We just had a lovely long weekend in London visiting my friends Seema and Paul, who live near Canary Wharf in a little flat with an awesome river view. It was great to see them and have a bit of a mini break. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of London, but I like going to visit friends and I love some of the food you can find in the city. Jamie Oliver’s new chain of Italian restaurants have been lurking on the edge of my radar for a while now, and I heard a while ago that he’d finally opened one in London. Conveniently, it’s in Canary Wharf, about ten minutes’ walk from Seema and Paul’s. So on Sunday night, we went. Obviously.
Jamie's Italian, Canary Wharf
Now. Please excuse me while I once again sing Jamie Oliver’s praises. The man is a food deity.
Jamie’s Italian is a family restaurant. They don’t take reservations, so anyone can just walk in, immune to the hype a famous chef’s name might bring to the ability to get a seat in a restaurant. It’s not a fancy-pants establishment and it’s not meant to be. It’s decorated simply with a mishmash of different kinds of chairs and simple wood tables and there’s various fresh food all over the place. And it’s very affordable. The pasta dishes are no more expensive than Bella Italia (a big UK chain), and to be fair, they’re probably far better value judging by the quality of what I ate. I can’t honestly comment on the pasta, because I had meat, which was amazing, but more on that later.
We started with a carafe of the house wine, which is organic and delivered to them in environmentally friendly tetra pacs to keep costs down, then decanted for the table. It was great, and only £15 for a bottle-sized carafe. In the middle of London! Score! With that we got a bread basket that had about 4 different kinds of fresh, freaking amazing bread in it. I could have eaten tons of the stuff. There was crispy flatbread with rosemary, foccacia with garlic, rosemary and salt, breadsticks, and plain old white italian bread. All served with olive oil and vinegar, of course. We also got an artesian meat board of wild boar salami.
I could have eaten antipasti all night, but the thing I was really excited about was my main course. I haven’t eaten veal many times in my life, and not at all since I found out how cruelly they raise veal calves. So we’re talking years and years and years here. Recently in the UK, thanks to various crusades led on the celebrity chef side by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and on the production side by some awesome British farms, rose veal has popped into existence. ‘Rose’ because the meat isn’t white, because completely white veal requires the kind of horrible, boxed-up life most traditional veal calves lead. (For more info, read this article from a few years ago.)
I’m completely for rose veal, because veal can be a completely ethical thing to eat, and should be. Veal calves come from the dairy industry, which can’t use male calves, of course, so because of the drop in demand for veal raised in horrible conditions, many of these animals are just destroyed, which is an absolute waste and pretty horrible. The calves used to produce rose veal are not raised in a box they can’t ever move around in. Instead they have a good, healthy life where they can walk around, grazing, doing cow-type things, eating solid foods, and even be around their mothers (or stand-in mothers) for a while.
I like eating meat from animals that I know have lived a happy life, and I know that all the meat served in Jamie’s restaurants is pretty much guaranteed to be ethically produced. But you don’t find something like rose veal in your typical Italian chain restaurant these days. Jamie Oliver putting it on the menu at his place is a huge step forward for getting a variety of quality, ethically produced meat into more and more UK high street restaurants. At £15.95, the rose veal is one of the most expensive things on the menu, but that is a damn good price for the enormous, tasty, stuffed rose veal chop that I ate with relish and pleasure. It was so good I was literally sopping up the sauce with my fingers when it was gone. Seriously. Ask Scott.
Scott, by the way, had one of the specials, Porcetta, which is roast pork belly stuffed with all kinds of amazing things. It was just as good as my veal. I probably could have eaten both of them twice over.
Now, as we were going all out, we ordered dessert and coffee as well. I had the chocolate hazelnut cake and Scott had the lemon ricotta cheesecake. Both extremely tasty. And after such a big meal, I didn’t feel disgustingly stuffed like one sometimes does when overdoing it. None of the portions were that extra bit too big. If I had been feeling more gluttonous, I would have ordered more, because walking past the open kitchen on the way upstairs to the toilets revealed plates and plates of deliciousness just waiting to go out. (I love when the kitchen is open, because then you know there’s no shady stuff going on and you can see what the food is like before you even sit down.) And let’s just say it took all my will power to not yoink one of the enormous loaves of focaccia from the bread table and stuff it under my shirt to get it out of there for stuffing my face later in the night.
To top it all off, we were brought the bill in good time without having to chase someone down for it. This is so rare in this country that I nearly fainted.
There are many, many reasons why I think Jamie Oliver deserves the praise and attention of the world, but the essence of why I think he’s so awesome is his simple approach to a healthy obsession with food. He wants everyone to learn how to cook, and love to do so. His recipes aren’t fussy and niether are his restaurants (including Fifteen, which, while slightly more upscale, isn’t pretentious in the least. In fact, the whole idea behind that restaurant is about as un-stuffy as you can get.). He’s really just all about loving and respecting food and what comes around it—family, friends, life. The Jamie’s Italian chain is a great example of this philosophy, and I really, really hope it keeps growing. I know I’d be a regular if he opened one in Edinburgh.