In early December, Jamie’s Italian, a partnership between British superstar chef Jamie Oliver and Toronto-based King Street Food Company, opened in Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The Toronto restaurant is the first North American location of Jamie’s Italian, which launched in 2008 and has grown to more than 60 locations worldwide.
King Street Food Company owns and operates a number of Toronto restaurants, including the growing Buca mini-chain of Italian eateries, and the organization tapped Frank Venditti (ex-Bar Buca) to head up the kitchen at Jamie’s Italian Yorkdale.
The menu hews to homey, traditional Italian fare made with high-quality, fresh ingredients. Demonstrating the virtues of homestyle Italian done right is bruschetta topped with eggplant-based Sicilian caponata relish — and Venditti’s is perfect, sweet and with good depth of flavour. I could make a meal of this.
A plank of grilled veggies, served cold and marinated in garlic- and herb-infused olive oil, brings smoky onion, fennel, zucchini and red pepper; mint-perfumed slaw; buffalo milk mozzarella; sharp pecorino cheese slathered with chili jam; and another homestyle-perfect caponata spread onto crostini.
Pastas excel, especially al dente tagliatelle tossed with pork and beef Bolognese sauce that is superbly rich and deeply savoury.
Venditti’s mains bring a fat filet of wild salmon baked until it’s moist and tender, served with balsamic-roasted veg. More charming still is the enormous pounded and breadcrumbed turkey breast stuffed with fontina cheese and prosciutto and topped with a gently fried egg.
Kudos to the dessert team for turning out smooth mascarpone cheesecake spiked with lemon and topped with Italian meringue and lemon curd. Even more impressively, the kitchen breathes life into that most clichéd of Italian desserts, tiramisu, by significantly increasing the number of coffee-soaked spongecake layers and (the genius touch) by adding orange to the mascarpone filling.
Early on a Sunday evening, a boisterous crowd packs the fun, 8,000-sq.-ft. space outfitted with high ceilings, exposed brickwork and, up front, a large, welcoming bar.
More Jamie’s Italian restaurants are planned for Canada, with the next location expected to open in Square One Shopping Centre, in Mississauga, Ont., sometime this year.
Jamie’s Italian Yorkdale is available for private events.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 25 years and, during that time, has critiqued almost 1,000 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.