You’d have to be the sort of person who grimaced at babies. Who only sipped sternly iced water, because you heard it helped burn calories faster. Who enjoys wearing restrictive clothes and probably insists that you’re called your full name, at all times.
As it turns out, I’m none of those things. So it makes sense that one of Jamie Oliver’s boisterous trattoria-style restaurants became the setting for a perfectly pleasant Sunday lunch.
There are now more than 14 of Jamie’s family-friendly Italian restaurants dotted throughout the United Kingdom. They’re united under a banner of enthusiasm for good produce, friendly service and an affordable price point. These things I like.
So one Sunday morning, when the battle to get a mobile phone contract as a new resident was frankly, overwhelming, the White City outpost shone like a beacon. The first sign of the restaurant came via the campish pastel gelato van that’s plonked on the Southern Terrace at Westfield.
Behind the ice cream truck is the restaurant; shielded by planters filled with greenery and a fledgling herb garden that tracks down the side. The welcome is warm and inside the ceilings are high, decorated with buds of light which come from exposed dangling bulbs. There are wooden beams and stations where freshly made pasta is proudly displayed. Out the back, past the semi-open kitchen there’s another, larger dining room. Shielding the chefs there are fat legs of cured meats that are hanging ready for the plucking. Tables are casually set with water glasses and cutlery is placed in pairs on folded white cloth napkins.
This is the kind of place where tap water is automatically brought to the table and wine comes in glasses, bottles and 500ml carafes. This is the kind of place where you could come for a feast, or just sit and slowly plow through an antipasto plank.
Or you could do both.
The antipasto plate is heralded by the novel use of two tins of tomato. The tins come first, and a few minute later wooden plank is brought. The tomato tins are used to elevate the plank, giving you extra space for elbows, fingers and fists as you grapple for the good stuff. For us it’s a seasonal meat plank, which comes in at £6.65 a head and is an elegantly rustic spread of pistachio studded mortadella, San Daniele prosciutto, Schiacciata piccante and some fennel salami from Tuscany.
With it are thin sheets of pecorino with a splodge of chili jam and a terracotta nest holding an egg sized ball of buffalo mozzarella. There’s a curious little container of batons of shaved root vegetables with lemon and chili for cut through and a handful of olives, caper berries and curly green chillis for those wanting a bit more of a piquant green hit.
With a glass of gutsy southern Italian red, it’s a fine way to kick off a meal. You might want a little extra bread on the side- for an extra 1.50 per person you’ll get a basket with house made foccacia, grissini and some snappy ‘music bread’- which as it turns out is similar to very thin crispy lavosh bread. A side of bread also comes with a generous pour of olive oil that’s cut with balsamic in another sweet little bowl.
There’s an affable spirit to Jamie’s Italian, which makes it the kind of place where it’s ok to bring your kids. And lots of people around us have. While we’re sitting there picking at prosciutto and lamenting the intricacies of life administration there are eight munchkins dotted across the room slurping on pasta and trying hard not to spill their organic cordial. Those old enough clamp onto a pen are given crayons and colouring sheets when they sit down. Everything here on the kids menu comes with a kid’s sized salad- and if they eat their greens, they get a badge.
As alluring as the promise of free accessories is, I don’t need to be rewarded to finish my greens. To accompany our mains there’s green salad that’s listed on the menu with a cheeky Jamie-lilt as “best humble green salad”. Underneath the the p.r it’s young leaves mucking about with some mint and grated parmesan with a sympathetic dressing of lemon and buttermilk. Its status as humble may be questionable, but it’s darn tasty and a good foil for a bowl of pasta.
With the theatrical element of one of the team making fresh pasta as you walk in, it’s hard to go past the pasta. On the menu there are 10 varieties, with entrée servings clocking in at around six pounds and mains reaching up to 13 pounds for those that involve shellfish.
For me it’s a mushroom panzerotti that appears as house made half moons “filled with our mate Mike the woodman’s brown cap and porcini mushrooms, ricotta and parmesan, with crispy fried sage and gremolata”. The sauce is surprisingly soupy, but the filling is as downy as a feather pillow. The Hungry One can’t move past the promise of floppy papparadelle with meatballs, which are billed as ‘incredible’. Slow cooked in a tomato and basil sauce, they’re comfort food in a crucible, but he thinks they could possibly do with a little extra punch.
For those who fancy making their meal into more of a feast there are plenty of adjective sprinkled items on the menu to choose from; whether it’s an “amazing chicken salad”, lamb “lollipops” or fish baked in a bag.
For us, the last stop this trip will be dessert. There’s a nip in the air which moves us on from the house made gelatos and Amalfi lemon curd. Instead, one of the members of the floor team , with their remarkable fresh faced exuberance urges us towards the “ultimate” chocolate raspberry and amaretto brownie with bourbon vanilla ice-cream.
It’s oozingly dense, with a musky almond crunch from crumbled amaretto cookies. The ice cream melts into a satisfied puddle and the platter is scraped clean. “We left everything we didn’t like” we jokingly tell the staff. We get a laugh in response.
The White City outpost is a triumph of branding. From the floorstaff to the food they’ve imbued the place with the infectious enthusiasm that people have come to associate with Jamie Oliver. It’s affable and affordable. It’s the kind of place where you want to go with a crowd, and maybe have one glass of reasonably priced red too many. When you’re there you want eat until you struggle to breathe straight and still feel smug because the food has been sourced with integrity and cooked by people who seem to really care about what they’re doing.
The thing about places like this which are impossible to dislike, is that as soon as you leave, you find yourself planning when you’re going to go back.
So, who’s in?
Southern Terrace, Westfield Shopping Centre
Ariel Way London W12 7GB.
Tel: 02080 909070
Monday – Saturday
12.00 noon – 11.00pm
12.00 noon – 10.30pm
Nearest tube station: Wood Lane