Union Jacks: 219-221 Chiswick High Road, London W4 2DW. 020 3617 9988 unionjacksrestaurants.com
HAVING watched Jamie Oliver's Great Britain series and enjoyed mixed success recreating one of the recipes, I was curious to test out the real deal at his new British-themed, vaguely experimental restaurant in Chiswick.
Specifically, I wanted to know whether I had got the balance of flavours right in Jamie's hot smoked trout and horseradish dish, served with hot baby Yorkshire puddings (£5), which had gone down a treat on the two occasions I had served it at home. I had struggled with the Yorkshires, though.
My mistake, as was clear when the dish arrived, had been to make them too big - the kind of puffed-up, crusty pillows that used to be piled onto my family's plates on Sundays. These had much more delicate dimensions. I had also, it seemed, been far more liberal than the chef with the horseradish, doing my best to follow Jamie's instruction to make it 'punchy'.
If fact, of the four tapas-style starters ordered, this was the least mouthwatering. A bowl of 'bloody mary' Welsh mussels (£5) proved a happy alliance of bivalves and tangy tomato sauce; potted prawns, morecambe bay shrimps and devonshire crab (£5.50) was an interesting variation on a seaside classic, and the roasted beets, westcombe curd & smoked seeds (£4) was the best of the lot, bursting with earthy flavours and vibrant colours.
These were washed down with selections from the non-alcoholic section of the drinks menu - not a place which would usually draw my interest, but in this case the imaginative mixtures exemplify the restaurant's theme of British tradition with a playful twist. It was hard to say which was more delicious, my wife's pink cola, which tasted like crushed up Kola Kubes pushed through a Soda Stream with a squeeze of lemon, or my nicely balanced glass of fizzy apple and cinnamon (both £2.50).
Naturally, a half-litre carafe of English rose followed (£11.25).
The short list of main courses is dominated by trademark wood-fired 'flatbreads' - variants of pizza, but with toppings you would be unlikely to find on the menu at your neighbourhood Italian.
I chose the Old Spot, the generous base of which comes adorned with roast shoulder of pig, quince and bramley apple sauce, Cropwell Bishop stilton, perfect squares of crackling and beautifully dressed watercress (£12.50). Put aside any fears about this unfamiliar creation - it's delicious, with salty cheese, sweet sauce, crunchy fat and crispy dough combining to form a gloriously satisfying whole. I was told it is quickly becoming a best-seller, and with good reason.
My wife's more understated choice was the Juliette - like a Margherita, but with two types of cheese, young Lincolnshire poacher and the curds of Westcombe Cheddar (created exclusively for Union Jacks). She 'pimped' it, in Jamie-speak, with field and wild mushrooms, but almost regretted doing so after being won over by its pleasing, rustic simplicity.
The enormous size of the flatbreads meant we had little room for dessert. But we were persuaded into trying two homemade ice creams (£1.50 a scoop), sticky toffee pudding and earl grey tea and biscuits. Both were stunningly good and were accompanied by a finger of fiery traditional gingerbread, similar to that made to a secret recipe in the remote village of Grasmere in the Lake District. Having eaten it there, too, I can say that Jamie has done an excellent job of recreating the magic.
Finally, as our visit coincided with Stilton week, we were presented with a wedge of the blue cheese, on a plate replete with a lively chutney, slices of radish, crisp apple and walnuts. It was the perfect way to round off a profoundly satisfying tour of modern Britain.