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Monday, 11 January 2010

Fifteen: Ripe with hype


15 Westland Place
Old Street, N1 7LP
tel: +44 (0) 870 331 1515

Jamie Oliver. You either love - or hate him. I think I'm still in the love phase, although he has become a bit of a caricature of himself. But you've gotta give the guy a break. His concept for Fifteen is admirable: take groups of disadvantaged young people and teach them to cook in a world-class restaurant. All hail Saint Jamie! Sure, there have been a few hiccups but what do you expect when you give a second chance to homeless, unemployed crack addicts? Getting a table can be an exercise in Dalai Lama style patience, but I'll tell you right here, right now...it's worth the pain. Fifteen is divided into two levels. Up top, the trattoria. It's more relaxed and inexpensive than the basement dining room, but the food is still divine. And...you can bypass the frustrations of the reservation system if you fancy brunch at the weekend, because it's first-come-first-serve. You could have the loveliest Sunday ever if you started your morning at Colombia Road Flower Market, and then moseyed over to Fifteen. 
So, starting off with the trattoria. If you are an olive-lover, make sure you order the antipasti plate to start. The green olives are the largest, most delicious suckers I have ever tasted. The parma ham is wonderfully thin and fresh. Once I got over the initial excitement of the starter, I splurged on the char-grilled Scottish ribeye with roasted garlic tarragon butter and roasted potatoes as a main. Three words: melt-in-mouth. I don't know what they are doing to the cattle they are breeding on the posh Scottish estate Fifteen gets them from, but it must involve a lot of massage and singing. Happy cows make yummy cows. For desert, it had to be Jamie's famous chocolate brownie. It comes smothered in homemade vanilla ice cream and strawberries. My mates' vanilla cheesecake was also dreamy. 
Downstairs, the dining room is an altogether more posh affair. If you're having dinner, you have no other choice than to go for the tasting menu. Not that it's a bad thing. It's just an expensive thing. It will put you back £60pp, not including wine. To start with, the very friendly staff bring you out an antipasti plate (similar to the one upstairs, including fat olives!) to share with your dining companions. The next course came as a bit of a surprise. An amuse bouche was delivered on a large white porcelain spoon. On it, a deliciously fresh scallop dressed with thin slices of ginger, mango, watercress, lime and white cranberries. If we are judging by spoonful only, it was one of the most divine things I've set my lips to. 
A tough act to follow, but a bruschetta of freshly picked Scottish crab and fennel did a mighty fine job. At this point, I was in such a good mood, that I wished I had splurged £40 extra for the sommelier to choose a wine with each course. For Primi: fresh gnocchi with a very rich Welsh lamb ragu. Secondi was a braised shin of beef, slow-cooked in red wine and spices. It was so good, I excused myself, went to the bathroom and texted my fiance about it. Desert was a tart au chocolat topped with blackberries and fresh cream. It sounds like a lot, but the portions are small enough that you don't feel like uncouthly unbuttoning your jeans. Yes, celebrity chefs have taken over the world at the moment, but with food this good, I'm happy to crown Jamie Oliver king.

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