Fifteen is a very impressive place. Another one of Jamie Oliver’s socially enterprising projects, Fifteen started in London, a restaurant established with two purposes: serving good Italian food and training kids with difficult
backgrounds and limited hope for the future, as chefs.
This presents many problems. Lots of these kids are quite traumatised and struggle with routine and authority. It has been very successful despite this, and on the back of that first TV show and book, there are now many troubled kids that have become trained chefs and work in the industry. Lots of chefs with potential that we may hear more about in the future. The London restaurant is also successful (although it gets mixed reviews, some love it, some not so much) and is now an international brand and charity with restaurants/academies in Cornwall, Melbourne and Amsterdam.
I find this interesting for many reasons. It’s a lovely twist on using food to nurture, not only providing diners with food, Fifteen provides the trainees with direction, focus, and a passion for and knowledge of food. Some of the kids that train there have limited skills and little exposure to food, certainly of the standard served in most restaurants.
The selection process is thorough, they ensure that they choose kids with potential, they ask them to taste food and describe it, and those that pass this, are sent on an overnight boot camp to ensure that they can work as part of a team and deal with the stresses that will come their way in the kitchen. No small thing then, this all happens before they ever pick up a knife and learn to chop, produce a stock, their first dish, it’s a long process.
I paid a visit to Fifteen Cornwall, which is socially enterprising as it’s London sibling is, but it takes it to another level. It takes in kids from all over Cornwall (a big county – the kids travel to Fifteen from all over daily at the expense of the charity) but also ensures that it sources 80% of it’s produce from Cornwall. That includes salt & pepper, everything. They encourage local producers to provide produce that the restaurant requires, be it duck, herbs, charcuterie, coffee, and durum wheat for pasta and as a result or in partnership with, Cornwall has a fantastic and thriving local food culture. They are a veritable force for good at a time when farmers and small producers are struggling against the commercial might of the supermarkets.
But, what of the food? The social enterprise nature of the restaurant is very important, but it is a restaurant, and customers pay for the pleasure. How do they maintain consistency and ensure that the food that comes out of that kitchen is good and worth the price ? For every trainee chef, there is one training chef, and not only is there a head chef, but there is also a head training and development chef, ensuring that along with the training, food of a high standard is sent out, as each trainee chef has a trainer accomplice. Makes sense.
The restaurant is set on the beach and walled with windows, a stunning location. We were seated in the corner while the sunset and it was absolutely beautiful, it would be difficult to match the setting. We started with some prosecco and a natter, soaking it all in, before turning our attention to the menu. The menu changes daily, and depends on what food is available.
I was invited to try the tasting menu on my visit there. We didn’t match the wines in this instance, although I will do that on my next visit. Overall impressions of the food were that this is well executed Italian food. It doesn’t have the robust simplicity of The River Café, where Jamie cut his teeth, it’s more intricate and detailed, and on the evening that I ate there, very good indeed.
We started with porcini mushroom and thyme arancini, crispy little risotto balls and roasted butternut squash with St Allen goats cheese. These were a lovely appetiser with some prosecco (Cartizze from the other Bisol family in Venice it turns out). I really liked both of these, nice little bites, the arancini were crispy and intensely savoury and the sweet roast butternut squash was lovely with the more tart Cornish goats cheese.
The insalata course offered insalata of mozzarella di bufala with Italian blood orange, candied walnuts and Buttervilla’s micro herbs or Cornish Deli Farm coppa with beautifully dressed ruby beets, wild rocket and horseradish. I wanted both (greedy girl that I am) but forced with a choice, I really wanted to taste the coppa from Deli Farm Charcuterie in Cornwall. Luckily, one of my dining companions offered to share hers too, so we had half and half. The mozarella with blood orange was stunning, and very pretty with the bold walnuts providing a lovely bite, and the microherbs I loved for texture as well as flavour. Overall it was lovely. The coppa was delicious, hats off to Deli Farm, I adore beetroot and these were treated well, but the insalata was my favourite of the two for the dish as a whole.
We’re now at Primi and I am getting full already as I have had an enormous lunch (call me a bad planner or a glutton, both work equally well). We had a choice of squid ink angel hair with Falmouth bay mussels Looe day boat squid and pangratatto or gnudi verdi (the lightest ricotta and spinach dumplings) with a lemon and sage butter sauce. I couldn’t resist the local fish, and was delighted that I had chosen it, it was delicate and very well composed tasting elegantly of the sea. The squid ink angel hair was remniscent of seaweed, and despite my appetite waning I wanted more.
There were four options for secondi, and I won’t go through all of them here, but will tell you about the two I spent 5 minutes agonising over. The crispy fillet of line caught sea bass with winter vignole of borlotti beans, kale, violet artichokes, prosciutto di San Daniele and salmoriglio or pot roasted Primrose Herd balsamic pork shoulder with sage polenta, savoy cabbage and pan juices. I’d already had fish, and adore pork shoulder, and this balsamic treatment of it was interesting to say the least. But my appetite was waning, so I thought the lighter fish option might be better. The dish arrived with lovely crispy artichokes lying on top, as if a funeral for the fish. They did that fish proud, it was lovely, the borlottis and the kale providing savoury meatiness. I didn’t much notice the proscitto, but the fish was lovely and wonderfull fresh. Another well executed and pleasant dish.
I needed something light for dessert so went with Amalfi lemon semi freddo, Champagne rhubarb and Clare’s lovely macaroon. It was a spritely dessert, RHUBARB again (I must be turning pink!), and the semi-freddo was lovely. It was a large dessert, but I did my best to finish it.
We finished with coffee and petits fours, the petits fours were fine, but nothing really special, however I was really full at this point, and it would have taken something stellar to revive my palate.
Wines? We had Nebbiolo D’Alba, 2007 from Ascheri a lovely light red that would be perfect for summer or with Italian food like here, and Les Fleurs d’Alsace Hugel, 2006, both recommended by the sommelier. I really liked them both and found them great matches for my light dishes. I found myself hogging the Hugel wine though. It’s delicious and creamy, but quite bright and lively, one of those lovely white wines full of personality and also elegant from the Alsace.
The overall experience was one of a lovely pleasant relaxed evening, eating delicious food by the sea. It was relaxing, despite the restaurant being busy, and the food felt delicious and healthy. A lovely break from a Londoner, I am going back this June and doing it all again, and all on my own dollar. Highly recommended.
Fifteen Offer for readers of Eat Like a Girl: From the 19th – 30th April enjoy a new season’s asparagus course free with each booking. I only wish I was closer to indulge!