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Apr 292012
 
Union Jack's Front Signage - chiswickish foodie blog - Copyright Mat Smith Photography
Dining Experience
Damage to wallet
Warm Glow Upon Leaving
The Good: Great for informal dining; varied menu. Good dough!
The Bad: Cocktails are drinkable but nothing special
Number of Visits: 2

As its name would suggest, Union Jacks is billed as a celebration of British flavours. The menu focuses around ‘flats’, which are essentially pizzas, though with a variety of typically British toppings (think cheddar, pork and bramley sauce, curry, etc.). That said, it’s possible to spend an evening at Union Jack’s without buying a flat; it’s a great atmosphere to catch up with friends and grab a quick drink, or order a handful of starters (i.e. British tapas).

Some background: I don’t have a TV and I’m only familiar with Jamie through his books, website, and other restaurants which I love (Jamie’s Italian in Cambridge and London W12, where I’ve dined more times that I can remember).

Sadly I just missed chatting to Jamie at the soft opening of Union Jack’s, but caught Jamie’s partner in the Union Jacks venture, Chris Bianco, who is a passionate foodie and restaurant entrepreneur from the US:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - business partner Chris Bianco

Back home his restaurant Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona is reputedly a great success with food critics, not to mention the fact he’s opened up other restaurants from Italian to Mexican, he grows and packages a range of varietals of tomatoes in California (sadly he won’t be exporting them for use in this restaurant) and he obviously cares dearly about his ingredients. I’m hoping the Union Jacks venture will attract similar critical praise. Certainly his amazing positivity comes across within just a few minutes of meeting him. I love how he has done-out the restaurant with little bits of local life – some framed prints from a much-loved nearby bookshop Fosters of Chiswick, to mention just one.

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Interior layout

The interior itself is a nod to 50s/60s café dining with formica-style tabletops or roughly-painted wooden tables, funky lighting, traditional unfussy menus, and lovely tiling work on the walls – the same tiles as you are likely to see on the London Underground.

As with all of Jamie’s restaurants, staff are superb; their enthusiasm is palpable and even though Chiswick Union Jacks was not fully open, they were really on the ball, chatty, excited…

Mat Smith Photography Photolife Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks Restaurant Chiswick - Waiting Staff Outfit

Whilst Union Jacks probably won’t compete with the excellent Gelato Mio across the road for serious ice, are not putting out cocktails like Sam’s or Charlotte’s, and probably don’t put pizza to the core of the menu as much as the nearby Franco Manca – which will always hold a special place in my heart – nevertheless the restaurant’s main strength is that it serves up an impressive range of food styles.

The Woodman Pizza (they call it a “Flat”): a topping with mixed field mushroom base and an aftertaste of aniseed:

Mat Smith Photography Photolife Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks Restaurant Chiswick - Woodman Pizza

Although in many ways Italian – at least the style of the interior – Union Jacks isn’t a traditional pizzeria by any means. It’s more like an “Italian-inspired English tapas restaurant”; the palate catered-for is very much the English one.

How so? Think mini Yorkshire puddings, Indian spiced chicken with Bombay potatoes, Bubble and Squeak, Treacle Tart, selection of great cheeses.

Below, Indian spiced chicken. What an amazing gravy it came with. Typical of Jamie: bursting with surprising flavours. And a delightful marinade.

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Empire Chicken

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Empire Chicken side shot

The other thing I love: you can stop-by for a quick Builder’s Tea on the seats outside, or bring a group of friends for a whole evening out.

Below, the “Damson Gin Fizz”:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Damson Gin Fizz Cocktail

Below, “Roobarb & Custard” and “Union Mule”:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Cocktail - Union Mule

 

What they do, they do very well. “Earl Grey and biscuit” and “bitter chocolate” ice cream scoops:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Early Grey and Biscuit, Bitter Chocolate Ice Cream scoops

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Red Badge

The dough is made right in front of diners, so you can see the action! Smells amazing.

Mat Smith Photography Blog - Jamie Oliver Union Jacks - Making Dough

The restaurant is apparently not taking bookings until May, however I believe it will be possible to walk-in and dine at any time.

Can’t wait to spend some more time there!

Oct 012011
 
melted-baked-camembert-fondue-spiced-plum-chutney
Dining Experience
Damage to wallet
Warm Glow Upon Leaving
The Good: Friendly service, classy interior, quality steak
The Bad: None come to mind...
Number of Visits: 3

View the food menu online

The Cabin treads that fine line between classy and friendly very well. The interior has a warmth and cosiness about it, but the tables are well-spaced enough which makes a perfect place to dine for two as well as larger groups (up to, say, six).

Summer evenings – or mid-Autumn heatwave evenings as we’ve seen this year – they open the front and so the restaurant never gets stuffy. Seating outside is also very pleasant indeed (as pleasant as sitting on Chiswick High Road can be).

Although I’ve only dined here a few times so far, the service has been consistently brilliant; polite, authoritative, and swift. My last visit we sat outside and worried we might be forgotten as we were the only people sat outside, but waiting staff were very attentive.

Prices are reasonable given the location and the quality of food and service.

Cocktails were decent if not fabulous, the Dark ‘n’ Stormy had a touch too much ginger beer and was a little flat, but I’m being very picky. The cocktails we had were on the whole very good.

The baked camembert comes highly recommended as a starter for two. The walnut and raisin bread is toasted to perfection and the spiced plum chutney is a nice twist on the cranberry or redcurrant that is usually served with melty camembert. Delicious. And gorgeous presentation, too.

