February, 2012David Williams toured through Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown this month looking at sites for three new restaurants, each seating up to 200 diners.
Williams had been commissioned by the Australian licensee of television chef Jamie Oliver, Pacific Restaurant Group, which plans to open 14 Jamie's Italian restaurants across the two countries after inking a deal last January.
The company cut the ribbon on its first Jamie's Italian restaurant in Sydney in October.
The chain is growing fast after its launch in 2008. It now has 26 branches across Britain as well as the one in Sydney and another in Dubai.
In March last year, it was reported that a 100 million ($189m) float was being planned, while in January Oliver was reported to be planning to expand into North America.
Pacific Restaurant Group director Wes Lambert said Oliver was always keen to include New Zealand in the Australian licence, as it is a popular market for his television shows and books. Analysis of hits on Oliver's websites also indicated he has a strong following here.
"He loves New Zealand," Lambert said.
So what can diners expect?
"Jamie's Italian was designed to be accessible and affordable, a place where anyone is welcome and everyone will feel comfortable, no matter how much you spend or how long you stay," the Jamie's Italian website says.
"Authentic" is a key word. In Sydney, a pasta machine in the front window cranks out fresh pasta daily while a mezzanine area features an antipasti and dessert counter.
"The Jamie's Italian menu will have a variety of pastas, authentic Italian mains and delicious antipasti made with well-sourced, quality fresh and organic ingredients," Pacific Restaurant Group announced last year.
"Every dish has something to make it different, offering gourmets and fans an unrivalled experience coupled with a rustic, authentic Italian ambience."
The restaurants will demand about 500 square meters of space each.
Lambert said Oliver was actively involved in the business, designing all the menus.
He is expected in Sydney next month and will visit his new restaurant there.
"Fine dining as a food type globally is struggling mainly because of the perception of value," Lambert said.
"People actually know where their food is coming from now; they know what their food should cost them and so many customers are seeking out the mid-market, value-for-money, casual and family dining restaurant and we saw this as a global trend a couple of years ago."
While the menus at all Jamie's Italian restaurants are similar, Lambert says the venues do not have "cookie-cutter fitouts".
Oliver also operates two other restaurant brands, Fifteen and Barbecoa.
Source: Sunday Star Times/Fairfax
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