Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has brought his successful family-friendly restaurant chain Jamie’s Italian to Canada. Since the opening of the first restaurant in 2008 in Oxford, England, Jamie’s Italian has grown to over 60 restaurants worldwide. Its first Canadian location—an 8,300-square-foot restaurant at Yorkdale mall—has just opened in December 2015, with a second location soon opening in Square One. The Toronto restaurant is a partnership between Jamie’s Italian International and Toronto-based restaurant group the King Street Food Company, known for their management of top Toronto Italian restaurants Bar Buca and Buca, rated as the number three restaurant in Canada. Jamie was looking for a company that mirrored his own food philosophies, so he selected King Street Food Company as the operators in Canada.

“Opening our first restaurant in Toronto will be a really special moment for me,” said Jamie Oliver. “Canada is a place that’s always been close to my heart, and whenever I visit I always get an incredible welcome… We’ll be serving up some really beautiful, simple, great value Italian food, all made with the very best quality ingredients we can get our hands on.”

Jamie’s Italian Yorkdale is focused on locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients for Italian dishes in a family-friendly atmosphere. The menu follows in the footsteps of the UK restaurants, except for a couple of items that are specific to Canada, like the pork and fennel meatball appetizer created by head chef Frank Venditti (from Bar Buca). There are certain items that never leave the menu, like Jamie’s ‘famous’ prawn linguini and the turkey milanese.

12356972_422780984579340_3046082744290362939_oThe sourcing of local ingredients is something that stays consistent no matter where Jamie’s Italian opens up. Here in Canada that means pork from duBreton in Quebec and Ocean Wise certified seafood from Vancouver, fished using sustainable methods. In particular, the protein “is phenomenal”, gushed Brand Ambassador Nick Kypreos:

“Much of our beef is sourced from PEI, free-range, part of a program where AAA cattle are being raised on potato farms, grazing on lands that are resting. People are taken aback about how beautiful our steaks are coming out.”

The décor, led by Black Sheep Hospitality out of the UK, is polished and contemporary with a purposeful roughness around the edges. As you enter, you’re greeted with very high ceilings and an enormous bar that wraps around to the hanging prosciutto and meat slicers, accessorized with baby blue leather stools. Exposed ducts lead towards the industrial, while screens between booths keep the large space split into more intimate, private sections. Walking past vintage school chairs at wooden tables leads you to the open kitchen at the back, with additional large tables, leather banquettes, and accents walls—some exposed brick, others reclaimed wood. Servers wear skinny black ties with a pinned, gold coloured ‘J’, brown industrial aprons at their waist and studded leather satchels.

The night I visited I had the cured meats plank which includes their fennel salami and pistachio mortadella, with the plank served resting atop two cans of cherry tomato pomodorini. It also had what was the highlight of food for the rest of the evening: the best, creamy Levoni San Daniele prosciutto. For mains I tried Jamie’s sausage pappardelle ($11.50) with never-ending, lasagna-like curly noodles, ragu of slow-cooked fennel, free-range pork sausage, Parmigiana Reggiano and bread crumbs for crispiness. From their selection of pizzas, the Fiorentina ($18.95) featured lemony ricotta, anchovies, and a gooey free-range fried egg on top. Dessert is not to be missed: both the affogato with vanilla gelato and hot espresso ($5.95), as well as the lemon meringue cheesecake ($9.25) were worth every bite.


Written originally by Erika Simon for JamieSarner.com
Photos courtesy of Jamie’s Italian Canada