Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver plans to open Italian restaurant in Hong Kong

Jamie Oliver is back to open a Causeway Bay outlet of his popular chain of Italian restaurants after a failed first attempt in 2009

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 12:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 10:57am

Six years after his first effort to open a restaurant in Hong Kong fell through, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is on his way back.

In an online video yesterday, Oliver revealed his plan to open a branch of his Jamie's Italian chain in Causeway Bay in July. He also showed off a previously unknown skill when he spoke some Cantonese.

But unlike Oliver's 2009 proposal, this will not be his first venture in Asia - the chain opened an outlet in Singapore last July.

The new 200-seater restaurant, set up with local partner Big Cat Group, will be on the second floor of a new building at Tang Lung Street, home to a cluster of food and beverage outlets.

Watch: Promotion video for Jamie's Italian Hong Kong

William Lyon, chief executive of Big Cat Group and of Jamie's Italian (Hong Kong and China), said the restaurant would cost "millions of US dollars" to set up. The group also pledged that ingredients from the mainland would not be used unless they met the restaurant's stringent standards and ingredients could be traced back to their source.

The Naked Chef star, who opened the first Jamie's Italian in Oxford, Britain, in 2008, had in 2009 planned a Hong Kong outlet as his first venture outside Britain. A year later, however, the plan fell through. In 2011, Jamie's Italian opened its first outlet outside Britain in Dubai's Festival City. Its Singapore outlet is in VivoCity, the Lion City's largest shopping mall.

Watch: Jamie's Italian in Singapore

Lyon said the prices of the Hong Kong restaurant would be matched against the average level of spending in Britain, £20 (HK$260) to £22 a person.

"We don't want to be seen as a fine-dining restaurant," he said.

Oliver is known not only for his down-to-earth cooking style but also his Food Revolution campaign for real food and a healthy diet among schoolchildren in Britain and the United States.

Lyon, a former Jardine executive based in Hong Kong and Taiwan, said the Hong Kong branch would observe strict standards in food sourcing. He added that Hong Kong could source anything from around the world, and imports of ingredients from Italy would not be a problem. He said the Singapore branch imported much of its ingredients.

Asked whether ingredients would be sourced from the mainland - known for its food safety scandals - Lyon did not rule out the possibility. But he said: "We would apply the same standards as we do to the rest of the world, without compromising."

The restaurant pledged that genetically modified products would not be allowed, nor would meat, seafood or eggs where GM products were used in animal feed. Only organic products, those farmed under a high-welfare system and on a free-range basis or under equivalent local standards would be used.

Lyon expected that the restaurant would require about 100 staff members, including kitchen hands and waiters. A recruitment campaign will be held in April and May. Four to five staff members at managerial level will be sent to Britain for training before the restaurant opens in July.

He hoped that in the long run, the restaurant could feature graffiti or works by local artists and conduct outreach programmes to educate children about maintaining healthy diets.