Following his Hong Kong debut in 2014 with the first Jamie’s Italian in the frenetic Causeway Bay neighborhood, Jamie Oliver opened his second location in the region in June. The new branch in Tsim Sha Tsui’s Harbour City Mall aims to sate the city’s craving for down-to-earth Italian cuisine. Oliver recently spoke to us about the new restaurant, exploring Hong Kong’s food markets and his affinity for graffiti.
Why did you decide to open a restaurant in Hong Kong?
The food scene in Hong Kong is incredibly diverse and is growing very rapidly. We really wanted to be a part of something so exciting but, equally, we felt confident that Jamie’s Italian would be a natural fit. It took us a while to find the right partner and then the perfect first site, but I’m thrilled with where we are now, with two restaurants in Hong Kong.
Why is Jamie’s Italian a good fit?
There seems to be a real appetite for good food and relaxed dining in Hong Kong, with Italian food being particularly popular. We always aim to create a nice, fun, buzzy vibe in the restaurants but, most of all, we just want people to know they can come to us for some really delicious food at an affordable price.
Is the menu tailored to Hong Kong tastes?
We’re always happy to respond to cultural tastes, but we haven’t really had to do [a] Hong Kong [introduction], as the city is such an international foodie hub. We did, however, focus on including a few more seafood dishes in Hong Kong from the beginning, as it’s so popular.
How does your personality come through at the restaurant?
I really hope in lots of places. I’m across the design of the restaurants — even down to the loos — and, of course, all the menus and dishes. I really hope my personality shows in our staff culture and service style, too. Right from the start, we’ve adopted a fun, accessible, relaxed style of service, and we put a huge amount into our training — I think it really shows. I had a brilliant time in Hong Kong earlier this year meeting the teams in both Causeway Bay and in Tsim Sha Tsui. The people involved are just fantastic, and are a wonderful addition to our Jamie’s Italian family.
What did you look for when picking your team?
I’m actually really lucky that lots of my team have been with me since day one. We always look for people who are up for a challenge and are prepared to push boundaries, too.
How will the second Jamie’s Kitchen in Hong Kong differ from the original?
We love our Causeway Bay location and really wanted to bring that same relaxed and casual dining experience to Tsim Sha Tsui. The new location has an open pizza oven that is only available in six Jamie’s Italians worldwide. It brings fresh handmade pizzas to the store and toasty garlic bread topped off with rosemary! It also has a private dining room that seats up to 12, which is an added bonus for birthday celebrations or family get-togethers.
What aspects of the restaurant are you most excited about?
We put a lot of thought into each and every aspect of our restaurants and try to make each one unique in its design, dishes and talent. The walls of our new Tsim Sha Tsui location are covered in a vibrant graffiti mural designed and painted by my good friend Barnaby Purdy as well as talented Hong Kong artist Peter Yuill. The most exciting thing is to watch all the elements come together and really see the Jamie’s Italian vibe carried out in every detail of the restaurant.
How would you describe the Hong Kong dining scene?
When I visited Hong Kong earlier this year to see our Causeway Bay restaurant and to meet the team, I got to see a little bit of the dining scene then. I’m always most excited about the authentic traditional places, and Hong Kong was no exception. We visited a couple of the food markets — the kind of places I could spend hours wandering around. The real highlight was probably getting to have a go at making traditional handmade noodles and trying a local favorite — blood congee!
What did you enjoy most about your visit?
It was amazing to just really explore the streets and get lost in the beautiful city. I reckon that’s how you find the more exciting and interesting places. My favorite things about Hong Kong are the street’s art-covered walls and the always-buzzing energy down every single street and corner around town.
Do you have plans to open another restaurant across Asia?
We are always looking for new opportunities to grow and share the Jamie’s Italian love worldwide, so keep an eye out.