What’s the buzz in Britain right now? Celebrity chef and television personality Jamie Oliver continues to build his brand as a much-beloved Brit with his shows, cookbooks, and a series of restaurants based on quality, fresh ingredients. He has teamed with one of London’s more design-savvy young firms, Blacksheep, for six of his restaurants, including a few of Jamie’s Italian locations. The latest Blacksheep-Oliver collaboration, Union Jacks, applies the simple concept of English-based pizza, or British Flats, in a fun, approachable atmosphere in central London.
Known for a broad range of hospitality and retail interiors, Blacksheep is led by cofounders Jo Sampson and Tim Mutton who have a symbiotic relationship with Oliver. (Learn more about Blacksheep in the interview on page 49.) “We don’t have a house style,” Sampson says. “We created this unique concept for Jamie, integrating his values and style into the space. The key to the relationship is the synergy. We push Jamie’s ideas and discover the specific needs of the business, which enable us to create spaces that are entertaining and intriguing. We present ideas directly to Jamie, discussing problems, discovering solutions, and creating design.”
Union Jacks is a partnership between Oliver and American Chris Bianco, who is the head chef and owner of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. Located on the ground level of the Central St. Giles mixed-use development recently completed by Renzo Piano on High Holborn, it is just a few blocks north of Covent Garden.
Within a Renzo Piano building: Challenges and opportunities
The Piano-designed building itself presented challenges before Blacksheep and Oliver could focus on the interior concept and cuisine. The ground floor’s full-height glazing could not be covered or obscured. No exterior signage is allowed, and the kitchen could not be against an exterior wall. The solution? Blacksheep designed three internal walls around the building’s central circulation core to act as a backdrop to the food prep areas and to house wood-fired ovens. A graphic Union Jacks sign in multicolored neon stands prominently above a large vintage board that displays the menu and specials. Thus, passersby can see all of the activity and the sign from outside, and diners have unimpeded views of the rest of the restaurant and pizza ovens.
The light, clever interior is imbued with subtle references to postwar nostalgia, a blurring of bits of 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s aesthetics without referring to an exact year. The color palette combines muted blue, brown, gray, and pink with bright primaries. Graph paper is printed onto some tabletops, and stools are similar to those seen in an older school’s science lab. Objects and retro elements collected by Oliver himself—appearing as found trinkets—are interspersed around the restaurant and an old-school typewriter font is used on the menus.
“The restaurant is not one particular period. It’s an updated retro look that is subliminal so that you’re not sure when or where exactly it is referring to,” Sampson says. “This is a nostalgic take on English food.”
The British Flats, made of fresh ingredients and baked in wood-fired ovens, are not the usual Italian-influenced pizzas. British-inspired, and Oliver-invented, the flats really are unique. For example, a flat named Old Spot features roast shoulder of pig, quince and Bramley sauce, Cropwell Bishop Stilton, crackling, and watercress. And the Fish Pie is topped with smoked pollock, heritage potatoes, sweet leeks, and Welsh cockles. The combinations of foods and tastes, with the interior surroundings, are intended to spark a familiar, comforting feeling for the English diners.
“We wanted a relaxed, retro feel that would be welcoming as well as friendly in a more casual way compared to some of the restaurants in the group,” says Simon Blagden, managing director of Jamie Oliver Restaurants. “The design really reflects the food and service. There’s an element of almost being at home.”
Simple wooden tables and chairs with basic metal frames are used throughout the restaurant. In the lower level dining room—with tables and booths, wooden floor, and pegboard walls—vintage television screens are linked to cameras in the kitchen so that diners can view the cooking activity.
Not showmanship with Jamie Oliver
It’s an amalgam of simple touches that, put together, offer a compelling design and dining experience. “Jamie didn’t want anything over-designed at all,” Sampson says. Anything we design for Jamie is not over the top. It’s not showmanship. It reflects Jamie’s honest and fun personality, and this clearly reflects his brand.”
The second Blacksheep-designed Union Jacks will open in a shopping center southeast of London this year, and Blagden is effusive in championing the firm with the fun name that Oliver loves to work with. “Blacksheep is one of three design companies Jamie Oliver works with for all of his restaurants,” Blagden says. “We’ve always been excited by the firm’s ideas and professionalism. With Union Jacks, the Blacksheep team immediately understood the look and feel that we wanted.”
Key Design Highlights
- Blacksheep designed the food prep area around the center of the eatery because the exterior’s floor-to-ceiling glass could not be obscured.
- Subliminal references throughout to midcentury modern nostalgia do not refer to a specific year.
- Vintage television screens are linked to cameras in the kitchen so that diners can experience the cooking action.
- Of the same generation, the Blacksheep designers and Jamie Oliver collaborated to create a restaurant concept that thoroughly matches a vision and business plan.
Client Jamie Oliver; Jamie + Bianco Ltd.
What 4,437 total square feet on two floors and mezzanine
Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request