Jamie's Italian gears up for first week of business in Canberra

The new Jamie's Italian in the city is more rustic than super slick in its set up, with a jumble of billiard-green and brown banquettes, pink metal chairs, plenty of unfinished wood and hanging chillies and charcuterie contributing to a casual feel.

Which is how the global chain headed by Jamie Oliver and offsider Gennaro Contaldo likes it to be, welcoming children and families as a big part of what it does and open seven days 11.30am to 11.30pm with the same menu available through the day and evening.

So keen is Jamie's on kids that international executive chef Marcos Georgiou says Jamie Oliver orders a kids' meal whenever he sits down at one of his restaurants just to check it's still on track.

Georgiou is in Canberra this week to set up the latest in the chain of more than 30 Jamie's, already in Britain, Dubai, Russia, Turkey and Singapore. Canberra is the third in Australia.

Georgiou, of Greek heritage, South African born and based in London, has worked for Jamie's for six years. He oversees all the international restaurants, with the aim of ensuring consistency in the group. All menus are devised in London and when there's a seasonal change in menu he travels to bed down new dishes.

"To be honest," he says, "you can give a recipe to 15 chefs and get 15 results, because everyone has little tweaks."

His job is to iron out those tweaks and keep dishes the same throughout. Prices, too, are consistent (and low by Canberra standards).

Georgiou concedes that yes, Jamie's Italian is a chain, but says Oliver and Contaldo are far from simply figureheads. They have a hand in every dish and even in design features of the restaurants.

Also in Canberra is executive chef for Australia David Clarke, who is based in Sydney.

Yesterday the pair were keen to show off their produce, a cornerstone of the Jamie's approach. The nitrate-free cured meats are from renowned Sydney maker Quattro Stelle and include a "full-blood wagyu" bresaola, a mortadella from free-range pigs and a fennel-seed salami.

The prosciutto is San Daniele, imported for Jamie's. The restaurant offers these on a starter "plank" ($13.50 a head), with buffalo mozzarella made for Jamie's by That's Amore in Victoria, and pecorino with a chilli jam from Jamie's in London. Bread is from Brasserie Bread in Sydney.

They have sourced a local olive oil for the Jamie's in Canberra, with all cooking other than deepfrying done in olive oil. It comes from a consortium of Murrumbidgee growers, Clarke says, and is cold-pressed by Rylstone. The GM-free canola oil for deepfrying is from Western Australia.

Georgiou says a favourite dish on the menu at the moment is a free-range pork chop that's brined for 10 hours then fast-seared under a cast-iron "brick".

The brick is heated to the same temperature as the grill underneath, so the meat is cooked top and bottom at the same time, at a temperature hot enough to "snap the sinews" and melt the fat, Clarke says. It's then finished while still hot simply with lemon juice and olive oil, a dish that captures the freshness and speed that Jamie's aims for in its food.

The wine is all Italian, except from a house wine from the Yarra Valley and a plan to source some Canberra wines.

Jamie's has done a series of soft-opening dinners this week, including Friday, and has more on Monday, November 4. It's still unclear what day it opens to the public, but it looks like either Tuesday or Wednesday. Once you're there, so pervasive is the brand that you can buy Jamie's books and even the retro cloth napkins.

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