By Miral Fahmy
SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Celebrity British chef Jamie Oliver is making his first foray into Asia, where he will set up a restaurant offering gourmet Italian food at neighborhood bistro prices in Hong Kong next year.
Hong Kong-based Tranic Franchising has partnered with Oliver's company to bring to the region the "Jamie's Italian" restaurants, which offer authentic recipes using organic food.
"This is a completely new concept for any form of casual dining I have ever seen," Tranic Franchising President and Deputy Chairman Edward Pinshow told Reuters by telephone.
"It's a model that takes the snobbery out of five-star eating. The food at Jamie's Italian matches, even exceeds, some of the best establishments and the quality of the fittings is unbelievable.
"The restaurants embrace both ends: if you walk in with a group of VIPs, you would not embarrass yourself, and you can spend a lot more money if you want to. But if you want to be a student, you can also eat equally well."
Tranic and Jamie's Italian International aim to set up 30 restaurants in Asia over the next 5 years, with Singapore the next city to get a "Jamie's Italian" after Hong Kong.
Gourmet food and wine have become big business in Asia, boosted by growing ranks of affluent professionals who, according to several market surveys, continue to seek the good life even during the economic downturn.
In the past couple of years, gourmet guide Michelin published Japan and Hong Kong editions. Both Singapore and Hong Kong also trumpet the wide range of cuisines they offer, from street hawkers to fine dining establishments run by world renowned chefs that include Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse.
For Asia, Pinshow said a three course meal, including a glass a wine, at a "Jamie's Italian" would be priced at an average of 24 pounds ($39) a head, slightly higher than the average in the British restaurants, due to import costs.
"Ultimately with Jamie's Italian, it works, it's special, and it has an appeal which could translate into almost every major city in the world," said Kevin Bacon, managing director of Jamie's Italian International, in a statement.
Oliver, who hosts his own popular TV cooking shows and has won many fans with his easy-going manner and simple food, has several restaurants under his "Fifteen" brand in Britain, Holland and Australia. "Jamie's Italian" started in 2007.