Sitting down to dinner at Jamie’s Italian, by chef Jamie Oliver, is like tucking into a meal at an intimate neighborhood joint somewhere on the Italian coast. Families dig into plates piled high with antipasti, couples sip Chianti on the quiet outdoor patio. The small, tight-knit kitchen staff bakes bread and rolls out fresh tagliatelle and pappardelle every morning.
But dining at the newest outpost of Jamie’s Italian offers the added experience of being at sea—on Royal Caribbean’s first smartship, Quantum of the Seas, as well as Mariner of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas and Independence of the Seas.
Although Jamie’s Italian boasts brick-and-mortar eateries across the globe—including more than 30 in the UK as well as outposts in Australia, Brazil, and Dubai—the location of his latest venture might come as a surprise. In fact, the initial idea struck Oliver himself as odd.
“I never thought I’d be asked to put one of my restaurants on a ship,” he says. “And I was a bit cynical when I was first approached.”
Known for his emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients, Oliver wasn’t sure how he’d translate that concept to a cruise line, though the TV star isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. “Our menus evolve and change with the seasons, but here, you’re floating through different seasons, so we had to get clever with it. We had to figure out the logistics of getting the ingredients we wanted to use while still meeting our high standards. But this is a whole new way to express what we do.”
The menu for Jamie’s Italian features some of the chef’s greatest hits—his rustic signature dishes, such as the antipasti planks (piled high with salami, mortadella, and mozzarella) and classic pastas with a twist (think crab spaghettini and garlicky prawn linguini).
His time onboard took Oliver back to vacations he took as a boy. “My parents were restauranteurs, and when you own your own business, you don’t have many holidays,” he remembers. “Mom and Dad worked really hard all year, then took two weeks off to take us on a cruise.” The family typically boarded a Royal Caribbean ship in Miami before disembarking for the islands. “I saw so many incredible places and got to try all this different food at the same time.”
Quantum, he admits, is quite different than the ships from his childhood. “It’s pretty unbelievable. If you have kids—or if you’re a grown-up kid, like me—there’s pretty much everything you could dream of,” he says, noting that Jamie’s Italian is one of seven specialty dining options for cruisers. “There’s a really nice team spirit amongst the different kitchens. Cruisers have so many choices here.”
One such choice: Heading to Jamie’s Italian on deck five. “We’ve got our own little corner, and an area for outside seating, which is nice,” Oliver says. “For us, this is over a years’ worth of work coming together. And it just feels right.”
So what would the chef recommend? Start with a plank, he says, and don’t forget to share. “Try just a little bit of everything. The pasta’s made fresh every day, and the guys in there cooking are doing it with a lot of love, so enjoy, and take your time—do like the Italians do.”