When ‘The Naked Chef’ first aired on the telly, the intention was that it’d encourage ‘blokes’ to step up in the kitchen. Whether that worked or not, Jamie Oliver did become an international sensation with a wild following (possibly due to that British accent). Riding the ensuing wave of popularity, a new branch of the Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain opened its doors in Reykjavik a few weeks ago.
The restaurant made waves online before opening with a post about a certain salmon farm in Iceland, which didn’t go down well with the locals. I decided to lunch there and put these doubts to rest—and to see if the sullied salmon made it to the menu.
Jón Haukur Baldvinsson is the business partner who brought Jamie’s Italian to Reykjavik. “I have been very fond of Jamie Oliver and his values on food standards, quality ingredients, and the simplicity of his cooking,” he explains. “I started playing in the kitchen from his books and shows, because he’s so enthusiastic and passionate. We also knew that he was interested in Icelandic food culture—we just needed to find the perfect spot for him in Reykjavík. And what could be more fitting than the iconic Hotel Borg?”
Hotel Borg is certainly an apt location. True to the Jamie Oliver brand’s ‘family first’ approach, the interiors of the new restaurant are group- and child-friendly, spacious and inviting. During the course of redesign, an art piece from the 1920s was discovered, adding a nice touch of history.
Planks and Pasta
Scarpi, our waiter for the day, recommended the planks and pasta. While the ‘planks’ (1,790 ISK) are a little gimmicky, the cold cuts are not. The mozzarella is local, and the salumi imported from the restaurant’s own supply chains in Italy.
The menu is faithful to the larger chain, with a nod to local produce. The pasta is made in-house—a matter of pride for the restaurant. We sampled an assortment of dishes. Our favourite was the sausage casarecce (1,990/3,190 ISK), a freeform pasta with a pork and fennel sausage ragu, served along with another first in Iceland, cime di rapa, a broccoli rabe varietal. Gennaro’s Bolognese (1,790/2,990 ISK) is a silky tagliatelle with a deeply flavoured sauce. This is no Icelandic “spaghetti og kjötsósa,” and comes recommended.
We spotted a lamb lasagna as well. As Jón says: “We’re the only Jamie’s Italian to have lamb in our lasagna, and it’s incredible. The international food team is impressed with the outcome.”
Despite the friendly service and tasty food, what struck us most was the pricing. Jóhannes Steinn, the head chef, is on the record saying that local Icelandic diners have been neglected, and that the pricing of Jamie’s Italian is designed in part to attract a local clientele. Jón says it was a conscious decision. “It was a must when we were negotiating the franchise deal,” he explains. “It’s a family restaurant, and it was very important to have fair pricing.”
I didn’t encounter any of the online criticism the chain has seemed to garner. It’s a cut above similar restaurants in town, with handmade pasta, above average imports, affordable wine, and locally sourced ingredients, such as the cheese. And the infamous salmon? Absent.
Jamie’s Italian seems well on its way to securing a steady place as a family favourite, without breaking the bank. And that’s as good as it gets in Reykjavik today.