When in London for the World Travel Market, I took the opportunity to dine at Jamie’s Italian in Canary Wharf. It was a short bus ride and a walk from where I was staying and on stepping in the door, it was a welcome warm feeling [ from the cold wet night outside]. Jamie Oliver is one of the world’s top celebrity chefs. He has been setting up restaurants throughout the UK and he has 37 at last count. In more recent years he has been opening restaurants in 12 countries throughout the world. In 2011 he opened Jamie’s Italian in Sydney and he currently has plans to open in Auckland. To appreciate eating at his restaurants you have to understand the background. Jamie’s Italian is inspired by Jamie’s passion for the Italian way of life: “Since I was a teenager I’ve been totally besotted by the love, passion and verve for food, family and life itself that just about all Italian people have, no matter where they’re from or how rich or poor they might be. And that’s what I’m passionate about – good food for everyone, no matter what. But the thing I love most about the Italians is that somehow, although they have some of the best fashion designers and cars in the world, they’ve managed to retain a unique sense of tradition and village spirit.” This spirit is carried over into Jamie’s restaurants and this one on Canary Wharf did not disappoint. His motto is affordable rustic food and fresh seasonal ingredients. “We only work with farmers and producers – often small, family- run businesses – who share our food ethos and take pride in what they do,” says Jamie. The menu has some interesting combinations such as Turkey Milanese [ stuffed with prosciutto and fontal cheese, breadcrumbed and fried with a fried free- range egg and wild truffle]. For my main course I chose Calves liver and bacon Italian style [ served with mashed potato, smashed squash, pine nuts, raisins and onion gravy]. Very artfully presented and tasted divine. It was also very filling – so much so that I had to pass on having dessert. Nevertheless I did contemplate the Chocolate, pear and honeycomb pavlova [ light and fluffy meringue served with poached pears, whipped mascarpone, honeycomb and a drizzle of dark chocolate]. So yes, a New Zealand dish [ pavlova] with an Italian twist! The wine list, needless to say, was all Italian – not even one bottle of New Zealand wine. The list states: “Our selection of Italian wines are chosen with as much care as we put into sourcing our food and we work with growers and producers who share our passion and values. Aside from wine, our trained bartenders have crafted a beautiful list of classic and original cocktails that are a great accompaniment to any meal.” Even those after a non- alcoholic cocktail, had a selection to choose from. I chose the Berry blast [ strawberries, passion fruit, lemon and cranberry]. At the Canary Wharf restaurant there was seating inside and outside for 183 – so not exactly a boutique operation. Jamie franchises out his restaurants, but is fussy about who carries his brand above the door. “We are passionate about working with motivated, highly talented people,” he says. “Finding partners who have similar cultural and business values to us is really important, as it gives us a great foundation to building a successful relationship.” With Jamie’s Italian opening in Auckland soon – watch this space.