A plan for an afternoon in Richmond was scuppered by the dreaded planned engineering works, so we decided to check out Chiswick instead. Wandering up the High Road, we came across the second branch of Union Jacks to open, after the Covent Garden launch site. I have to admit that not being one with my ear to the restaurant grapevine, I was unaware of the launch of Jamie Oliver’s latest chain.
Union Jacks comes across as a sort of British take of a New York pizzeria: the interior features lots of plain brick walls/heavy wooden furniture/industial tiles with various nods to a studied “quirky British” vibe: colour by numbers flying ducks painted on the walls, vintage (re-screened) televisions playing British classic TV shows and so on. It feels a little as if the stylists spent a little too much time overdosing in and on a branch of Jack Wills (or whatever the new Jack Wills is) before coming up with the mood board for Union Jacks. To me, it’s all a bit too studied and trying too hard. Perhaps I’m being too cynical? Their website is similarly styled – why is there a video for a 1980’s Shake n Vac advertisement displayed?
The Britishness thing runs over into the menu; for a first course, we shared a plate of “Bycatch fish fingers” – pieces of various fish, deep fried in batter and which came with a rich tartare sauce. The bulk of the main courses aren’t called pizzas, as they would be at any other restaurant – because that is surely what they are – but “flats”, cooked in a wood fired oven. Flavour combinations are also a step away reflect the Britishness of the whole venture – I had a fish pie flat (Smoked pollock, heritage potatoes, sweet leeks & Welsh cockles), while H went for the Old Spot (Roast shoulder of pig, quince & Bramley sauce, Cropwell Bishop Stilton, crackling & watercress). Our opinion was that of these two, the fish was the winner, but I’m not sure whether either would compare well to a more traditional Italian offering. We didn’t’ try the “Margaret” – the Union Jacks version of a Margarita. Overall the pizzas were good, but doughy and slightly failed to live up to the big flavours promised in the menu.
We chose a couple of scoops each of ice cream for pudding; I enjoyed Earl Grey tea and biscuits, while H went for the sticky toffee, and marathon (Snickers). The tea, in particular, was good, with clear bergamot notes featuring. Our bill came to £40; we drank only water.
Clientele were mixed, couples, families, friends. Service was friendly and keen, but slowed as the meal progressed. Staff were unflappable even when H threw a glass on the floor whilst snapping the puds. The loos were clean and bright, naturally housing Thomas Crapper’s finest lavatory pans.
Overall, this is an interesting venture from Jamie. It is impressive that he is launching a high street chain with a strong focus on sourcing British ingredients; details of all the suppliers are on the menu. However, I’m not sure that at the moment, Union Jacks isn’t a triumph of concept over cooking. We will watch with interest to see how the chain develops.
Union Jacks, 4 Central St. Giles Piazza & Chiswick High Road, London