A couple of weeks ago, sitting on the top deck of the 31 bus I spied a shiny glass box storefront on the corner by Notting Hill Gate that definitely hadn’t been there the week before. An atypically sunny day, as the bus drove by and I pressed my nose to the glass, the glare made it impossible to make out what was housed in this intriguing, previously empty for four years space. My dear husband, not quite as curious and intent, simply said to me, “It’s Jamie Oliver. The sign says Recipease.” They do say something about not seeing the forest for the trees…
Ever since, I’ve been dying to explore this new gastronomy temple, imagining it to be something along the lines of Mario Batali’s Eataly in New York City. However, upon investigating further online, it seems Oliver’s main goal at this space is to offer cookery classes to the masses and access to the many ingredients you might need to recreate any of his dishes at home. “Learn How To Cook Like Jamie Oliver” the literature shouts!
Today was the day. It’s an overcast, blustery day here. The eve of the last Summer Bank Holiday weekend and Notting Hill is about to be engulfed by the annual Carnival Festival – yes, homeowners are boarding up their homes and fleeing like a hurricane is on its way.
The automatic doors swung open to greet us – pots of kitchen herbs resting in refashioned Vietnamese rice sacks, urns of olive oils, big jars of spices. Immediately you know what Oliver’s brand aesthetic is: country shabby chic. You can buy the understated tableware for your farmhouse table or cooking utensils all bearing Oliver’s smiling mug, lots of pastel colored ribbons adorn various rustic jars, even the food is served on oddly shaped wooden boards. Tubs of prepared meals to grab on your way home from the nearby Tube station are on hand, along with a selection of artisan cheeses, cured meats, condiments, muffin mixes, pastries. Really it is a little food community within a community, hoping to glom on to the foodie craze and create more Oliver devotees (as if he needs them).
|The juice bar|
While the products are on the periphery of the two shiny floors, each room is dominated by a huge circular island with Recipease professionals on the inside and their students on the outside. While you drink wine you can improve your knife skills, learn how to make sushi, master American style green chili (whatever that is), or learn how to cook the perfect steak to your taste. For £30-£60, classes last between 1-2 hours and you can book special lessons for groups or your kids birthday party (if you’re feeling particularly brave). I like that, as opposed to most cooking classes you can find around town, these are a small time and money commitment, focusing on one particular skill. If you want more, sign up for more.
Not eager to dive into a class and not really in the market for an overpriced set of wooden spoons (yes, tied with a lovely cream ribbon bearing the shop’s name), we decided to grab a quick lunch upstairs overlooking the busy intersection from where I was first drawn in. A crispy pork belly sandwich for me and a cheeseburger for my darling companion – a bloody mary each. The service still seems a little scattered but the food was terrifically good. At first my husband was griping about the prices, but when you get produce this good, it’s worth it – and it really is cheaper than your run of the mill crap pub meal.
|The epic burger uses grass fed shoulder meat|
The pork belly sandwich is flawed in that you can’t really eat it as it’s served – in an enormous piece of baguette. The pork belly slices themselves were flavorful and crispy and I loved the thyme scented, chunky applesauce that accompanied it. I took it apart and used the leaves of little gem lettuce to wrap the meat in and eat it like that. All credit goes to the burger that my husband ordered. It is the best burger I’ve tasted in London (and you know I’m picky about my burgers. See previous post about MeatLiquor). I asked the chefs what made it so good and they attributed it to the grass fed Cornwall beef shoulder they use. The poppyseed and sesame bun was nice and light, the mayo fresh, tomatoes and lettuce seasoned and the meat has something special going on in it. Really, really good.
I absolutely love Jamie Oliver. I’ve loved him since I picked up his first cookbook back in 1999 and felt his infectious presence radiate through the pages of his simple and delicious recipes. He just keeps going and going, each new project feeding off the last, and rarely does he seem to put a foot wrong. Here in London you can turn on the telly and catch one of his programs at almost any time of day and I’ll still sit and watch in awe at the ease with which he seems to do everything. While I might not feel the need to buy his expensive ketchup or chocolate chip muffin mix, I admire what he’s attempting in these latest shops. He’s not speaking to someone like me who already knows how to cook and where to get the best ingredients for less (I don’t need his name on the label to make me feel like a professional in the kitchen), but spreading the love of cooking and entertaining with friends and family makes me smile – and I’ll definitely be making my way back for that juicy burger.
|A 1960s bread delivery motorcycle – fab!|