It is full steam ahead for the much-anticipated Jamie's Italian restaurant at VivoCity by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
Intensive training for the brigade of 100 mostly local staff of chefs and waiters started 1 1/2 weeks ago, ahead of its opening on Wednesday.
Life! had an exclusive sneak peek at the 250-seat restaurant, which includes an open-concept kitchen, antipasti area, pasta-making corner, Italian wine and cocktail bar and merchandise section.
To ensure a successful opening, international executive chef of Jamie's Italian Marcos Georgiou, 39, is in town for a month to conduct the training.
On Thursday, the 6,500 sq ft restaurant was abuzz with young chefs having meetings and preparing for the opening. On the progress so far, Georgiou says: "In the past week, many of them have found their voices and are communicating with one another. They all want to be here to learn and I want to see the same faces when I'm back in three months' time."
Like the outlet's London-born executive chef Gary Clarke in a previous interview with Life!, Georgiou reiterates the ethos of Oliver, which focuses on "quality food, family, animal welfare and affordable food for the masses".
Having been with Oliver's empire of restaurants for 51/2 years, Georgiou has been responsible for opening 28 outlets in the United Kingdom as well as international branches in locations such as Dublin, Perth and Saint Petersburg. Upcoming openings after Singapore include Turkey, Dubai and Canberra.
The restaurant chain started with Oliver's Italian business partner Gennaro Contaldo, who is also a chef. The restaurant here, a collaboration with Singapore property group Hotel Properties Limited, is the fourth outside the UK.
Georgiou emphasises that the menu - 70 per cent of which features Italian produce - is the same as what you would get in other Jamie's Italian branches, but "perhaps with more chilli", he adds.
The menu focuses on a range of antipasti ($7.50), pasta and ravioli made on site. The pasta comes in two sizes - 75g for small, 150g for large - and prices start at $12.50 for a small portion. The kitchen can cook up to 12 pastas at a time, and each portion is prepared separately. Ensuring consistency of each dish, the South African chef says: "Even if two people order the same pasta, each portion is cooked separately and finished with the sauce in separate pans. Everyone deserves the individual attention."
Their appetiser platters - meat, fish and vegetarian - are a fine example of encouraging sharing and family-style dining. The meat platter ($15.50 a person) features four cured meats including pistachio mortadella, San Daniele proscuitto, bresaola (air-dried salted beef) and hot soppressata (Italian dry salami), as well as buffalo mozzarella.
Seafood lovers can tuck into the fish platter ($17 a person) which features cured and crispy fish from sustainable sources, including beetroot-cured salmon, roasted shellfish and smoked mackerel pate.
All platters are served on planks propped up with tin cans and include root vegetable salad with beetroot, pumpkin, butternut squash dressed in olive oil, mint and lemon juice; and pecorino cheese on "music" bread (Sardinian flat bread), with a dollop of chilli jam. Main courses include The Jamie's Italian Burger ($27.50), which has wagyu steak, smoked mozzarella, pancetta and sticky balsamic onions, grilled chicken ($28), veal flash steak ($32.50) and 30-day matured prime rib ($59.50), with 350g Angus breed bone-in striploin with wild mushrooms and peppery endives.
The extra attention paid to grilling meats comes in the form of cast iron blocks called al mattoni. Georgiou says: "These blocks are the same temperature as the grill. When we place them on the meat, the meat is sealed and the juices are locked in."
He adds that the menu will change twice a year, with 15 to 20 dishes replaced. Recalling past experiences on changing the menu, the bubbly chef says: "It is the most stressful period. People seem to take offense when we change an item. When we changed our truffle tagliatelle to a risotto, it's like we had shot someone."
For those who want to take home a piece of the celebrity chef, there is a small retail section selling his cookbooks and T-shirts. Those looking to meet Oliver will have to be patient, as Georgiou will only say that he will be here "when the time is right".
Confident that the opening will run smoothly, he says: "It can be quite nerve-racking because you never know if people will embrace the food and the ethos. But whether you are here, in the UK or in Australia, nothing is different. Jamie always says that his name will pull people in for the first meal, but the second time onwards will be because of our chefs and service staff."
Jamie's Italian is at VivoCity, 1 Harbourfront Walk, 01-165/166/167, tel: 6733-5500. It opens daily from Wednesday from 11.30am to 11pm.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 13, 2013
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