High Street Style
Inside Jamie Oliver's latest London eatery
In his customarily profuse fashion, Jamie Oliver has described the latest addition to his Jamie’s Italian portfolio of restaurants as “probably our most stunning site to date”.
The new restaurant opened in the Westfield London Shopping Centre at the end of last year, and was designed by Blacksheep, a UK-based design agency known for high-profile leisure projects such as Whisky Mist and Inamo.
Jamie’s Italian restaurants represent the celebrity chef’s first completely independent restaurant venture. Already present in 13 locations in the UK and due to debut in Dubai’s Festival City in the very near future, the brand aims to bring ‘what’s best about casual dining to the high street’.
Oliver is famously enamoured with Italy and the country’s cuisine. “I should have been Italian. There is such diversity in lifestyles, cooking, traditions and dialects. This is why as a chef I find this country so exciting and what inspired me to create Jamie’s Italian,” he said.
In the new Westfield location, a decidedly Italian flavour is infused with Oliver’s distinct brand of Britishness. According to Tim Mutton, managing director of Blacksheep, the new restaurant is “a buzzy, stylish and warm environment, inspired by Italian food, retail and dining, combined with Jamie’s own cheeky Britishness”.
As the team was dealing with a well established and much-loved brand, part of the process was deciding what aspects of the design were generic and should be maintained, and what fresh creativity and site-specific features could be introduced, Mutton noted.
“We were very impressed with how open the client was to new ideas that expressed the fresh, honest and accessible feel of the brand,” he said.
“Every material choice and the story behind it was carefully considered as part of the design process and, in order to bring a truly authentic Italian feel to the designs, Blacksheep extensively researched not only the business, but also Italian restaurant and delicatessen culture,” he added.
Driving the design
Blacksheep associate Mark Leib was instrumental in helping create the materials palette and major feature areas for the new 250-cover restaurant. “Our new ideas began right at the front door,” he commented.
“We suggested having a Jamie’s ice cream van parked outside as a kind of brand beacon, both to highlight the restaurant’s location and to serve passing trade.”
Oliver reportedly loved the idea so much that he personally rushed out and bought a classic old Citroën van. This was lovingly restored and now serves Oliver’s ‘Smash Ups’, where ice cream, fruit and nuts are all mixed to order and served on a plate.
The van sits in the corner of a large L-shaped exterior space. Covering some 100m², this exterior area is located on Westfield’s Southern Terrace, and offers al fresco dining beneath a canopy.
The external area is bordered and demarcated by planters made from reclaimed scaffold boards, which are full of herbs, creating a great smell and a sense of anticipation of the food to come.
Other innovative design features in the new Westfield restaurant include a Scooter Wall, made up of a selection of individual scooter headlights; a Market Place section that highlights the retail and theatrical aspects of the kitchen; bespoke wall treatments, both inspired by and commissioned directly from Italy; and dynamic lighting treatments, from bespoke chandeliers to industrial-style workmen lights in tongue-in-cheek gold casing.
A lengthy process
The interior space covers an area of 610m² and is defined by its considerable length – 55m from the main door to the rear of the restaurant.
A very narrow central area presented a particular challenge, and encouraged Blacksheep to develop zoned areas, which include the main restaurant space, or Piazza, and the central Market Place area.
Free of seating, the Market Place made a virtue of the narrow central space and offers customers views of the kitchens and of fresh pasta making.
It also allows them to linger over a larger retail area than ever before, en route to either the toilets or to the restaurant’s rear dining space, The Back Room. This is a special, more intimate area, with lower ceilings and a more bling feel.
Here the designers created an intimate and glamorous space, lit by a stunning feature made up of 30 brass-spun pendants on little arms, in a single conglomeration, set against a dark grey ceiling.
Two glazed walls allow views out, whilst a feature wall to the rear of the space includes bespoke hand-made timber panels with patinated brass inlay details. The back wall is taken up by the restaurant’s antipasti bar.
The interior of Jamie’s new Italian restaurant is defined by a pared-down industrial feel, with exposed gantries, steelwork beams and columns, dark grey paintwork and timber. With 4.2m-high ceilings in the first two zones, the restaurant is spacious, but still warm and accessible.
“This isn’t in any way a pastiche of an old building,” explained Leib. “It expresses its modernity quite clearly.”
The Blacksheep team was eager to ensure that while the restaurant offered a selection of different seating areas, each zone offered strong sight lines and areas of interest. Bespoke booth seating is complemented by freestanding furniture, including the Omkstack and Tolix chairs.
The latter is a signature item from earlier outlets, but in the Westfield venue was used in different colourways, from galvanised and stainless steel for the outside area to blue and black in the restaurant.
Flooring is an interesting mix of recycled, engineered timber and Black Mountain river slate. Timber is used for the main restaurant area and the rear restaurant zone, and is broken up by slate in the central Market Place.
Wall treatments include reclaimed ceramic bricks in the main restaurant, feature metal panelling around the toilet area and bespoke timber and metal panels in the Back Room.
The restaurant’s lighting was carefully considered to ensure that it made a strong statement at any time of night or day. One of the mechanisms for this is a metal gantry, which begins above the dispense bar in the main restaurant space and continues all the way through to the rear space.
It is used both for hanging antipasti and for feature lighting, and serves to unify the spaces and take customers’ eyes through the space. Lighting hanging off the gantry includes anglepoise lamps and ‘worker’s lights’ – bare bulbs with cage surrounds.
“Jamie really loves Italian glass chandeliers, so we also did a ‘meaty’ take on this in the main space with two bespoke chandeliers, with three different types of glass hanging from butcher’s hooks on a butcher’s rail,” said Leib. “The chandeliers are situated above the holding bar and the large group table in this space, which seats eight people, as well as one in the Back Room area.”
While the site of the restaurant presented many advantages and allowed for a unique and multi-faceted design, it also came with its fair share of challenges. “When the centre was first planned, this space had been designated for use as a crèche and therefore had only a small façade and little in the way of services – and certainly not enough water or drainage to run a restaurant with its own boilers and pasta machine,” explained Jordan Little, another member of the Blacksheep team.
“But the great thing about the site is that it sits above the Westfield library as part of a standalone building. As a result, it’s both away from other restaurants and also located on a corner with highly visible approaches.”