|Best Of British At Union Jacks|
Anne Flaherty samples the new menu at Jamie Oliver's restaurant
Chiswick was already awash with wood-fired ovens when the much anticipated Jamie Oliver restaurant opened six months ago.
The idea behind the place, which is co-owned by the celebrity chef, was to marry the best of British produce of meats, fish, and cheeses from artisan producers to the organic dough-making pioneered by Jamie’s partner, New Yorker Chris Bianco. While Union Jacks did gain a lot of local fans, there were still those who needed to be convinced that Union Jacks was not just another pizza restaurant in Chiswick.
It seems the management have listened to the feedback and taken the comments seriously. The result is a new more versatile menu, which has retained the most popular dishes but added a number of British classic favourites such as Liver and Bacon, Gammon Steak, or Beef Cobbler. They’ve also expanded the wine list. But their emphasis stays on provenance, according to a recent comment from Jamie;
"We take huge pride in our sourcing philosophy, and look to our own back garden first in order to celebrate the wonderful growers, farmers and winemakers we have here in this country."
The new menu had up and running for a couple of weeks when I visited en famille one recent Saturday night. The restaurant was quietly buzzing and we were shown to a table upstairs to a banquette for four, which was comfortable and private. The music in Union Jacks manages to hit just the right level, upbeat, but not so noisy that you cannot have a conversation. The exposed brickwork, formica tables, tiled walls and wooden floors and give a retro American ambiance. The upstairs level has a huge skylight with bright yellow pendant lamps. All the furniture and steel in the restaurant are reclaimed.
We started with drinks and I was told that the expanded wine list has been selected by Berry Brothers and Rudd, a well-known British establishment. I had a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc which was medium dry and comes in a medium or large, a bottle is priced at £19.90.
For starters my husband chose the Prawn and Morecombe Bay Shrimp cocktail , which comes in a kilner jar, which you shake a bit to distribute the sauce. He loved the fact that there was a little spicy kick to the dressing. My son chose the Garlic Mushrooms and Mayonnaise. The youngest member of the family decided against the children’s menu (£6 with a choice of pizza, twirly sausage lollipops or fish goujons, a drink and icecream) in favour of Chicken Liver Pate with toast. I chose a small portion of Beets with Westcombe curd cheese and a sprinkle of toasted seeds from the starter menu which they describe as British 'tapas' plates. This was a very light portion, the flavour of the soft beets and creamy cheese balanced by a sprinkle of mint and the smokiness of the seeds. Refreshing and mild, a very good starter.
Mains chosen were Fish and Chips for the two children, served with curry sauce and mushy peas on the side, and an Old Spot pizza ( they've dropped the term flatbread),which is served with crackling, Bramley apple sauce and Stilton. I was told this was a favourite with regulars, and my husband, who is not a big pizza fan, was persuaded to try it. He was not disappointed. When asked for his opinion, he described it as “a wonderful blend of salty and sweet with just enough crunch." Coming from someone who doesn’t normally consider a pizza (or flatbread) as a proper ‘dinner’ that was praise indeed.
The new menu carries the Best of British theme onto the Dish Of The Day. These main courses are priced from £10, and offer a selection which changes daily, ranging from Toad In The Hole, Beef and Ox Cheek Cobbler, to Saturday Surf and Turf (£22) and Sunday Roast at £14. Another pizza favourite retained on the menu is the Margaret ( basically a Margarita with tomato and Lincolnshire cheese topping ) and the Woodman ( mushrooms and Westcombe cheddar). The vegetarian offering on the menu is Cauliflower and Chard baked with Stilton. A friend tried it recently and gave it her approval.
My main course was Brixham Sole, baked in the wood-fired oven and served with Welsh cockles and bacon, in a chive and butter sauce. I requested a side of Curly Kent kale with bacon bits and roast garlic, but realised this was an overabundance of bacon, and decided to order some chips as well. These were a great choice , crinkle cut and beautifully crunchy and not in the slightest bit greasy. Full marks for the chips. The fish was fresh and came heaped with the bacon and cockles in a delicious puddle of sauce.
The choice of salads on the menu has also been expanded and you can opt for a main course of Rare Roast Beef with beets and pea tendrils, a Barbary Duck salad with shaved fennel and bitter leaves, or the Smoked Salmon or Herby Roast chicken salads from the Wood Fired Oven section. The British Classics and Grills include a West Country rump steak, Liver and Bacon with root veg and onion gravy, Suffolk Gammon steak with a fried egg and a Jamie twist of jerk pineapple, a Beef Burger, and the aforementioned fish and chips which come in House ale batter.
Wine is sold by the glass, ( £5.50) or a 500ml pitcher, and a 750 ml bottle ranges in price from £19.50 for a Sauvignon Blanc, or £18.50 for a Chilean Merlot and up to a Chablis at £32 or a Rioja at £28. The English wines from Chapel Down in Kent are still available, and you can choose beer and cider as well as what they describe as ‘Long Drinks’ which are all made with British vodka, Damson Gin, or Herefordshire Liquers. There is a delicious-sounding Nightcap called 'Bramley and Gage Cherry Brandy and Hot Chocolate' which I will definitely try on a return visit.
We really enjoyed our visit to Union Jacks. The service was friendly and efficient and we bumped into a friend who was with his girlfriend.
“I love coming here, I think it’s great value,” he commented. The prices are not over the top for Chiswick- the main courses start at £9 and go up to £22 for the Surf and Turf. The sole was £14 and the Fish and Chips £12.50.
I did think Union Jacks fell down a little on the Pudding menu. It’s very Retro and probably seemed like a fun idea in the beginning , offering Arctic Roll and Black Forest Gateau. I think it would benefit from the addition of a couple of more choices; why not use British fruits to make fools or sorbets or even Eton Mess? That said, the icecream is very nice with some original flavours. These include Sticky Toffee pudding, Earl Grey tea and biscuits, Marathon Bar, Bitter Chocolate, or After Eight. We sampled a few and prounced the After Eight and the Chocolate the best.
I notice that Union Jacks offers a £10 deal (with small side dish) on selected menu items including salads, the Liver and Bacon, and the Gammon dishes on Mon-Fri from 12– 7pm which is certainly competitive for lunch. It could also work for an early evening dinner, particularly with children. Everyone is looking for value for money these days.
The Christmas Menu has just been launched offering three courses for £25, and that includes a choice from four starters, four mains ( roast turkey, sea bass, Beef cobbler and a vegetarian option) and four desserts, and is available from November 26th to Christmas Eve.
I think the change in menu at Union Jacks is a good thing and will appeal to locals. In such a competitive market, it's important to listen to what people tell you. For those who wanted to see Union Jacks provide more hearty fare and reduce the emphasis on what Jamie Oliver had described as "a British take on pizza', that's what you've now got!
Union Jacks, 217-221 Chiswick High Road, Telephone 0203 6179988
October 18, 2012