Jamie Oliver has got everything right at his chain of mid-priced restaurants designed to compete with the likes of Carluccio’s, Giraffe and Strada. It certainly leaves those last two in the shade. At our latest visit to the Covent Garden branch, someone knocked a nearly full bottle of red wine off a neighbour’s table and the staff couldn’t have been nicer about it. They supplied colouring sheets, crayons and retro View-Masters (with picture menus) to the kids, and didn’t get flustered when we changed our order three times.
What’s really a very large space is divided artfully by a central bar, bread station, welcome point and meat bar (featuring cured meats hanging from the ceiling). There’s also a second basement floor and an unusually large number of alfresco tables front and back.
We chose small portions of pasta so that we could try the enticing antipasti too, but you can also order pasta dishes in main-course sizes; in addition, there’s a choice of fish or meat dishes, such as steaks, fish stew and whole roasted sea bass. Prawn linguine and a spring vegetable pasta dish were both full of flavour. Crispy polenta chips sprinkled with rosemary, sea salt and parmesan, and a courgette flower stuffed with four cheeses offered interesting tastes and textures. The children wolfed down their burger and spaghetti bolognese too. No wonder the place is packed.