PHOTO GALLERY: Jamie Oliver visits his new restaurant in Norwich

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver paid a special trip to Norwich to take a look at his new restaurant due to open next week in the city.

The latest Jamie's Italian restaurant is opening its doors at Norwich's Royal Arcade - in the former Waterstone's bookshop - and yesterday Jamie went to meet the new restaurant's team ahead of the official opening on Monday.

He said he was excited to be opening a restaurant in Norwich, describing the new eatery as one of the Jamie's Italian 'gems' and 'just gorgeous.'

The two-storey restaurant seats more than 250 people and the designers have tried to echo the Art Nouveau style of the Royal Arcade which was built in 1899 by architect George J Skipper.

'The Royal Arcade is so beautiful - this is definitely one of the little gems,' Jamie said.

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'I am really excited to be here. I really am.

'Hopefully you will feel like we have done the arcade, and the era it was built in, justice in the restaurant, bringing a bit of life and heart into it.'

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Yesterday was Jamie's first visit to the restaurant.

'I have seen all the drawings and now to see it in person is amazing. It is really beautiful. I hope the locals are going to love it. There is this amazing big room (on the first floor), and downstairs it is a bit 'bistro-y,' and we have plans for a private dining room too.'

He said some of the other Jamie's Italian restaurants are also housed in beautiful old buildings which are former bookshops or banks, and he said he felt it was important to invest in what he called the 'amazing central hearts' of towns and cities to keep them alive.

When asked what links he had to the local area, he said: 'I used to holiday in Norfolk every year as a kid, and obviously Delia is a good friend. She has had me up to watch the football on a number of occasions and she is an absolute legend.

'I am also an East Anglian boy. I grew up near Saffron Walden and the Cambridge restaurant and now the Norwich restaurant are the closest to there.'

About what diners can expect from his new restaurant, he said: 'We are trying to make something very frenetic, exciting, visual and simple.'

He added: 'What we try and do is make a beautiful restaurant in a beautiful place accessible to pretty much everybody. You can dress-up if you like, or not, and you can eat food from �12 to �30.'

Watching the food being prepared is all part of the Jamie's Italian experience, and the restaurant includes an antipasti bar and a semi-open kitchen where diners can watch the chefs at work,

'What we do is really straight forward. Every restaurant has an open kitchen. We wear our heart on our sleeves and we have designed it that way,' he said.

'All our staff here are real stars. You are going to just think what lovely, bright and enthusiastic people are running the shop.'

The menu is inspired by what ordinary people eat across Italy, and includes a wide range of antipasti, pasta and main courses.

There is also a specials board which is planned to showcase local produce - Jamie describes Norfolk as a 'pretty amazing garden for the whole country' and said his restaurants nationwide incorporate some produce from Norfolk.

When asked what his top tips are from the menu, Jamie said: 'The way I love to eat is you go to the restaurant with four people, get a an antipasti board for two and then pimp it up with all the extra options like the cured meats and the beautiful cheeses.

'Then order four pasta dishes and put them in the middle of the table and everyone has a little bit of each.

'Then after that share one or two mains between you. I like it when you try lots of different things. It's a bit like the old pick'n'mix in Woolworths back in the day.'

About dessert, he joked: 'To be honest I never make it to dessert!

'The tiramisu is lovely and we make all our own ice-creams. I just like getting a couple of balls of ice-cream and everyone having a taste.'

The are about 30 Jamie's Italian restaurants across the country and also ones in Sydney and Dubai.

The 80-strong team of staff who are running the Norwich restaurant includes general manager Alex Jarrett, originally from Great Yarmouth and now living in Norwich, head chef Toby Runyeard, from Costessey, sous-chef Audrius Buinickas, who has just moved to Norwich, and junior sous-chef James Conway, from Sprowston.

• And don't miss Jamie Oliver in EDP Norfolk Magazine's new August issue - out this week, with memories of his childhood holidays on the Broads.


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