Jamie Oliver intrigued Britain with his new foodie package. We heard of the new book and the new TV show, both of which share the same title “Jamie’s Great Britain”, and now at St Giles Central, we sampled the flagship of his new high street chain venture “Union Jacks”. The ambiance, however, was kiddy at worst. Mismatched kindergarten chairs with spray paints, big and eclectic lights that screamed “Union Jacks” (though there was no sign of that flag itself), and a centre-piece wood oven against the extraterrestially high ceiling did not seem so well and quirkily thought out as his Jamie’s Italian. Sitting down, I felt dwarfed.
For the most part, Union Jacks was a pizza joint, while the menu bordered on being British but promised twists. Jamie shook hands with Chris Bianco, the US pizza king and devised the pizza menu based on what Great Britain has to offer. Before that, I had “By-Catch Fish Fingers” (£5) and “Bloody Mary Mussels” (£5). The fish fingers were firm and enjoyably crispy, but the accompanying tartare sauce was in extreme shortage of acidity. The mussels, though very fresh, were far less successful and tasted no more than molluscs steamed in tomato sauce. No basic flavour suggestive of a Bloody Mary – say, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, chilli, celery – was present.
The “flats” AKA pizzas were flashy and reasonably massive (you might not need a starter). My “Old Spot” (£12) was a maelstrom of taste and texture – from roasted and melt-in-yer-mouth pork shoulder, super crunchy cracklings, sharp quince and sweet Bramley slices, to pungent Stilton and peppery watercress. The Other Bib, however, preferred the “Red Ox” (£12) which landed on the table with an incredible perfume of horseradish. The combo of Worcestershire sauce-braised oxtail and brisket with Red Leicester would appease meat and cheese lovers. To me, it did not have enough dimensions to keep me on edge and finish it all off. Chris Bianco (who was in the kitchen) did a great job synching the ingredients. That said, I didn’t find the puffy pizza dough a revelation but too American for my liking.
GO FOR: Swanky pizza.
Cabana is an interpretation of Brasilian cafeteria. Now there are two of them – one in Westfield Stratford City and the other at St Giles Central. The St Giles one looked young and fun, with kite ceiling, multicolor lights, cocktail bar and denim banquettes. The menu boast a good selection of Brasilian street nibbles and many grilled-and-skewed things as well as good booze. That said, the price tag here is the least budget.
Food-wise, I was indecisive about Cabana. My Pao de Queijo AKA Brazillian cheesy bread arrived as a trio of tapioca flour based buns. I picked up the genteel milky aroma and liked the crusty-gummy contrast very much (£3.95). For my grilled things, there was this ceremony of waiters approaching your table with a very long skewer of whatever meat you order and un-skewing it straight to your plate. This came with some free tomato salsa, which could do with more seasoning, and some nutty minty salsa, which was appetisingly sweet and fragrant. Still, you need to order side dishes (£2.85- £3.65) separately. My Grilled Pork and Papaya Sausages (£3.35 for two) were pretty much the same size as your typical English sausages. They smelled well charred but tasted steeply sweet with papaya dices. Spicy Malaqueta Prawns (£5.95 for three) were good quality but not large. I felt them a little pricy for the ambiance. Again quite sweet and I didn’t pick up much heat as the term “spicy” promised. Spicy Malaqueta Chicken (£5.45 for three thigh pieces) was a little hotter. The meat was cooked to fall apart and was not too dry. My meal with water and a non-alc cocktail with all above came to £25 without service. I was not in love but I wouldn’t mind going back.
GO FOR: Meaty grill. Cocktail.
I love Byron. I love the fact that each of them has been uniquely and funkily designed to fit its surrounding. At St Giles Central, there was a cargo container suspended above the open-plan kitchen. It mediated the bare dining room with the vast aerial space oh so well. I didn’t feel like I was dining at a formulaic high-street chain at all.
The burgers – Scottish meat and freshly minced every day – were still the tour de force and retained their greatest consistency London-wide. Sadly, their row with Health and Safety meant any Byron can no longer serve rare burgers. Stupid authority!!
GO FOR: Comfort. Quick meal. Cool vibe. Low budget.
St Giles High Street
St Giles High Street
Tel. 020 7845 9730
St Giles High Street
Tel. 020 7395 0620