Celebrity chef’s new restaurant has no star power
I'VE met Jamie Oliver a couple of times. Terrific bloke. Kind, genuine and generous with his time.
I admire the work he has done to fight against factory farms and improve animal welfare; his campaigns to help reduce childhood obesity and upgrade food in the healthcare system, and his broader initiatives to encourage people to eat better quality, more nutritious food.
But there's a reason his latest restaurant is in a shopping centre.
Jamie Oliver's Pizzeria opened last month at Pacific Fair on the Gold Coast as the first outlet of the international chain to launch in Australia.
The press release promised "tasty and affordable food, but with exceptional service in a warm and inviting atmosphere".
The exceptional service they have nailed.
While customers may have to order at the counter and are given a buzzer to know when to collect their food from the pass, smiling staff are personable, upbeat and committed to ensuring you enjoy your experience.
As for the atmosphere, compared to the fluorescent glow of a McDonald's sign it is warm and inviting, but it is really just pleasant, offering more of a Brighton-seaside-meets-Louisiana-crab-shack vibe, than a cosy, Naples - home of pizza - influence.
It does also deliver on affordability, with pastas $14 and pizzas $14 (9-inch) and $18 (13-inch).
Where the eatery seems to be lacking is on the "tasty" pledge.
The pizza offering is a Westernised take on classics, with 17 different varieties including one with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, pickles and parsley and another called the "BBQ Pollo" with roasted chicken, barbecue sauce and broccoli.
The Spicy Meatball pizza is milder than a Port Douglas winter, with not a skerrick of chilli to be found, making it quite bland, whichever way you slice it.
The cost-cutting methods can be seen in the tagliatelle bolognese, with the tangled, knot of fused-together pasta more stingy on the meat sauce than Uncle Bob who buys your Christmas present from the $2 shop.
Not to be criticised, however, is the crispy squid ($12) from the Nibbles section of the menu, which also boasts the likes of pizza puffs, cheeseballs and arancini. The squid is a generous portion, served with a terrifically light and crunchy, well-seasoned flour coating ready to be dipped into thick aioli. It's the highlight.
A ricotta cheesecake stained with a spoonful of mixed berry compote ($10) is also a fine enough dessert.
If you're looking for an alternative to the regular food court stodge, Jamie Oliver's Pizzeria is a decent substitute. But, unfortunately, no amount of celebrity clout will make this a destination restaurant.