One successful restaurant chain was never going to be enough for Jamie Oliver. With his ‘Italian’ brand spread across Britain, he opened the first Union Jacks in the fairly new Central Saint Giles development in late 2011; it was clear this was a blueprint rather than a one-off. But that pioneer has since closed, along with a branch in Chiswick; this Covent Garden branch is the only survivor of a curious experiment to create a 'British pizzeria' chain.
Though British ingredients take centre stage (as you might guess from the name), the celebrity chef’s love affair with all things Italian means you’re never far from la dolce vita, either. Modish small plates include sausages wrapped in bacon with a sage mustard, or cured salami from Monmouthshire’s Trealy farm served with piccalilli and radishes.
Pizzas come with what might pass as sandwich toppings (and are billed as ‘wood-fired flat-breads’, perhaps in a bid to see off anyone after a ‘fiorentina’) – so don’t be surprised to find combinations such as roast pork with a quince and Bramley apple sauce, stilton from Nottinghamshire’s Cropwell Bishop, and sprigs of watercress. We were blown away by our ‘red ox’, which came scattered with morsels of slow-cooked oxtail and brisket, molten Red Leicester cheese and tendrils of just-grated horseradish. It was a pity then, that the ‘Empire chicken’ – from the grills section – had been smothered in a overpoweringly lemony marinade dominated by coriander seeds.
This branch, housed under cover but in the open air of Covent Garden’s market, can be a little chilly come winter (though individual heated seating helps). But service is a plus: on our visit the staff couldn’t be more cheeky, cheery and chappy, than if Mr Oliver was out back cloning himself.