The Cabin isn’t just a steak house, with dishes like pan-fried blackened salmon fillet, char-grilled whole sea bass, and lemon-glazed roast half chicken, as well as the mouth-watering vegetarian dishes parmigiana and roasted butternut squash salad with quinoa, feta, spinach, green beans and pomegranate dressing, The Cabin is clearly aiming to cater for all foodie tastes. From that list I have only tried the sea bass and the blackened salmon fillet, and they were both great.

Pictured below is the 12oz Scottish Rump Steak.

The dish had a classic presentation with tomato and shallot. I’d probably give the frites we had on our last visit a 6 out of 10; sadly they were a little chewy rather than crisp on the outside and flaky and perfect on the inside.

Naturally a rump is a little fatty, although this was that little bit too fatty for my liking for £17.90.

The 12oz sirloin steak at £20.50 was far better. I think we are paying a little bit for other things like the service here – the steak was good but the price point for the sirloin dish should really have been around £15-18. That said, I’m not in the restaurant business so I can’t really talk, and one mustn’t quibble over mere pounds …

I give you – the sirloin.

My last visit was a meal for two including a cocktail each, sparkling water, a shared baked camembert starter, and a steak each, and the bill came to £75 including the discretionary service charge.

I’d love to visit here a couple of times a month if not more, but it’s perhaps a little pricey for such regular visits. That said, when you know you need steak, and you’ve company you need to entertain, it’s a reliably great restaurant to visit.

So I’ll be back – and soon!

Sep 152011
 
sushi-closeup
Dining Experience
Damage to wallet
Warm Glow Upon Leaving
The Good: Sushi made fresh to order. Great plum wine.
The Bad: Closes too early (10pm) and shut on Mondays
Number of Visits: 4

Although I’ve only given this 7/10 for ‘dining experience’, that rating is precisely what I want from a local sushi bar. I don’t want bells / whistles / gimmicks, I don’t want silver service, and I definitely don’t want any emphasis on interior design.

What do I want? Aside from raw fish, of course – a chef who prepares the food in front of you, a decent menu, and an agreeable atmosphere to chat. I’m easy to please.

Well, that pretty much sums up Makoto Sushi Bar, which is a small but lovely little sushi bar on Devonshire Road.

I’ve tried a good number of sushi joints in London, from the truly excellent Pham Sushi on Whitecross Street (Barbican area) – the sushi restaurant by which others are judged – to the tacky Yo! chain types dotted all around the place (and which I must say I make it policy never to visit any more). Makoto is definitely more humble than, for example, Hammersmith’s favourite sushi bar, Menato; the interior isn’t quite as cool, and the presentation of the food is a notch below, but I think the taste and freshness of the sushi is definitely comparable.

They use the plastic grass for effect…

The sushi bar has high stools and you are up quite close and personal to the sushi chef…

Personally I love the sushi plates. It’s just the right amount for a dinner for one.

Pictured below is the “Tokuyjo” set which is £13.50. Actually I think that’s quite pricey for the amount of sushi you get, but I don’t really mind paying that considering it’s freshly prepared, and filling to boot.

Also pictured here is the plum wine, £5. Again, a lot for a beaker of wine, but again it’s quite a treat. A really interesting taste if you haven’t had it before.

The sushi bar itself…

Fresh fish on display at the counter…

The salmon avocado hand roll is £5, but absolutely delicious.

I’m not sure if Makoto is named after the owner, but here’s the Kanji / Kana on display in a frame…

Gladly, an assortment of kawaii cats, too…

Makoto do take-out. I can’t quite work out if the take-out menu is the same as the dine-in menu. The sushi sets have the same names and prices, but I think what you get is slightly different.

May 142011
 
orange-gelato-mio
Dining Experience
Damage to wallet
Warm Glow Upon Leaving
The Good: The selection of chocolate ice. Seasonal flavours.
The Bad: Staff don't manage the queues well
Number of Visits: 11

I’ve been a fan of the Spanish-run Gelato Mio Ice Cream parlour in Holland Park ever since it opened. When I used to live in W12 I would take a trip to Holland Park in the summer and stop there for an ice cream. I always thought the ice cream there really was very good.

Gelato Mio has always been a bit pricey, because you are paying a premium for the taste of real gelato which is made onsite.

As ice cream entrepreneur and founder of the original Gelato Mio, Carlo Del Mistro, explained to me, real gelato is free from the preservatives that are put into most ice cream on the high street, and as such it has a shelf life of 7 days. At the end of the week they have to throw away all the ice cream. It absolutely makes sense when you think about it: milk goes off.

I read a criticism of the Gelato Mio prices over on the ChiswickW4 forum, and someone said these kinds of prices are for people with more money than sense. But surely it’s only the same as buying fresh juice (i.e. Tropicana) rather than made-from-concentrate; it’s something that is increasingly becoming the norm in today’s average household.

Either way I couldn’t care two hoots. I love my ice cream and that’s final.

My absolute favourite flavours are: dark chocolate and pistachio. I also really recommend having two scoops in a sugar cone rather than a single helping – from experience you tend to get way over double the ice cream for a double scoop!

As an ice cream parlour, I find Gelato Mio has the perfect selection of flavours. They also sell ice cream shakes (although these are pricey to the point I probably wouldn’t buy one!) as well as espresso-based coffees and teas.

I especially love their ‘history of ice-cream’ wall display which is beautifully put together.