al dente and had a decent flavor to it. The mild summer truffles came through a little, not a lot. I think there was truffle oil within the butter sauce as well as in the tiny little bits of shaved truffle that I could see in the dish. The portion size was perfect for a small pasta course, and while it didn’t blow my socks off, it was a satisfying opening to the meal – and I suppose at £5.95 you can’t complain too much about a decent butter and truffle pasta. 6/10.
Mrs. LF described her sausage pasta dish as “satisfying comfort food.” She said that while it didn’t make her say “ooh, ahh, or wow”, it was a decent dish of pasta. The sauce didn’t have enough of that sweet, rich tomato flavor you expect in a good ragù and was a little too bland. It certainly didn’t hold a candle to the flavor of a similar dish we had at Bocca di Lupo a few weeks ago (the caveat there being that BDL’s pasta was bathing in a pool of oil, while this one wasn’t), but it wasn’t a bad effort overall. 5/10.
Somehow I think I missed the word “skewer” on the menu when I ordered this for my main course. I had been imagining a big hunk of pork stuffed with various Italian treats. But that’s my fault, not the restaurant’s or menu’s. The dish was presented nicely on a wooden tray, and it tasted good too. The outside layer had been deep fried in bread crumbs and parmesan and contained a variety of cured meats inside. My two main thoughts were that (a) it was a little too salty overall as some of the cured meats stuffed inside the balls were quite salty themselves, and (b) it wasn’t a particularly satisfying main course as there were only 6 little spheres, and you could eat them in one bite each if you so chose. The side dish, which I guess you were meant to use as a dipping sauce, was a mixed vegetable paste which had a smoky ratatouille taste to it, but unfortunately that’s not really my bag. 5/10.
Mrs. LF found the wooden slab to be very impractical for her lamb dish. It was too narrow and the lamb kept falling off the sides. The lamb itself was overcooked, with no pink at all left inside, and also had too much of the black, brittle char from the barbeque on the surface of the meat. The meat didn’t have a particularly striking flavor, and when Mrs. LF tried to chew on a bit of the fat (unseemly for a lady, I know), she said it tasted kind of weird so spit it back out. It came with three sauces on the side, and none of them really complemented the lamb all that well, which they really needed to do in order to lift this dish to be worthy of its £13.85 price tag (there were only three chops, so not a big portion). Unfortunately, they all failed. The weirdest one was the “special minted sauce” which in fact barely tasted at all of mint. When we asked our waitress if it was supposed to be a “mint sauce”, she went to the kitchen and relayed the message that it was actually “an herb sauce with a little bit of mint.” The problem was that you didn’t get that nice refreshing taste of mint that the menu alludes too, and that the sauce itself was too oily and too bland. We were disappointed with the dish as Mrs. LF can make lamb chops at home that taste better than these did by a mile. 4/10.
The salad, presumably an inspiration from Jamie’s original mentor in Italian food, Gennaro Contaldo, came in a deep bowl and was huge and fresh. The little broad beans were the best part for me, and I wish there had been a few more sprinkled throughout.
I didn’t hold out much hope when the tiramisu was placed in front of me. I guess, to me, it just didn’t look like tiramisu: a bit too cakey with a chance of being overly dry. But I was pleasantly surprised. It actually tasted quite good, with the coffee flavor coming through clearly and a strong chocolate taste. It wasn’t too dry and there was a dollop of mascarpone on top and also a layer of it within the Italian “trifle.” There was also a nice surprising hint of bittersweet orange throughout the dessert, which I thought complemented it well. Imagine a shot of espresso in Italy with a little sliced peel of orange in it, and I kind of see where they got their inspiration. 6/10.
We were also both surprised at how the orange tart looked. We had literally been expecting a “crisp pastry” (i.e. thin and flaky) and that it would be “filled with orange & candied fruit” (i.e. stuffed full of ricotta), but as you can see, it appeared to be a rather dry cake instead, with only a tiny bit of filling. Despite our initial misgivings about the appearance, it tasted good, and was a fairly generous portion. It had the same bit of mascarpone on top and bittersweet orange running through it. The pastry itself wasn’t anything special, though, and in the middle of the tart Mrs. LF discovered a huge solid bubble of pastry that came from either the top or the bottom, which meant that there wasn’t enough of the filling inside. When she thought about it, Mrs. LF realized that she has had this dessert a number of times before in Italy – apparently, it is eaten a lot around Easter time – and said that this version wasn’t particularly good. 4.5/10.
The dining area and the kitchen are big – so’s the graffiti on the stairwell walls
The toilets are pretty cool, I loved that the bogs themselves are actually “crapper’s” and that the rim said “The Venerable” on it
We had high hopes for Jamie’s Italian adventure, and really wanted it to be good given that we loved Fifteen and are generally fans of what Jamie Oliver is trying to do (i.e. get the country to eat better). But maybe our hopes were too high. After all, this is a casual chain of Italian restaurants that he wants to roll out across the UK. And generally (but not in all cases, i.e. the lamb main course) it tastes just fine for a mid-priced chain of Italian restaurants.
I think it’s also important to mention that these restaurants seem to be a great place for families; they were very child friendly from what we could tell from our vantage point. And maybe that’s the point. He is consciously opening these restaurants in mid-sized cities where the family element will be much more important than in places like central London, which will attract tourists and couples more than family bookings. I suppose the Canary Wharf location is clever in that it caters for the still massive amount of workers there, for whom it makes a wonderful pit stop for lunch or a quick meal after work.
But put simply, Jamie’s Italian ain’t Fifteen, and I don’t think I’d hurry back as the options in London are simply too great and Canary Wharf is a big trek from both my home and work.
One final note: if you drive to the restaurant, you will have to pay for parking in the nearby garage – I believe it was £3.50 for <2 hours and £5.00 for❤ hours.
Wine list: 6/10 (some good, reasonably priced wines, almost all of which you can have by the glass or a 500ml carafe)
For more about my rating scale, click here.
*Note: I have only dined at Jamie’s Italian (Canary Wharf) once.*