Jamie Oliver can do no wrong in my eyes. I admire his tireless campaigning to encourage kids to eat healthily and his recipes never fail me. And I particularly liked my brunch at Fifteen London a couple of years ago, another of his concepts that I love. But despite being a fan of the cheeky chappy that started his cheffing career at River Cafe, I have never dined at one of his Jamie’s Italian restaurants. However, as soon as I heard about Union Jacks, I was there like a flash. And that brings me to a point actually. I can’t remember how I found out about it – but I haven’t read anything about it since. Either they have been keeping the promotion very hush hush or I’m not reading the right publications anymore.
Situated in the newly developed St Giles Piazza, Union Jacks celebrate all things British, although at first glance you wouldn’t think it. The menu specifies ‘Flats’, which basically come in the form of a pizza – with a difference. British ingredients line the base with cheeses such as cheddar and Cropwell Bishop stilton replacing the classic mozzarella and roast shoulder of pork replacing the usual salami or parma ham.
Three of us made the journey to Union Jacks after a quick mulled wine in Covent Garden. Due to the fact that it was the Thursday before Christmas and party / Christmas dinner season was in full swing, we anticipated a queue. But on arrival we were all surprised to see only a small number of tables occupied. Perhaps the location isn’t quite right – being close to but just far enough away from the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden and Soho. We sat by the large glass fronted window looking out onto High Holborn and were handed menus that were encased in old pub style black folders with gold writing embossed on the front. The style of the menu inside differed somewhat. Type writer font showed a range of starters, those flats that I was on about earlier and a drinks list. I was disappointed with the small selection of cocktails but happy to see that they were moderately priced at £5.50 – £6.50. I ordered a Roobarb & Custard (£5.50), which was a lovely mix of Chase rhubarb liquor, apple and cinnamon. My mum complained that she couldn’t taste the alcohol but that’s the idea isn’t it?!
For starter, we all shared the roasted beets with Westombe curd and smoked seeds (£4) and the prawn and Morecambe bay shrimp cocktail (£6). The former arrived on a small plate with a large amount of creamy goat’s curd, an increasingly popular combination and one that I keep seeing on menus around the capital. The beets were tender and sweet and this dish was an utterly delicious way to start the meal. The prawn cocktail was fancied up by being served at the table in a kilner jar. The waiter closed the lid, shook it about like you would a cocktail, reopened the lid and placed the jar in front of us on the table. I’m not overly sure that the shaking was needed and although it was better than your average pub prawn cocktail dish, it wasn’t a patch on the roasted beets.
Being a huge mozzarella pizza fan, I was sceptial about the flats. I’m not sure what possessed me to order the spiciest pizza on the menu, Chilli Freak (£9), which contains no less than six chilli varieties, but I couldn’t get enough. The pizza was hot but my mouth was kept nice and cool by the little pot of curd that accompanied the pizza. Nice touch. My companions opted for the Old Spot (£12), which consisted of roast shoulder of pig, quince and bramley sauce, Cropwell Bishop Stilton, crackling and watercress and the Woodman (£11), a mix of field and wild mushrooms, Westcome cheddar, pickled red onion, tarragon and chervil.
I looked to my left and saw a dessert bar with a range of gelato buckets. We were sat around the corner so had a good view but I couldn’t help thinking that this feature needs to be on full show. An old cinema style board showed which desserts and ice creams were on offer. I opted for the Retro Arctic Roll (£4), while my guests went for the Sticky Treacle Tart with Clementine Soured Cream (£4) and a scoop of Earl Gray Tea and Biscuits ice cream, which is a mere £1.50 per scoop. When my Arctic Roll was placed in front of me, I started to wish I had gone for the scoop of ice cream – much better value. I didn’t think much to it; it was small, the sponge dry and generally lacking oomph. The Treacle Tart was also not completely up to scratch and we could detect only a small amount of treacle and clementine flavouring.
Despite the slight disaster on the pudding front, the flats made our visit more than worthwhile. Union Jacks flats have managed to convert even the most hardened pizza purist and I’m looking forward to both going back for a second visit and recreating some of these delights in my boyfriends parents pizza oven this summer.
4 Central St. Giles Piazza
0203 597 7888